Wildly popular events such as the annual TED Conference, South by Southwest in Austin, Oracle’s OpenWorld in San Francisco, C2MTL in Montreal and others are beginning to influence the traditional meetings industry. Integrating new technology platforms, myriad programming themes and alternative education delivery systems, the meeting of the future is focused on improving engagement among continually fracturing and distracted attendee audiences.
This report examines the evolution of the meetings industry, specifically through the lens of hospitality. According to the latest Convention Industry Council report, which tracks trends and collects data across all segments of the meetings market, 85% of meetings in the U.S. are conducted at venues with lodging, generating more than 275 million room nights annually.
The traditional breakout room lecture and theater-style ballroom seating configuration are not going anywhere. However, there is a drive to supplant that with crowd sourced, co-created, hybrid events with mobility and technology driving the change. While this shift is still in its nascent stage, innovative meeting planners, hotel groups and hotel conference services staff are developing programs to add new dimensions into the overall meeting scheme.
As is the case in leisure travel, Millennials/Generation Y are driving these systemic changes in the meetings industry with their craving for speedy career progression and connected digital communities crossing personal and professional boundaries. They expect to cultivate as much professional development opportunities for themselves at business events as they do for their employers, and they’re much more focused on physical/mental wellness and work/life balance than previous generations.
The advancement of technology in meetings is helping to cut costs, improve efficiencies and open new communication channels. Hotels are desperately trying to keep up with broadband demand and fully integrate their front- and back-of-house departments. At many hotels, meeting planners and hotel staff can now manage every aspect of large meetings in real time through cloud-based apps and web platforms.
Social media is another major topic of discussion about how to enhance the productivity and level of engagement in meetings. However, it’s hampered by the reluctance of older generations steadfastly unwilling to embrace it. The rise of multi-generational meetings with three age demographics in attendance at any given event, each with different ideas of the role of meetings today, is becoming a significant challenge for the meetings industry.
With the rise in demand across all age groups for more experiential, authentic and local travel experiences, no longer solely the purview of the leisure traveler, hotels are becoming more integrated with their local communities. This is one of the most wide open spaces for evolution in the hospitality industry, with more immersive educational opportunities and networking experiences offering a strong return on time and investment for companies and attendees.