We’re living in a time of unprecedented change, where new and emerging technologies have transformed the landscape of our everyday lives.
The future of the meetings and events industry is deeply tied to evolving technologies and hinges on hotels going above and beyond how they attract and retain group business. To do that successfully, they must use technology to meet event planner expectations in a profitable and efficient way. Hotels can no longer compete without the use of technology to meet these requirements.
The need for better and more actionable data on events and attendees will drive future tech developments. Technology should supplement — not replace — in-person events. According to the American Express 2020 Global Meetings and Events Forecast, meeting professionals believe that 2020 will be the year technology becomes fully integrated.
Here are a few meetings and events trends for 2020, along with advice on how hoteliers can capitalize on them to win more group bookings and optimize their event operations.
Facilitate Authentic Connections
Tied to our deeply human craving for connection, immersive experiences forge bonds and create lasting memories that resonate long after the event is over. For hoteliers, it means an experience planners and attendees will never forget — and could lead to repeat business for your hotel.
Now more than ever, planners expect hoteliers to be partners in the creation of that experience. Play an active role in helping planners achieve their goals, which will spur good reviews, repeat business, and word-of-mouth referrals for your hotel.
Use Technology to Drive Engagement and Streamline Processes
Mobile apps have become as common at events as lanyards. Attendees enjoy that apps improve communication and engagement and facilitate networking. But mobile apps are just the beginning — planners are looking for new and innovative ways of forging connections assisted by technology.
By implementing technology solutions to streamline event planning and execution, hoteliers can create an immersive brand experience and simplify planners’ lives. Use branded apps to improve attendees’ stay at the hotel and connect them with local experiences — all while keeping them immersed in your brand. Make it easy for planners to interact with your hotel brand and for attendees to interact with one another during the event.
Human and face-to-face interaction still reign supreme, even with the growth of technology and automation. People will engage with apps and self-service features, but the minute something goes wrong, they want to talk to a person.
According to the PwC Future of Customer Experience Survey, nearly 80% of American consumers say that speed, convenience, knowledgeable help, and friendly service are the most important elements of a positive customer experience. The same technology that enhances these experiences can be used to support and create meaningful connections between attendees. Hoteliers can offer check-in technology to improve the guest experience and optimize the first interaction they have with attendees.
Use technology to assist in making connections — but only so long as it does not disrupt. It should be seamless and helpful, not detrimental or just for the sake of appearing “cutting-edge.” Creating a positive experience and helping people forge meaningful connections will showcase your brand in a positive light. It’s good customer service, for both the attendees and the planners, and could result in repeat business or help you win over prospective planner customers.
Use VR and AR for More Immersive Experiences
Planners are willing to spend more if it improves the onsite experience. Nearly 55% of planners are spending more of their time and attention on the attendee experience versus event logistics, according to the Amex report. Meeting planners are looking to fully engage people in the meeting so that they’re not just attendees — they’re participants. Online platforms that streamline the booking process are only one way that planners are making this shift into technology solutions. Hoteliers should focus on making the booking process as easy as possible and having the infrastructure in place to handle event technologies that contribute to more immersive experiences, such as virtual and augmented reality.
The Experience Institute reports that for 2020, networking continues to be one of the most important reasons people attend meetings and events — and they expect connections that are more authentic than just small talk or an exchange of business cards. Hoteliers can play a critical role in creating these authentic connections, which make for memorable experiences and events that resonate.
It’s All About Personalization
Put personalization at the core of everything you do, and focus on the experience every step of the way. Even Airbnb sells experiences now, with a special section on its site just for connecting travelers with tours and activities led by locals in a destination. Be a champion of your destination and assist attendees in connecting with your city in unique and unpredictable ways. Partner with your local CVB, restaurants, and other venues to provide guests with a plethora of options for extending the experience beyond the event.
5G: The Future of Mobile Networks
5G, the emerging mobile network technology, is set to shake up the events and hospitality industries. With 1,000 times the speed of 4G LTE, 5G will bring a new era of real-time connectedness into our everyday lives.
