The future is here, along with more technology, more networking opportunities, more budget demands … in fact, more demands for everything, including your time. 2008 may be more of 2007, but pick up the tips from our planners and you’ll be ready for a (somewhat) fresh start.
Green is the word.
At least one U.S. hotel a day announces its new green initiatives, which is good news for meeting planners, even if it’s a small ripple in the environmental movement. Look beyond the printed note asking you to forego daily linen changes: Nontoxic cleaning products and building materials (carpets, curtains, furniture and paint) result in safer, cleaner air — an important feature for allergy-plagued and chemically sensitive attendees. A by-product of energy efficient insulation is less noise. Some resorts offer bicycles for rent, a preferred amenity and mode of transportation for a growing number of travelers. Ask questions about any venue’s green features: How well-informed is the staff? Is the hotel LEED-certified? Does it have in-room recycling, energy-efficient lighting, light and temperature controls that can be turned down when leaving the room, toiletry dispensers?
A report released at the end of last year by a coalition of environmental groups suggested that if offices used 10 percent less paper, greenhouse gas emissions would drop by the equivalent of taking 280,000 cars off the road for a year. Rethink all those hard copies and offer online downloads.
Planner tip: Advertise your own green efforts to your prospective attendees and spread the good word in press releases.
Culinary tourism (followed closely by cultural tourism, e.g. botanical gardens, museums, historic sites) is big, and an increasing number of restaurants and resorts are creating experiences such as cooking classes with executive chefs; brewery, winery and local farm tours; and culinary cruises. Don’t leave out the kids; kids cooking classes are hot in restaurants and hotels across the country, and are a great idea for family friendly meetings.
Hotel dining rooms are having a resurgence as destinations, with new menus, chefs and décor all playing roles. The emphasis on healthy eating will continue with grilled, roasted, marinated and seasoned offerings beating out heavy sauces. Also, expect small-portioned (“shot glass”) desserts to become even more popular in 2008. Exotic and ethnic food is available in a growing array of venues, especially microethnic cuisine, which celebrates foods from particular geographic regions within a country. Niche specialties are cropping up everywhere — chocolaterias, charcuterie bars, ceviche bars and kebab counters; these “sliver” food specialties offer a fun, inventive way to spice up your mixers. Bartenders are adding superfruit juices, vegetable purées and herbs to their ever more fanciful, and supposedly healthier, libations. Other trends: really bizarre ice cream flavors; gourmet hamburgers and hamburgers with every imaginable topping; innards on the menu; everything hot; and party-colored vegetables.
Planner tip: Take advantage of extravagant early-morning buffets that many hotels are now offering to impress visitors.
Budget challenges continue.
So, what’s new? Not much: The hotel seller’s market is expected to continue into 2008, if not beyond. Demand for business travel services will exceed supply in 2008, driving increases in rates for airfare, hotels, car rentals and corporate meetings, according to the annual Global Business Travel Forecast from American Express. The report predicts domestic trip costs to increase 6 percent, inclusive of airfare, car rental and hotel stay. In North America, American Express predicts a 1-5 percent increase in economy class airfares, a 4-7 percent increase in mid-range hotel rates and a 2-4 percent increase in car rental costs. Factors contributing to overall increases include premium pricing for airplane seats with flat beds or more legroom; heavy demand for hotels in certain U.S. cities like New York, Washington and Chicago, where rates could rise as much as 14 percent, and more taxes and fees on car rentals. However, the report noted that in air travel, increased competition and low-budget airlines could help to keep prices down. The budgetary challenges extend beyond the United States, where the weak dollar and tight supplies make it difficult when planning international programs. The fear of a recession will make the first quarter of 2008 slow and cautious, and planners may find themselves faced with even tighter budgets.
Planner tip: Smarter sourcing, online booking, off-peak deals (no guarantee) and sharpening negotiation skills may pay off.
Real-time action is here.
The immediacy of technology is being embraced by corporate planners: E-mail alerts are smoothing the registration process, wireless hand-held devices can handle last-minute transactions, in-room wireless gives attendees access to the Internet, and venue-wide wireless access allows planners to stay connected to their staff, the venue’s staff and attendees. Another advantage: turnaround time. “Availability is a challenge for short-term planners … to find a destination to fit into as the lead time shrinks,” says Annette Morris, CMP, of Nestle Purina PetCare. “24-48 hour turnaround is realistic now.”
