The PYM State of the Industry roundtable was a dinner held in San Francisco, with national and local meeting industry professionals, in October 2012. Click here to download a transcript of the meeting.

In attendance:

  1. Corporate planner (global business services)
  2. Corporate planner (global business services)
  3. Corporate planner (technology company)
  4. Corporate planner (technology company)
  5. Independent/third-party planner (various industries)
  6. Association planner (financial industry)
  7. Caesars Entertainment (host/moderator/supplier)
  8. Caesars Entertainment (host/supplier)
  9. Caesars Entertainment (host/supplier)
  10. Plan Your Meetings (host/media)
  11. Corporate planner (technology company)

The discussion 

How would you assess the Meetings and Incentive Momentum of 2011, 2012 and beyond? What’s happening today? Are you still dealing with perception issues? How has this changed from the past few years? 

3. We are trying to contain the focus of our meetings. Budget is key. But we also have to keep an eye the ultimate goals. Team-building and business development, a lot of this fun crazy stuff like skydiving is gone.

1. We were told at my past company (large financial conglomerate) that we couldn’t go to Vegas. Now it’s about getting the most bang for the buck. We have to match our meetings with our public image.

3. Since the downturn, we had to remove resorts from our meetings.

4. I don’t see that as much because I do executive meetings (same company).

5. My company headquarters are in New Jersey. We were right in the middle of the whole AIG debacle, so we suffered incredibly during the downturn in 2008. Now it’s back. In 2009, supply side has completely changed. I got everything back in 2009. We massage the ancillary quite a bit now. 2013, first half is looking strong.

7. Interesting. Sometimes we just need to turn off the television. We create our own issues.

6. We look for resorts and golf. The irony is I am from nonprofit banking. Trade members are part of the decision on location. But we have seen a change due to perception. For example, our conference has always been in Hawaii. Now it’s alternating between the mainland and Hawaii each year.

11. From the corporate perspective, events are the primary vehicle. Spend is flat to up. We are doing more hybrid meetings. Sustainability is changing everything and becoming more and more of a focus. But, budget will always be a core issue.

7. Changed or more accountable?

11. Always measuring, but yes, more accountable. Micro-targeting and segmenting, who’s attending, where are they in their buying cycle. The customer is constantly changing.

7. Cisco essentially said, “We don’t need face-to-face meetings.” No doubt their tech is amazing, but the lack of face-to-face interaction and loss of body language, translate to less effective meetings.

1. Hotels can’t keep up with what the younger generation of attendees is looking for. The kids don’t care about the formality we used to require for our attendees.

What are you looking for and how are the properties delivering? 

9. Bandwidth, bandwidth, bandwidth.

3. If there is a problem, we need help immediately. We can’t wait. If the customer service is lacking, we won’t do meetings there again.

2. We don’t pay for their Internet if they won’t listen.

7. Great topic, will you pay for Internet?

4. If it’s good! (Everyone agrees.)

2. You CAN’T have Internet fail during a product launch.

1. I’d rather have more food $$ than charge for Internet.

7. It will go away eventually. (Everyone agrees.)

6. I’ve been to citywides that drain the city!

 How do you go about selecting a destination for a meeting or incentive? 

3. Service and space. When doing a site survey, I’m looking for a space to complement our brand. It must be clean and comfortable. We’re looking for an environment. We have to keep up with the culture. We do 3,000 meetings per year globally, and each space must have these attributes.

7. Is service as important as product?

1. Service is important, but name is also very important.

5. Yes, but that can be a double-edged sword.

7. Luxury is still niche, correct?

4. Correct. If you get an average hotel, then it comes down to space and pricing.

1. In 2008 at my previous employer (large financial conglomerate) we had to trust the salespeople and the research we did online. There was no money for site visits.

2. I do site unseen, even now. For me it comes down to referral and the salesperson’s knowledge. Relationship becomes much more important. Local, sustainable practices, quality and uniqueness are all very important to me.

7. Anyone here have chain bias?

5. Many of my clients definitely do.

11. Not really. Really depends on the event. So of our events are so large, it’s impossible to have chain bias. Most all brands are preferred suppliers. So really it comes down to price and service.

