November 20, 2019
By Brian Chee

What do event planners want, anyway?

After all, if planners drive the business of group events, then it stands to reason that the most important thing for hospitality professionals to know is how to meet those needs. It’s the key to building a healthy and thriving group business, which usually results in a healthy and thriving hotel or venue. Simply put, a stable foundation of event business is critical to forecasting, setting rates, incremental revenue, and helping to drive transient business. To achieve that balance, a hospitality professional must understand this most important audience, beginning with two fundamental objectives:

  • Create an excellent event: This includes making registration easy, managing the event properly, and creating a unique experience. Remember, attendees are spending valuable time and money to participate – make it memorable so they want to come back the next time.
  • Achieve the company’s business goal: Perhaps the point of the event is to train employees, or network around emerging trends. Maybe it’s a regional get-together designed to rally the sales troops for the next quarter.

Regardless of the specifics, the point of any event is to create moments where people can engage, meet and share perspectives around a common theme. Planners are tasked to achieve that on budget, and for any return on investment (ROI). Of course, ROI can get tricky: perhaps it's negotiated savings, contribution to the organization’s goals, or value to attendees. Ultimately, ROI for a planner may come down to a cost vs. value equation, where “value” is defined in different ways.

Today, technology powers these objectives. Indeed, from spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations to video walls and virtual reality, the “how” of events and the “what” of the experience has changed dramatically — though the fundamental point and purpose has stayed consistent.

In this guide, we’ll take a step back and look at the basics of events and event management, and then examine today’s leading technology solutions — and how to best meet the expectations and needs of event planners. Armed with that understanding, you can better plan your marketing strategy, and your technology investment, to drive planners to your venue.

Why Events Matter

According to a study by Oxford Economics, 1.5 billion people participated in business events in 2018, across more than 180 countries. In that same year, global business events generated over $1 trillion in direct spending, and supported 10.3 million direct jobs globally.

That’s a lot of energy — and industry — around meetings. In fact, we meet in all sorts of ways, from large citywide conferences to department training sessions. According to the American Express “2019 Global Meetings and Events Forecast” report, the most common of all meetings are internal team meetings, including employee training: 30% in North America and 25% of all meetings in Europe, Asia Pacific, and Central and South America.

That doesn’t mean, however, that other types of meetings are on the decline. The findings also show an overall increase across the globe, and a slight boost (+1%) in the number of attendees and the length of meetings. The popularity of events is largely driven by the value of face-to- face networking and engagement. That’s the case, even with the popularity of video conferencing technology. Today, engagement is better and that benefits everyone. Just think back to this famous guideline established in 1967 by Albert Mehrabian: communication is 55% body language, 38% tone of voice, and 7% actual words.

The Value of Events

Instead of minimizing the value of in-person events, innovations such as augmented reality (AR) and video are being used as a part of the experience, expanding the effectiveness of an event and creating stronger connections as a result. As with most things, technology enhances and enables but doesn’t replace the value of the personal connection.

So what events matter most? Which hold the most value? To understand planners’ goals and expectations for the event they’re tasked with creating, let’s start with the basics. Events generally are categorized by size, purpose, and type — all of which are increasingly dependent on a technology footprint and a digital experience.

What Makes an Event: Size

Understanding the basic mechanics around an event can help clarify the planner’s approach, and improve communication. For example, the size of a meeting may not be clear from the initial RFP, or it may well change during the planning process. By helping planners assess needs and adjust when they change, venue managers can plan and prepare. To that end, here are the four most common types of business events:

Small events

"Simple" Events

Defined as small, repeatable meetings with “simple” requirements such as basic audio/visual facilities, these events are usually limited to 100 or fewer participants. That helps make them popular: According to the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) and Meeting Professionals International (MPI), 50% of all global meetings meet this description. To put this into perspective, 52% of organizations do not use electronic RFP tools to arrange venues for this type of meeting.

Midsize Events

Larger meetings rely on technology, and require a robust marketing effort to attract attendees. Planners handling these more complicated events want fully branded websites, advanced registration options, and the ability to send targeted emails to their various attendee segments. 

Small Events

The number depends on the area, but as a general rule a small meeting is between 100 and 250 attendees. A good example would be a small training or sales meeting. Small meetings are usually more personal and casual, yet event planners will still want to make the confirmation process simple, with a website and online registration.

They’ll want attendees to be able to use mobile devices to track event activities and stay connected.

Complex Events

Planners tasked with arranging large-scale events need an array of solutions that help manage cost and risk, optimize the experience, and measure business impact — including ROI.

Large or small, be ready to anticipate and meet planner needs. After all, a group of 50 executives can easily become more stressful (and complicated) than a large conference of hundreds.