Though it’s not widespread yet, hoteliers need to make sure that the technology investments they are making today will still be relevant in a 5G world. With the service mostly confined to larger cities upon its release, hoteliers in those cities can use 5G as a differentiator until the technology becomes more ubiquitous.
“5G brings much bigger opportunities for hospitality providers, because when you unburden the restrictions of bandwidth, you can push the possibilities of technology on a much grander scale,” Michele Dupré, group vice president of Verizon Enterprise Solutions, wrote in an article for HospitalityTech.com.
How Hotels Can Harness 5G
A 5G-capable venue opens up a wide range of possibilities for planners, fromsimply supporting a large number of simultaneous internet users to presenting holographic keynotes. It ticks a lot of the boxes that planners are looking for. 5G can also make hotels and venues more secure, with the capability to automate security systems and push out security alerts to attendees instantaneously.
These emerging technologies will completely transform the way meetings and events are experienced, hosted, and marketed. But planners have their eyes on other tech, too. 5G will help put AR into the hands of attendees by streaming to personal devices and bringing the presentations to life. It will allow hoteliers to bring that technology to planners, too, by using 5G to market their event spaces.
A recent Hilton Honors study found that the appeal of checking out a venue in VR or AR may be more powerful than personal recommendations. Imagine giving a planner a walk-through and having them hold up their phone and pull up an overlay of different room layouts. That would allow them to not only visualize their event in the space, but physically walk through it and experience it live. Adding a VR tour of event spaces to your hotel website can help planners visualize their event in your space and could sway their decision.
Go Green and Create Sustainable Meetings
Deloitte’s Global Millennial Survey 2019 found that climate change is the most important issue for this generation, so it’s important to address sustainability and how your hotel can support a green event.
Sustainability is an often-overlooked way to appeal to planners and make your hotel stand apart from the crowd. It’s also a great way to make a positive impact while showcasing your brand in a positive light. The 2018 Porter Novelli/Cone study on company purpose found that Americans prioritize companies that advocate for issues (81%), protect the environment (79%), and give back to important causes (73%). They want companies and brands to take a stand and make a statement. But it’s not just about having strong values — it’s about authenticity and living those values, too.
Being green has now gone far beyond recycling alone isn’t enough anymore. A responsible approach to business incorporates the environment as well as social and economic issues. Sustainability is expanding to encompass diversity and inclusion, equality, and other societal issues.
Sustainability and Eco-Friendly Practices for Hoteliers
When attracting group business, consider partnering with planners to create an event that goes beyond the typical agenda — focus on creating good for the community, too. Hotels have started connecting planners to certified carbon-offsetting projects in their areas and organizing team-building activities that give back to the local community.
Hotels around the world are embarking on various sustainability initiatives and implementing green practices such as installing solar energy roofs and energy saving windows, reducing water and food waste, using local produce, and supporting local environmental projects. With advances in technology, renewable resources such as solar, wind, and geothermal energies are more affordable to use at the property level.
Planners are on the lookout for hotels and venues with green credentials, but if that’s not something you can bring to the table, don’t worry. There are still things you can do to demonstrate your commitment to sustainability.
Consider sustainability and eco-friendly practices that lower costs, such as reducing food and other waste and including items that are designed for reuse. Locally sourced food saves on transportation costs while also giving attendees a unique connection to your city. Going paperless saves on printing costs, reduces waste, and saves trees. Donating any remaining or unused items, such as exhibitor furniture and leftover badges, makes sure that nothing goes to waste and reduces the environmental footprint of the event.
Highlight your proximity to transportation or offer carpool or free shuttle options. A centrally located hotel close to public transportation is appealing to planners looking to be eco-friendly and make the lives of their attendees easier. Even smaller shifts such as replacing disposable plates and cutlery with reusable china or purchasing local and seasonal produce are simple ways to go green and be more environmentally responsible.
Research from EventMB revealed that only 10% of the venues reviewed had information publicly available about their sustainability policy. Make sure you clearly publish your sustainability initiatives on your website in a place where planners can easily find them — or else you might be missing out on a key way to attract more group business.
Take Your Food and Beverage to the Next Level
Upgrading your F&B is a big opportunity to grow your group revenue, by either booking more events or increasing the revenue brought in from each booking.