7. How do you define value?

3. We look at what the goals of the meeting are, then evaluate if it’s worth the cost.

2. Some events can go over budget. Some not at all. At some client events, budget can be flexible because return is more if spend is more.

4. Space, environment, but also, “Who is willing to work with us?”

2. Whatever works best for my client.

3. Space, environment, but also rate.

6. Mitigating risk.

11. Strategic objections are key. Then, can the hotel provide the customer experience my client is looking for? Can staff deliver?

1. Your attendees are internal or external?

11. Both

5. It’s about geography for me. This will dictate the rate base. Timing affects rate as well. We have clients everywhere, so we have to find the best fit based on their location.

2. Yes rate, but then planning perspective. I’m hoping rates are parallel, if not, I’m wondering if there is a problem with the property.

1. $20, when you have a lot of rooms, can make a big difference.

7. So, start with budget, hot buttons, then go from there?

2. We must be educated as planners. I can pay more rate if it saves me on other costs. (Everyone agrees.)

Is hospitality doing a good job? 

6. In the early days, I’d toss out an RFP, and get NO!, NO!, NO! Now folks are much more flexible.

4. Give me customer service. That’s most important.

11. Yes, but budget always enters into it. I don’t want a hotel to say, “Let us help you meet objectives, but … how much are you willing to pay?” I want it to say, “Here’s what we want. Can we meet my price point?”

7. Is there a difference between Four Seasons and Sheraton? (All planners: A resounding YES!)

7. What is your favorite hotel?

3. Four Seasons.

7. In Vegas?

4. Caesars.

7. In Caesars, we are more than the Palace. This is my challenge. Today 60 percent of our revenue is non-gaming.

6. What about 10 years ago?

7. Are you kidding? Group was a headache in Vegas 10 years ago. This is absolutely not the case anymore.

7. Do you buy Four Seasons?

4. Yes.

1. Starwood is the standard. Some luxury above this.

Would you, or have you ever, used Caesars Entertainment Inc. properties? Who’s aware we have 38 hotels? Who’s curious about our Caesars Entertainment Product? 

11. What is a Caesars Entertainment product? (Mild laughter.)

7. Are you aware of our new sales model launched recently? We went in-market with salespeople. We have salespeople who focus on the big-box and smaller in Vegas, as well as the other 28 across the country.

3. What differentiates you from other hotel brands?

7. We are a casino operation first. 38 hotels. 1,000 square feet up to 300,000 square feet. We own all hotels, which gives us increased flexibility.

9. We are an entertainment company. We offer something very different from other

hotels and resorts. For instance, comedians, a gun range, waterski, etc.

8. And you can book it all with one signature.

1. I think of myself as a consumer and attendee when I am doing site selection, and never once did Caesars Entertainment come up. Brand awareness is not there.

7. It’s a new brand, that’s why. We just started promoting all under the Caesars Entertainment portfolio. We have New Orleans, Lake Tahoe, San Diego. We are not for everyone.

1. Is it a prerequisite to be gaming?

9. Not at all.

2. Customer service is a concern for me. With in-market model, I’ve found it to be unsuccessful. I’ve had a bad experience with Marriott.

7. In-market has been challenging. Lots of Vegas people have been relocated to other cities to cater to this model. We’ve incurred cost-of-living increases. But in my heart, I know it’s right.

8. Volume is the other difference. A Marriott guy doesn’t know all several thousand hotels he sells. I know my 38. We own our hotels. I’m in Vegas every month and Atlantic City every six months.

2. I like in-market, but what about on-property?

7. Our in-market salespeople are compensated the same as on-property. It’s proven to be a great solution.

4. With gaming properties, how do you say, “Bring you groups here, but we can provide the confidentially you need?” We bring in our own security. For example, I had an event at Caesars, we had a lady who passed out (drunk), and we had to call security. That’s a big problem!

9. Sure, but that can happen anywhere.

4. True. But it’s hard to get over the negative connotation with your decision makers.

3. It gets back to the purpose of the meeting. Gaming is low on the list. (Side note: 2. and 4. don’t use Destination Management Companies. They always go direct._

9. We are an entertainment company now, not gaming.

4. I change my addendums all the time. Certain things like confidentiality are non-negotiable. Cancellation or rebooking I can negotiate, but I’m more likely to use non-gaming. Your new Asian properties that don’t have gaming are of interest.

