Michael Doyle, executive director of the Virtual Edge Institute and a leader in the virtual meeting movement, says he has been sought out by hoteliers and, “While they might be a self-selecting group, I give them a lot of credit. They have gone through a rough patch. On the one hand, they are trying to find the money to paint and put in new carpet, but they are also looking at the technology side of things and realizing there is an opportunity here for them.”
That opportunity, says Doyle, involves adding virtual elements to meetings that “makes those meetings more effective.” “You can bring in people who can’t physically be there and that will create more impact and a better ROI,” he says. “While there might be fewer room nights and less spending on food and beverage, the meeting industry will see an overall increase if they move toward virtual and hybrid (mixed “physical” and virtual meetings). There’s nothing most of us can do about the fact that some corporations are not letting people travel the way they used to—and some may never do so again.“
The question for hoteliers, then, is: How can I position my property to be one of the leaders out there? This is one of the hot topics in the meeting industry. Hoteliers have to ask: What do planners need from me? How can I compete and differentiate myself from others? You can’t move your hotel to where people are but you can change your technology infrastructure. You can go all out and create a plug and play event center—and get revenue from renting of that space. “Even convention centers are looking at doing that,” Doyle says.
Just because fewer room nights are sold doesn’t mean there will be no revenue at the meeting or in the future, according to Doyle. “Those who attend virtually might do so just this once. If you give them the opportunity to participate virtually there’s a better chance of them coming to the next meeting,” he explains.
Virtual Edge Institute had its first conference at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas earlier this year and “they didn’t have to do anything extra,” Doyle says. “They were equipped and well prepared for our program even though we’re more intensively technological than the normal meeting. We had 380 people there in person and another 1,200 who attended remotely on personal computers.”
“Hybrid meetings will be the norm,” says Michael Dominguez, vice president of global marketing at Loews Hotels. “Cisco (the technology company) tried to go all -virtual for the annual conference one year, but then went back to hybrid after that.
“What we have found in virtual is that the best sales tool is the content so people want to be there,” he continues. “The best example is Ted (a high-powered technology conference). All speeches at that conference are available free to view anytime but people want to be there. Today, knowledge is not power— sharing knowledge is.”
“We’re seeing companies have meeting and streaming them live,” adds Paul Cahill, senior vice president of brand management for Marriott International, “so broader audiences can plug in. When we do our own global general manager meeting we’ll stream it so that everyone who works for Marriott can plug into the experience. “
Virtual or not, all meetings have come to rely more heavily on technology. As Dominguez says, “We now have to ask whether the IT person should be involved in a site inspection—to talk about issues like bandwidth. I recommend that to planners. When you have heavy use of technology, you have to talk to IT.”
David Gabri, CEO of Associated Luxury Hotels International, says, “We’re finding there is an absolute use of this technology to enhance face to face meetings – and to effectively document, communicate, and retain the values and expenses associated with meetings. Technology will no longer be seen as an adversary of meetings, but as an ally.”