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4 ways the meeting industry is changing and how hotels can capitalise

Matthew Stubbs is CEO of BookingTek

The meetings and events industry is "thriving", says to Issa Jouaneh, general manager of American Express Meetings & Events. In fact, the industry is set to grow in all regions of the world in 2018, according to the company’s latest research.

But growth doesn't mean the industry will stand still.

Technology and demographics mean that 2018 is likely to be a year of accelerating change, and hotels can adapt to stay ahead and take advantage of the new opportunities. In this article, we investigate four global trends in the meetings market.

1. More digital natives entering the workplace

The media loves stories about millennials entering the workplace, and how they’re changing the way business is done. But 2018 will be one of the first years when Generation Z, or the iGeneration, enters the lower rungs of management – someone who was born in 1995 will be turning 23 years old next year.

As we know, younger people not only feel more comfortable using technology, they increasingly expect it – and sometimes won't engage with companies and organisations at all that haven’t adapted. Younger people like solving problems on their own through technology, and increasingly expect companies to offer them on-demand online tools to get things done.

For example, new research suggests that members of Generation Z actively avoid engaging with people over the phone, if at all possible. According to a survey by LivePerson, almost 75 per cent of Generation Z and millennials said they prefer to text message – as opposed to actually speaking to people.

Hotels that want to tap into this burgeoning class of younger managers and bookers must provide on-demand online means for them to make their bookings. And this not only means online booking for event spaces and meeting rooms, but also for catering, entertainment and technology requirements too.

2. Businesses embracing informal, shorter, and less structured meetings

One of the other potential results of this influx of younger people into the workforce is the rise of shorter, less formal, less structured meetings and events.

Whereas in the past a meeting might have been in people's diaries months ahead of time, the new normal is the last-minute 'break out' session to quickly brainstorm an issue or discuss a topic. This may also be a result of the growth in smaller companies and consultancies, who need to book a meeting quickly for half a day when one of their clients happens to be in town.

This will be music to hotel's ears. They can fill their excess meeting room capacity at short notice. For example, recent research by BookingTek found that the average lead-time for a meeting booking online is now just seven days, which demonstrates why digital is a good way to tap into this market.

But hotels and other venues that want to capitalise on this trend should also consider making their meeting spaces bookable in smaller increments of time, even down to one hour windows.

3. Meetings are now expected to be experiential events

Some people have blamed it on social media, others on the increasingly competitive economy. Either way, meetings are increasingly expected to be experiential events. It’s no longer enough just to collect together a group of clients around the table or in an audience for an event. Instead there has to be photogenic food; attractive flower arrangements; a dedicated massage room; or something else that makes the event stand apart, such as a bubble machine, smoke machine, or AI-powered guest identification.

Companies now want to create events that help them stand apart from their competitors. They also want to use the event to market their brand. They want their customers or clients to share photos of the events with their friends, colleagues and family on social media. In fact, event planners are increasingly saying that they need their events and meetings to be 'Instagrammable'.

“Creating 'an experience' is pivotal. We find that the most successful planners are always looking for ways to create value and meaning for their guests beyond the four walls of the meeting space," said Andrew Flack, Vice President of Marketing & Hilton and eCommerce Americas at Hilton.

This is good news for hotels who should see this trend as an opportunity to generate more revenue by offering their customers exceptional catering, and where possible, providing them with the facilities they need to help their events truly stand out – all preferably bookable online ahead of time.

4. Changing types of events and meetings 

If you look at the figures, it also seems that the types of events and meetings are changing. One of the most interesting changes has been the rise, in the UK at least, of the number of events held by charities. Charities are increasingly seeing that fundraising events – from smaller intimate gathering to larger annual galas – are a fantastic way to engage with their supporters and showcase their good work. In fact, according to research by Eventbrite, since 2007, the number of fundraising events has increased by 700 per cent and participant numbers have doubled.

There are other emerging types of gatherings and meetings too. For example, luxury companies – recognising the need to engage more intimately with their valued customers – are holding more high-end private events, and in order to recruit the best talent in a very competitive market, technology companies have taken to holding intensive programming events, called hackathons.

As the type of events and meetings change, hotels should look to stay responsive and reactive; continually adapting and preempting these new requirements. One of the best ways for hotels to do this is to build personalisation, informed by data, into every engagement with their meeting bookers. For example, if a charity arranged an event in another city within the same hotel group with specific catering requirements, this information should be accessible to all other hotels – so that they can pre-empt these bookers’ needs.

The meetings and events business is going from strength to strength. These four trends provide hotels with additional insight to get ahead of their competitors, and show their bookers that they can meet their changing needs.