A quick look ahead:
- Online destination video and virtual site tours will become more ubiquitous, including live and mobile.
- Electronic Customer Relationship Management (e-CRM) will change the dynamics of everything especially customer service, personalization and building customer loyalty: Attendees will be able to manage their own registration online; virtual concierge services will have access to a customer database with relevant information about the guest’s preferences and schedule; smart cards will serve as room keys as well as virtual credit cards.
Planner tip: Take a good look at hotel and other providers’ Web sites and find out how they are utilizing “best industry practices” to better service your meetings. Be sure to find out what you will be paying for.
Data mining is chic.
The Internet puts research within reach, so use it to your advantage. The ARC (Airlines Reporting Corporation) Compass, which settles more than 97 percent of e-ticket transactions in the U.S., periodically publishes a list of the most popular destinations. Keep an eye out for average fare information and other destination information.
Online marketing tools, such as Cvent, Constant Contact and Survey Monkey, make it easy for planners to track their own metrics and tailor invitations, press releases and other communications for each target market or attendee group.
Planner tip: Mine the Web for statistics on planner salaries, budgets, ROI and industry trends so you know how the work you do is measuring up.
Social networking is growing.
Take advantage of the opportunity to develop new resources and relationships that will increase your value to your company. The marketing skills you learn can help build event attendance as well.
Planner tip: Build your network and start marketing yourself on sites such as LinkedIn.
New urbanism means more entertainment options.
These new communities are cropping up everywhere, combining the charm of a downtown environment with the convenience of a strip mall offered by these new communities, which are cropping up everywhere, means more off-site opportunities for attendees who want to sample the local scene. These communities are cropping up everywhere, alongside revitalized traditional downtown areas. The benefit to meeting planners: more restaurant and entertainment choices.
Planner tip: Contact the local CVB for more information.
Impersonators and movie themes continue to be winners on the entertainment front.
Still in demand: Elvis, Marilyn, John Travolta (“Saturday Night Fever” turned 30 in December 2007), Rod Stewart (believe it or not) and any sitting president. Now movie themes: “Love in the Time of Cholera” (South America), “Australia” and “The Cup” (Australia, again, and horse-racing).
Planner tip: China and sports will be a big theme in 2008, with the long-awaited start of the Olympics this summer.
While some trends are not directly related to meetings, they all trickle down. So, here are a few more to watch:
- Family travel is growing in general; high-end business hotels and resorts will roll out the red carpets for families, with a growing demand for special suites and villas.
- Luxury markets continue to expand, along with the demand for more personalized service, such as fast-track security check-in.
- Social responsibility is growing in the public awareness with individuals and corporations looking for ways to contribute, especially to local communities they are visiting.
- Health and wellness are top of mind: 24-hour hotel gyms are becoming more prevalent. Spas are benefiting, and some five-star hotels are offering medi-healthy packages in combination with local health facilities.
- Time is one of the biggest luxuries today. Think private jet charter companies, and luxury shopping in major airports and at resort hotels.
- Cultural events are booming. Miami’s Art Basel, the Sundance Film Festival and Sotheby Auctions are some of the events that routinely make the big daily news and weekly entertainment publications. Hotels are adding in-house museums and using artists as interior designers. Creative planners can benefit by adopting complementary themes.
- Today’s increasingly well-traveled individuals want new experiences. Often, they are seeking life-enhancing, interactive activities — the more exotic the better. Some examples: tea ceremonies and sword-fighting instructions.
- Homes are getting bigger, so expect everything else to follow; space is a luxury, too. Singapore Airlines has new private suites with double beds that sleep two; Eos Airlines flies 757s with just 48 seats that fold into flat beds, aimed at corporate customers. Hotels are super-sizing guest rooms as are cruise ships (eight new ones will be launched this year). Large, flat-panel TVs are one of the biggest trends in hotel-room technology. While the growing number of boutique hotels offers smaller guest rooms, they encourage socializing in their more intimate, often exotic lobbies.