What Makes an Event: Point and Purpose

There are literally thousands of reasons people and organizations decide to meet, but most have one thing in common — an agenda. That includes a literal “be here at this time” manifesto, as well as a common cause or objective. One can only imagine the chaos of a meeting without a point or purpose!

For venue managers, understanding the purpose of an event is critical in helping planners design the right experience, from registration to conference space needs and room management. Start with these three main categories:

For Profit

Ever been to a music festival, a gaming tournament or a trade association fundraiser? No matter what type of event, planners trying to turn a buck need to budget closely, sell space and get sponsorships or exhibitors. The key is in keeping costs as low as possible without sacrificing the experience.

Corporate

Trade show

Anyone in the mood for a little corporate storytelling or a product launch? For many, events are important ways to raise the profile of the brand, rally the troops, conduct training, and share important information. Planners arranging a corporate event will likely need help driving attendance to sessions, generating leads, and tracking ROI.

Membership Growth

Associations and consumer groups rely on member events to raise funds and recruit new members. So it makes sense that planners are acutely interested in driving attendance. Whether it's an educational seminar or trade networking event, how can planners use your venue or locale to spark interest in attending?

What Makes an Event: The Experience

The popularity of events is due to the quality of the experience — one that’s a good measure more than a speech and a presentation. Today’s planners are looking for events that are interactive, immersive, and thoughtful — encompassing the total time spent, not just the active moments in-session. While that may seem to be elusive, venue managers can take the lead in providing planners with creative ideas and options for their events. For example, according to the Skift and Cvent report, “How Hotels Can Book More Meetings and Events in 2019,” the Marriott’s Convention & Resorts Network (CRN) launched a video series designed to share creative ideas about meetings. Here are a few trendy examples to consider:

Live Entertainment

Forty-three percent of planners in Cvent’s “2018 Global Planner Sourcing Report” cited live music and entertainment as their top strategy for building memorable experiences.

A Quality Keynote Experience

Endless rows of chairs and massive round tables in front of a stage are fading quickly from the event scene. Today, attendees are looking for something more: more interaction, creativity and choice. For example, South by Southwest (SXSW) uses an interactive speaker "panel picker" to help crowd source speakers. There’s also an emerging desire for shorter sessions and more interaction with the expert — before and after the keynote. Perhaps most of all, keynote speakers must be able to use real-world examples to support their data.

Food and Beverage

According to Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants’ “2019 Culinary and Cocktail Trend Forecast,” 80% of chefs surveyed plan to feature a vegan or raw dish, and 88% of bartenders consider sustainability in their cocktail design. The results show how the current trend is all about sustainability and wellness, with the spice of adventure added in healthy doses. In fact, 31% of chefs listed sumac as the top spice they’ll be using in 2019 (Sumac is a dried red spice that features a light, tart flavor). The trends underscore a preference for locally-sourced and creative, exotic cuisine. Consider that more attendees have dietary restrictions, requiring hotels and caterers to be accommodating and flexible.

Wellness

In a recent article for Skift.com, Mia Kyricos — the first senior vice president, global head of well-being at Hyatt — underlined how important wellness is to the event experience. “We are looking at how we can do in things in meetings to ensure they are more productive and more enjoyable,” said Kyricos. “We want to focus on mindfulness, identifying principles to use internally and externally. There

are a lot of things we can do to impact the outcomes, from the food offered during breaks to the physical design of the meeting space to offering programming for non-food-related breaks to scents.”

What Makes an Event: Technology That Puts Everything Together

Innovations such as virtual reality grab the headlines, and for good reason: according to a Consumer Technology Association survey in 2017, 77% of U.S. consumers are interested in purchasing VR equipment. As exciting as that is (virtual reality!) the real value of technology is in helping make things happen. Indeed, for venue managers and planners, technology creates efficiencies and eases tasks for all. Here are just a few examples:

Branded Websites

Websites that promote the brand to attendees also create anticipation for the coming event experience. More practically, these websites help ease registration, check-in, and more.

Room Block Management

Venue managers who expect planners to use spreadsheets to manage room blocks risk losing business. Room block management solutions give attendees more control over their reservations and allow hotels to directly offer the upgrades and add-ons.

Digital Check-in Desks

Digital check-in kiosk

Digital signs, self-service check-in kiosks and on- demand badging are increasingly expected as part of a smooth and easy event registration experience.

Real-Time Surveys

What's better than post-event surveys? Getting feedback at any time, whether before, during, or after the event.

Branded Mobile Event Apps

We all prefer our mobile devices, and that doesn't change during an event. Attendees want instant access to agendas, updates, and networking.

