Event planners are already busy people, and this year, they’re expected to get even busier. In the 2019 Planner Sourcing Report, 37% of planners surveyed said they manage over 50 events per year. And 50% of respondents said that attendance at most of the primary meeting types has increased.
More events with more attendees mean more potential business for hoteliers. As headcount goes up, so, too, does the overall event budget — as well as the expectations from planners, attendees, and stakeholders. If venues want a share of this potential increase in business, they will need to partner with planners to meet their event goals and accommodate their needs.
Planners anticipate an increase in allocations for things such as food and beverage (55%), venues (52%), and audiovisual expenses (49%). They are looking for venues with these key options, so consider highlighting or boosting your offerings so your hotel can benefit from increasing event budgets in 2020.
Spice Up Your F&B
Upgrading your food and beverage is an easy way to distinguish your hotel from other venues and attract planners who are looking for a unique and customizable dining experience.
Food and beverage is one of the biggest expenses for events, so more attendees often means more F&B is needed — which is why budgets in this area are likely to increase. But at the same time, planners want to create a unique culinary experience for attendees. Hoteliers can aid planners in this budgetary balancing act by offering varied levels of experiential F&B at an affordable rate, with a la carte and plug-and-play options made for any budget.
Go for the unexpected with unconventional combinations such as coconut ceviche and black pepper ice cream — these are just a few of the trends Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants predicts will be popular in 2020. Vegetables and plant-based “everything” are taking center stage in 2020, too; packing vegetables into every dish and even making full-vegetable burgers are anticipated to be more common. Include more diet-tailored, healthy, lighter items and fewer sweet snacks.
“Diners continue to be more educated, mindful, and globally connected than ever before,” says Scott Gingerich of Kimpton. Make sure to provide elevated culinary options and dining experiences to entice these kinds of foodie event attendees. Cross-cultural fusions and unusual ingredients can be fresh ways to spice up your catering options and show that your hotel is ahead of the culinary curve.
The more creative and unconventional you can make your F&B offerings, the better. Planners are increasingly looking for ways to spice up their catering menus, and venues need to step up their culinary game if they hope to keep up with these demands — while still being conscious of planners’ budgetary constraints.
Go for unexpected food combinations or cuisine fusions and transform the food into an experience, such as tying the event theme into the F&B, providing a mixologist, or offering self-serve options. Consider running a special at your hotel restaurant to give event attendees a discount “foodie tour” with a specially crafted menu of local or signature dishes. That way, attendees can still have that onsite culinary experience while staying within budget.
Create Versatile Spaces
The venue plays an integral role in the event — it sets the tone for the entire meeting. It’s all about the experience and the atmosphere. The venue may even be one of the deciding factors in whether or not someone will attend the event.
Fifty-two percent of planners expect their venue budget to increase in the next year. So what can hoteliers do to attract more of these planners? Help them create something attendees would never expect by offering atypical and nonstandard event spaces. Classroom-style configurations are a thing of the past. Hotels need to reinvent and reimagine their meeting spaces to be more casual, informal, and multipurpose — and they need to help planners envision this as well.
Give planners more creative license by opening up ideas and moving away from typical room layouts. Encourage planner creativity and increase transparency by showing them the meeting space before the RFP submission process. Make photos, videos, and information available sooner in the process and allow planners to see the space when they’re sourcing venues.
If possible, make available areas that were previously off-limits or not used for meetings. It gives the event an air of exclusivity and a behind-the-scenes factor that will make your venue stand out. It can also help hoteliers capitalize on underutilized space, and it satisfies the planners’ need for innovation and uniqueness. While offering these kinds of areas for meetings gives planners plenty of options, it also helps hoteliers increase the amount and types of groups they can accommodate.
Provide transparency for planners and allow them to see available spaces before they decide to submit an RFP. Help them see how they could use the space and assist them in creating the environment they want to create. Transform your lobby or atrium into a networking space or configure it for a pre- or post-event cocktail hour. Also consider offering atypical event areas, such as outdoor spaces, your hotel bar or rooftop restaurant, or any other area that could be considered an unconventional space. Look at these options through the eyes of a vibrant event planner and envision how you can help them transform the space into an out-of-the-box, unique, and innovative meeting room.
Invest in Technology
Nearly half of planners expect a budget increase for audiovisual and production needs. This means that for planners, technology is central and a crucial element to the success of their event.