According to the 2019 Cvent Planner Sourcing Report, 55% of planners expect increases in food and beverage budgets. This reflects the reality that an increased number of attendees means more F&B is needed. It may also indicate the growing importance of dining experiences at events. Increasingly, planners expect hotels to deliver more diverse and exciting food choices, both to accommodate a wide range of diets and preferences and to create a culinary experience for attendees.
Top F&B Trends to Try for 2020
Alternative diets — such as vegan, gluten-free, or dairy-free — and obscure ingredients are expected to become mainstream in 2020. According to 31% of chefs surveyed for Kimpton’s 2020 Culinary & Cocktail Forecast, it’s no longer enough to provide just one or two options that fit these diets. For hotels that can adapt their offerings to go above and beyond for these now-common requests, it could be the differentiator that sets your venue apart and makes you the first choice for planners.
More than half of the chefs surveyed by Kimpton predict that plant-based meat alternatives will become mainstream, and nearly a third predict an increase in incorporating vegetables into every dish. Consider exploring Levantine cuisine, as well as Turkish, Israeli, and Lebanese, as they’re predicted to be the most influential style for menus in 2020. Jackfruit as an alternative to pulled pork, sparkling water, ugly produce, and CBD oil are also notable trends, as observed by Benchmark’s 80 hotels and outlined in their Top F&B Trends for 2020.
Sustainability also leaks into the food and beverage sector, as Kimpton predicts that transparency in ingredient sourcing and production and policies to reduce restaurants’ environmental footprints will take center stage as the most impactful social trends on the horizon. Along with these restaurant philosophies, Kimpton also predicts that composting, eliminating single-use plastic items, and incorporating zero-waste techniques will be big — and could be big differentiators for your hotel.
Other Cost-Effective Ways to Transform Your F&B
Another way to overhaul your F&B is to manage costs by planning and buying more strategically. Hoteliers can still provide high-quality meal services and experiences for transient and group guests while cutting back on costs. For instance, prepare menu items from scratch rather than buy them pre-made or offer a smaller, rotating menu of seasonal and local items.
To reduce food waste, some hotels are using artificial intelligence to document which foods are going in the trash after banquets and catered affairs. Others are using less expensive but still high-quality ingredients, including chicken and skirt steak, or locally sourced items such as craft beer and produce.
Hotels can bolster their menus with selections such as scratch-made, vegan-friendly dishes using that local produce, or consider growing their own vegetables onsite. You can even incorporate F&B into the lobby to create an arrival experience that guests and attendees will remember. Provide complimentary refreshments that showcase the uniqueness of your city and menu. In addition, interactive food and beverage ideas, such as DIY tacos, loaded mashed potato bars, or local wine tastings, can offer a big boost in revenue and make your venue stand out.
Provide Mental Wellness Spaces and Activities
Mental well-being is a trend gaining more traction. Spinning off the wellness trend, it encompasses mindfulness, happiness, and spiritual well-being. Mindfulness is an important way to nurture mental health in an age of technology overload.
To accommodate the mindful traveler, Mandarin Oriental embraces meditative and calming practices in its spas and provides spiritual and centering activities such as digital detox retreats, meditation workshops, tai chi, and tea ceremonies.
Emphasize your outdoor space and use it to its full potential. Planners are looking to provide more holistic experiences that go beyond content, so consider hosting outdoor fitness classes or morning meditation sessions.
The Hilton Boston Logan Airport is a great example of how to reimagine your outdoor space. As an airport hotel, it was not typically thought of for groups and meetings. But by showcasing its unique natural green space and parklike setting with 4,000-square-foot private event lawn, the Hilton transformed its business and changed planner perception.
Provide attendees with tranquil escapes from the hectic schedule of their meeting. Highlight your proximity to hiking trails or other outdoor activities, such as cycling. Help attendees keep up with their current wellness practices so they don’t see your lack of traditional fitness facilities as a deterrent to attending the event.
Even if your hotel isn’t in a city typically known for its wellness or mindfulness attributes, it can still highlight the well-being offerings that are available — with the right marketing. Attendees want to stay healthy and wellness-focused even though they’re working. Give them options for winding down after a long day of meetings and sessions, such as spa treatments or classes at a local yoga studio.