Data Dashboards

At-a-glance analytics provide quick insights that can help optimize events and offerings.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Chatbots are popular with planners and hoteliers because they provide answers in real-time, and do so without much staff oversight. That makes for satisfied attendees — and an affordable solution.

Radio Frequency Identification (RFID)

Whether it's embedded in a badge or on a card, RFID makes it easier for planners to collect data, such as surveys and session attendance. It can also help in creating a more personal in-event experience.

What Makes an Event: Technology in the Moment

Today, exceptional experiences also include a healthy amount of technology. From easing a time-consuming process, enhancing a stay or improving the level of interest or interaction with a topic, technology is at the forefront of helping planners create exceptional in-event experiences. Keep in mind what Cvent’s “Upgrading Your Events with Onsite Technology,” eBook found: “Your attendees’ level of activity is inversely proportional to their emotional engagement.

To put it simply: if your guests are sitting idle and passively listening, then their energy and engagement is sure to decrease.” The great opportunity is to instill a sense of excitement and enthusiasm in your events through the connective power of technology. Here are a few examples of how technology plays a crucial role in turning what was once a boring conference agenda into something interactive, visual, and engaging:

  • Websites: It’s not just for registration. A good event website can drive engagement before, during, and after the event through interactive content, video and images.
  • Room Block Management: Helping every participant register quickly and efficiently gets the event off to a great start; it’s also a great way to offer upgrades and package offers to attendees
  • Virtual Reality (VR): Who doesn't love VR? And for events, there's even more to love. This technology can expand the influence of the event to at-home registrants, and is effective at showcasing event space to planners.
  • Augmented Reality (AR): Digital interaction is the name of the game, and that's exactly what AR does: Have attendees use their phones to transform your venue with visual effects.
  • Beacons: Few solutions are better at connecting events and mobile devices. Period. At events, Beacons improve communication, push updates, and promote targeted content — all through Bluetooth.  

Planner Expectations Around Technology

Technology has indelibly changed the hospitality industry. Professionals on both sides of the meetings and events ecosystem — planner and supplier — now expect technology to power their events and increase efficiency. Most, in fact, count on solutions to help them drive more revenue, especially throughout the process of booking, managing, and assessing events.

The Value of Technology

For example, among the conclusions found in Cvent’s “2018 Global Planner Sourcing Report,” a comprehensive survey of thousands of planners, was the increasing demand in event tech: “Virtual and augmented reality, and person- alized experiences via real-time RFID tracking … saw a sharp increase of 10 percentage points in the year.”

That finding reflects an emerging requirement for venue managers to stay abreast of the application of technology in order to provide a best-in-class experience for planners. Some of the significant benefits planners and hoteliers can expect to achieve include improved engagement, increased revenue, an improvement in managing costs, and greater ROI insights.

From marketing strategies to operational logistics and in-event experiences, today's event industry is undergoing a comprehensive digital transformation. As a result, planners are now adjusting to new, better (and different) ways of planning and hosting meetings and events.

After the Event: What Attendees and Planners Want

Event attendees are also hotel guests. So, in addition to their expectations for a memorable event, they’re also looking for amenities and options during off-hours. Taking advantage of this opportunity to “wow” them makes a good event a great memory.

Doing that takes more than spa services and local tour packages. By keeping the connection alive, there’s an opportunity to build an ongoing relationship. This makes it easier for planners to return to your venue for the next event. Here are a few ideas to consider:

  • Bleisure: More group guests are interested in combining business trips with leisure vacations. This makes the destination extremely memorable and more likely to land on the short list of places to visit again.
  • Data and Connectivity: Imagine being at home, or at a hotel, and not having access to your digital world. Attendees want to be in constant contact with their offices and homes, and stay connected to social media. It's a must-have.
  • Spa Services: If you ask, eight out of ten group guests will opt-in for a spa service. That makes attendees relaxed and planners happy.
  • Post-Event Survey: Offer the planner a way to get valuable insights -- and leverage those same learning to improve your venue's experience. A survey sent immediately after the event underlines the fact that you care about the experience.

With all that goes into an event – the sourcing, logistics, and managing of hundreds of issues – what most planners want is for attendees to walk away satisfied and rewarded for spending time at the event. Post-event special touches, from a relaxing spa treatment to a simple survey and “thank you,” send them on their way with an unforgettable final impression.

Brian Chee

Brian started out as a beat reporter in Los Angeles, covering pretty much anything newsworthy or interesting. It was a deeply formative experience — and one that has helped define his writing career. Since then, he's tackled everything that tells a story, from advertising to marketing, now as a Martech writer in the B2B space. Brian has enjoyed a diverse career of writing about topics including software, hospitality, automotive, digital marketing, and retail. 

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