As new technology develops, business guests’ demand for meeting spaces changes with it, challenging hoteliers to keep up and deliver.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—Meetings aren’t what they used to be. Attendees don’t just sit around a long table reading off a packet or simply sit listening to a presenter with a set of charts displayed on an easel.
There are multimedia presentations with video and music. Interactive documents allow attendees to write and edit collaboratively. Everyone carries a smartphone, tablet and/or a laptop, each of which need Wi-Fi and a place to plug in after hours of use.
To accommodate the growing and changing technology needs of meeting attendees, hoteliers have to figure out what, and how much, their guests need and how to best provide it without going over budget.
Setting up reservations of meeting and conference space calls for researching the guests and understanding the latest trends, said Bill Duncan, global head for the All Suites division and Embassy Suites by Hilton. Meeting planners typically have a requirement list that specifies exactly what their clients need, he said, and there are companies that specialize in meeting technology that can introduce new technology and explain what future developments are coming.
“We pull all that together to understand who do we want to be in the space and what do we want to offer,” Duncan said. “We see what the baseline is that can serve the most needs in our particular segment where we specialize. … We solve for most of them and have an outside partner that can deliver and help us execute (the) meeting that our customer desires.”
Hotel sales teams work closely with third-party audio/visual vendors to ensure guests have shared their technology requests, said Kevin Richards, COO of hotels for Legacy Ventures, by email.
“We ask proactive questions to understand the goals, flow and audience of the meeting or event so we can anticipate their needs and suggest A/V, lighting and other presentation materials to achieve their goals and have a successful meeting,” Richards said. “We accommodate any last-minute pop-up needs if our staff is available to and it is communicated within a reasonable time frame.”
To make sure nothing is overlooked, the third-party vendor anticipates the client has more attendees or requirements than initially expressed, he said, so there is more equipment ready to set up if needed. There’s also a branch location that can supply backup in case there is an equipment failure.
“Our larger meeting spaces have floor plugs that can generally work so there is no guest inconvenience or a safety issue,” Richards said. “There are times when you must utilize extension cords with adequate cord covers for safety.”
Latest and greatest
Meeting attendees at The Alexander in Indianapolis like the hotel’s four touch screens that act as white boards, GM Michael Moros said. They can bring in their flash drives and write and edit using the touch screens, he said. The LCD projectors and screens continue to be popular features as well.
“If we go out and rent the latest and greatest a couple of times, we will go out and purchase that ourselves if it’s fiscally responsible and we can generate revenue off of it,” he said.
Richards said his hotels have started offering a microphone that speakers can throw into the audience to liven up participation. The other new tech item is a wireless presentation system that connects “to a device’s video system easily by simply clicking a button to give one of multiple presenters control of what appears on the screen,” he said.
When properties go through a brand refresh, that calls for a 360-degree overhaul of the meeting technology wherever possible, Duncan said. That means increased Wi-Fi, more connection points, electronic whiteboards/touch screens, HD projectors and automated screens.
“We try to make it as interactive as possible and customizable to the company and their needs,” he said.
Minding the budget
Renovations are a good time to install new equipment, but those projects are years apart and new technology comes out constantly.
Moros said his hotel gets a certain amount for capital expenditures each year. He meets with the technology manager at the end of each summer to go over what guests have asked for and what cool things have come out, he said, and the recommendations are forwarded to ownership and asset management.
“If the ownership says the (return on investment) is great, we can be on the cutting edge and get a step up on our comp set,” he said. “If the ROI is over 36 months, we probably won’t do it unless the rentals really take off on that product.”
The Hyatt Regency Atlanta Perimeter at Villa Christina has used a third-party vendor for audio/visual equipment rental for the past nine years, starting with its free-standing restaurant and 4,000 square feet of meeting space before the hotel was built two years ago, GM Jason Ressman said. Because the hotel is only a few years old, it hasn’t required any significant technology purchases or renovations. The hotel splits its meeting reservation revenue 50/50 with the vendor, Ressman said. This arrangement means the property doesn’t have to make any large capital expenditures for new technology, at least for the time being.
“Down the road, we’ve slowly brought some people in internally from IT to look at insourcing that to capture all of the revenue rather than the split we’re doing currently,” he said.
Similarly, Richards said his company doesn’t build a great deal of audio/visual equipment into its meeting spaces with the exception of boardrooms where there are large LCD/LED TVs.
“Almost all equipment is brought in by our third-party vendor,” he said.