What method of advertising and marketing are you currently using to communicate to your delegates? 

2. LinkedIn for networking.

7. What pubs do you read?

4. I read Biz Bash.

2. Me, too.

4. It’s great for NYC and Chicago. San Francisco, not so much.

5. I read Plan Your Meetings and was on the website today. (Looks at the VP of Plan Your Meetings and says,“Really, I was!”)

3. We have Starcite, not Cvent.

2. We hate Cvent. (Everyone agrees.)

11. Depends on the information. I don’t read a lot of meetings stuff, save for the occasional article

4. I’m on Pinterest. I follow event planning companies and look for ideas there.

11. I do event design, so finding that info is tough. Architecture trends are important.

7. The customer base is changing, if we are not paying attention, we are gone.

6. (Changes subject to addressing demographic.) Our attendees want paper, are older.

There are no youngsters opening community banks right now. But it’s financial. Banks are closing branches. There’s much change right now.

7. to 11. Your company is huge. You go from 21 to 70 years old, I would imagine. How do you cater to your demo?

11. 35-60 is our main demo. Are we serving all? Not sure, but we are very successful … so? (Laughter.) Human cap management is a huge discussion internally. Are we thinking about next gen? Yes. If not, the business will suffer.

7. Millenniums today will mirror the boomers. Everyone must address that. Hotels, third-party, corporations must all think about it.

3. Anticipation is so important. Hotels must anticipate our needs. Four Seasons does this the best. You don’t even need to ask!

Have you developed programs and communication that speaks to the generations (baby boomer, Gen X, eco-boomer)?

7. 10 years from today, where will associations be?

6. Conferences are getting smaller. We are doing more webinars.

1. Start-ups don’t have the budget, that’s a big reason why the formality is gone.

7. Google is interesting. Median age is 30. Standards are not the same. Different way of being. Love recognition, not the same though.

 Rank in order of what is most important to you with your sales contact:

  • Quick response
  • Relationship
  • Good listening skills
  • Property knowledge
  • Contributing to the success of the meeting
  • Understands the big picture 

2. Listening skills are key. I don’t want to repeat anything. I don’t have enough time. This is more important than relationships.

1. I’ve worked with CSMs that are fantastic, some not so good. What is the criteria?

7. Good listening and disseminates info. They go back to the salesperson before they go to the planner.

1. It’s a money issue. Are you saving your customers money?

7. Is it? I’d rather be a partner.

4. We are all about partnering. Bottom line, it will be a repeat piece of business if you are going the extra mile.

5. Our challenge is, as third-party, we have to please a client but also have to teach them what they want. I can’t tell you how many times we have to explain what we do.

1. Property knowledge is my No. 1. As a planner, I like a good salesperson. The more I know, the better off I am. Knowing as much of property the better.

5. I read recently, in the last five years, there has been a 500 percent increase in RFPs. Reps should come to me. I don’t have a problem with that.

11. Is this an issue? If asking hotels to be advisers, and all they have is RFPs to work on?

5. I use Speed RFP, but it takes the human element out of it.

6. 3. 4. Feel that understanding the big picture is the most important factor.

4. Understanding the big picture is very important. In a recent meeting. I didn’t do a site. The hotel put us in a room with huge glass doors. We need privacy for all of our meetings.They didn’t understand big picture.

When you put out an RFP, do you tell why you didn’t book? 

2. I do, every time.

1. Not a secret who we have RFPs with. We keep it open to be fair.

7. Most planners don’t.

2. We often don’t have time to.

4. Yes. I don’t have time to circle back. I’ll admit it. I get busy and forget.

2. It’s comes down to comfort level. It a courtesy.

4. I get that, but when you have a meeting and reached out to 30 venues, it’s hard. We deal with NSOs.

9. That’s another issue. Why are you sending 30 RFPs out? In 30 cities?

4. It’s one city. It’s just the way it is.

11. Common courtesy is right, but on other end, stop selling once you know the reason.

7. I bring it up because we all make mistakes, and it’s good to have a healthy discussion.

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For transcripts, findings and video summaries of current and past PYM Town Hall events, visit PlanYourMeetings.com/townhall