For hoteliers, providing free Wi-Fi is not enough anymore, and exceptional Wi-Fi is no longer optional — venues need to be equipped with enough bandwidth and speed to cater to a large number of attendees. Venues also need to incorporate the latest technologies and enable planners to utilize augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR) into their events. And with the emergence of 5G, hoteliers need to consider if the investments they’re making today will still be relevant in a 5G world.
Forty-three percent of planners use event mobile apps to enhance the experience of attendees — so why can’t hotels do the same thing for planners? With branded apps, hotels can ease the lives of planners and help connect them with hotel staff to fulfill requests onsite. Hoteliers can also leverage this technology to improve attendees’ stays or connect them with experiences in the host destination.
Hoteliers should ensure that they have the digital infrastructure in place to support these kinds of amenities. Venues that don’t emphasize upgrading their technology could lose a lot of business to their competitors that can meet these needs.
Assure that your digital infrastructure is robust and top-of-the-line, so it won’t be obsolete when 5G technology becomes more widespread. Create a branded app that caters to event planners and attendees to meet their needs and enhance their experiences. In the meeting spaces themselves, something as simple as making sure there are enough outlets or supplying charging stations helps hoteliers improve the attendee experience and support event technology.
Offer All-Inclusive Packages
All-inclusive venue packages simplify the sourcing process for planners. On top of making it easy for them to stay within budget, it also gives them peace of mind. They know attendees can indulge as they please, and it frees them up from having to worry about the cost of every single extra. On top of giving the planner clarity on the cost per head, all-inclusive packages give the impression of a luxury experience.
“Planners have the convenience of knowing what their bill is going to be at the end of the program long before they get there,” says Michael Butler, meeting planner and director of strategic accounts at Brightspot Incentives & Events. “There is no surprise $10,000 bill from a group that congregated in the pool all day and ran up a big tab. For attendees, they can leave their wallet or purse back in the room’s safe and enjoy their experience without thinking about how much a fancy drink at the bar costs, as well as convenient choices of different restaurant outlets where there is no figuring out a tip or signing a check.”
Hoteliers should be prepared with all-inclusive packages, as well as options for those planners who prefer to pay per item. Be willing to be flexible on the packages and what they include — make it easy for the planner to select your venue. Make sure your packages incorporate on- and offsite experiences and team-building activities, in addition to food and beverage and amenities. Offer all-inclusive weekend add-on packages to entice the attendees to extend their stay after the event is over.
Partner With Planners in Experience Creation
More than 50% of planners say they expect their budget for client entertainment to increase in the coming year — leaving the door open for venues to step in and step up their game when it comes to assisting planners in creating an alluring event packed with engaging entertainment.
“With the overscheduled and highly preoccupied audience of attendees we have now, it is more important than ever to create an experience that grabs their attention (away from emails, social media, and other 24/7 distractions in the palm of their hands) in order to have any ROI on your event," says Holly Bethay, DMCP, director of sales and special events at Hosts New Orleans. “The best way to achieve this experiential and emotional connection with a customer or attendee is through aspects that appeal to multiple senses.”
Food and beverage, room atmosphere, and live entertainment are a few ways to fill this requirement and keep attendees engaged. Providing offsite excursions or bringing the local experiences to the attendees onsite are also great ways to help planners create an event that attendees will remember long after it’s over.
With more on the line, planners say they expect event experiences that increasingly leverage live entertainment, digital touchpoints such as social media displays, and creative alternatives such as pop-up events. “Be here now” entertainment is how most planners most often make their events memorable. For example, 56% leverage live entertainment such as music, and 35% use pop-up events and surprises.
Turn F&B into an interactive experience, as the Hyatt Regency Seattle did. The hotel offers groups an “interactive pizza kitchen experience” where attendees get to make their own pizzas and a chef teaches them how to make the dough, toss it, and spin it in the oven. Partner with CVBs and DMOs in your area to connect attendees with tours and offsite excursions, or to assist the planner in providing local, live entertainment.
When leisure demand is low, it could be the perfect time for your venue to offer a buyout and bring in some extra revenue. Once in the planning process, understand the event needs and specific performances the planners are looking for. Then, proactively offer solutions for bringing these to life. Your unique understanding of your property is bound to surface viable ideas that paint you as a valuable partner in navigating the complexities of such a large-scale event.
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