|In its inaugural ‘State of the Meeting Industry’ survey, Destination Hotels & Resorts tapped a diverse dataset of 383 planners from around the United States to gauge their interest and focus for 2013. The company asked meeting planners to comment on new trends, tools, and resources that can set a property apart from the pack. The results yielded specific trends for hotels and resorts, and one overarching theme: cautious optimism. More than 30 percent of planners expect an increase in the number of meetings for 2013. Most planners felt budgets have stabilized, with 20 percent anticipating increased budget flexibility in the coming year.
“In almost every segment, we’re seeing positive indicators that 2013 will be a growth year for groups and meetings,” stated André Fournier, vice president of sales & marketing of Destination Hotels & Resorts. “Another indication of a rebounding market is the anticipated increase in lead time on bookings after a flat line for several years. We found that 55 percent of meeting planners are looking at longer lead times, with 12 percent booking at least a year in advance.”
Destination attributes some of the advanced lead time growth to demand compression in urban markets, where inventory has remained relatively flat. More than 50 percent of meeting planners indicated that the majority of their meetings would take place at urban hotels in 2013.
Although experiencing a slower recovery than urban markets, the resort market is also forecasting a sunny outlook, with more than a quarter of planners indicating they will plan almost all of their programs in a resort setting.
“The coming year will not be without challenges,” notes Fournier. “Results show 18 percent of meeting planners are still booking less than 60 days out and 19 percent indicated that budgets would be decreasing in the coming year.”
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
While planners consistently referenced budget parameters as their biggest challenge, in a surprise shift “location” led as the most important consideration in selecting a venue (with “rate,” “flexible space” and “amenities” following closely behind). Approximately 34 percent of planners surveyed reported more than half their meetings would be national gatherings.
However, not all planners were looking so far afield. Many anticipated rising or unpredictable travel costs playing a larger role in their budget process, with almost 30 percent of respondents expecting their meetings to take place in local markets.
BEING GREEN EFFECTS THE BOTTOM LINE
Eco-friendly practices are not new to the meetings industry. However, meeting planners are well ahead of the general leisure travel market in evaluating green practices as part of their booking decision. While 45 percent of planners say eco-friendly practices are ‘somewhat important’ when choosing a venue, an additional 18 percent say it’s ‘extremely important,’ a clear indicator that hotels and resorts are going to see an impact on securing future business through offering thoughtful, established programs.
“Sustainable programming isn’t about a marketing message,” notes Fournier. “Planners are an educated, sophisticated customer base who understand how to ask tough questions to ensure properties are implementing measureable ways to reduce environmental impact.”
WHAT’S ON THE TABLE MATTERS
Following leisure travel trends, culinary connoisseurs are now commonplace amongst groups. More than 78 percent of planners identified culinary offerings as an important part of their selection process, with 30 percent of them noting it was ‘extremely important.’ Surprisingly, after years of seeing big-name chefs attach their moniker to hotel and resort restaurants, meeting planners were very clear on one thing—they don’t care. Less than 10 percent cited a ‘signature chef’ as an important factor in how they evaluate culinary options.
Instead, planners want smart, well-planned packages that focus on health and nutrition (43 percent) as well as specialized dietary offerings (35 percent). “We’ve seen a substantial increase in demand for organic cuisine from groups,” noted Curtis Bova, vice president of sales at Destination Hotels & Resorts. “Meetings are no longer focused on opulent, calorie-laden dining and planners want attendees to have a memorable meal that also leaves them feeling strong and alert.”
BUILDING A TEAM ADVENTURE
Healthy eating options aren’t the only lifestyle factor that meeting planners are focusing on in the coming year. When asked about teambuilding trends, more than half (54 percent) indicated that adventure and active options were of the greatest interest. Other attention-grabbing options that received less interest but still deserve consideration include culinary, wellness, cultural and community service activities.
“The increased popularity in adventure teambuilding has been led by demand for authentic local experiences beyond the boardroom,” added Fournier. “Mirroring the trends we are seeing from leisure travelers, groups want to create itineraries that are memorable and distinctive to the destination they are in.”
Last but certainly not least, one of the biggest changes planners are tackling is the integration of technology into meetings. More than 36 percent noted an increase in technology integration with meetings compared to a year ago, with strong indications that the trend will continue. Streaming media, web conferencing, and on-site video production were the most common uses, with more than 25 percent of meetings relying on at least one.
“One major indicator of how quickly the technology needs are growing is the impact on budgets,” noted Fournier. “We are seeing a need for meeting planners to create a ‘technology’ budget and an ‘A/V’ budget to more clearly account for the group’s needs. It’s also been great to see how groups are using technology to supplement the meeting, rather than replace them.”
Destination Hotels & Resorts is a privately held hospitality management company headquartered in Colorado. Additional information on the Destination Meetings collection can be found at: www.DestinationMeetings.com.
Wednesday, April 10, 2013 by horny