Capitalize on Booking ‘Simple Meetings’
In a Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) study, respondents say 50% of their corporate meetings are simple meetings. According to other industry sources, 50% of a company’s meeting budget is spent on managing these small meetings. This shift toward smaller, more intimate meetings goes hand in hand with the increased desire for personalization and customization. In smaller groups and venues, personalization is easier to manage — for both the planner and the hotelier. Capitalize on this by emphasizing your flexibility, attention to detail, and one-on-one customer service.
Often, planners booking these simple meetings are administrative assistants or other nonprofessional planners who might not have any formal training. This means they’ll be looking to you for guidance and advice, so be helpful and patient and position yourself as a partner. Aim to minimize the back-and-forth emailing to make the process as easy and seamless as possible. Proving yourself as a valuable venue and partner could lead to larger events with the same client in the future.
To even better capitalize on booking simple meetings, hoteliers can implement efficiencies such as automated booking processes and real-time, bookable meeting inventory. Most people are used to booking their own leisure and travel business online, so hoteliers should provide similar online “shopping” experiences to accommodate the people in charge of planning simple meetings.
According to a GBTA study on how companies approach simple meetings, 77% of respondents say they use only consumer channels when sourcing information. The best thing hoteliers can do is increase their visibility and position themselves front and center where these planners are sourcing venues.
Simple meetings can provide a bump to your bottom line — and they’re lighter lifts than logistically heavy and complicated events. If your venue can accommodate it, hosting multiple small meetings in the same day is an efficient way to maximize your hotel space and increase revenue.
Safety and Security Remain Top Priorities
While planners are being more adventurous with venue selections and looking for out-of-the-box options, there is still a heavy focus on safety and security. Hoteliers can aid planners by providing security information for the venue and city upfront during the sourcing stage.
Ipsos MORI’s Global Business Resilience Trends Watch 2019 indicates that 42% of companies include a travel risk assessment in travel approval processes and 39% have implemented travel safety and security training. Event planners want to know of possible safety risks and assure attendee protection. Hoteliers should inform planners of safety measures and the contingency plans in place, positioning themselves as partners in safeguarding the event and attendees. According to the same study, 38% of itineraries were modified because of country risk ratings. Hoteliers should be aware of any security concerns in their country or area and be prepared to assuage event planner anxieties with security procedures and protocols.
Information Security and CCPA
Data and personal information security is still a concern that’s top of mind for planners, and new regulations on the horizon mean big changes for hoteliers and planners alike. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is already in place and has completely changed the way event planners process and protect the information of attendees from the European Union. In the United States, the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) took effect in January 2020, and it requires more compliance from hotels.
Like GDPR, CCPA requires stricter data privacy protections for California residents. Under this new law, California residents can ask companies to disclose what information is collected about them and request a copy of it. Companies are also required to delete customer data when requested and are prohibited from selling that information if the customer instructs it via a mandatory “do not sell” link on the company’s website. Consumers also have the right to equal treatment — meaning that companies won’t be able to treat a consumer differently because they have exercised their privacy rights under the law.
Companies affected by CCPA include businesses that have an annual gross revenue of more than $25 million, derive 50% or more of their annual revenue from selling consumers’ personal information, or annually buy, receive, sell, or share the personal information of more than 50,000 consumers, households, or devices for commercial purposes.
Tips for CCPA Compliance
To make sure your hotel is ready for these changes, here are a few best practices to ensure your hotel is compliant.
- Transparency: Clearly state what information you collect, how it is used, and how you share the information gathered about attendees, sponsors, and exhibitors.
- Consumer rights: Provide customers with the right to delete their information, have access to their information, and opt out of having their information sold.
- Data security: Ensure information is being protected and understand how sensitive information is being stored.
Incorporating these elements and catering to these planner requirements in the coming year could help your hotel stand out against a backdrop of cookie-cutter venues and humdrum offerings.
For more on trends changing the meetings and events industry and how you can secure more group bookings, read 5 Trends Shaping the Future of Group Business.