Perspectives on Industry Trends in Meetings, Events and Travel
Business Solutions A panel of experts discusses key points of hosting a successful meeting and the challenges faced by event planners in today’s rapidly changing world.
In your experience, what is the most important factor in regard to creating a successful meeting, event, or conference?
Josh Lesnick: The secret to success is creating memorable experiences at every touch point, from a grand sense of arrival to a farewell that leaves attendees eager to return. Particularly at the luxury level, our ALHI partners keenly understand the importance of building emotional connections that lead to happy clients and repeat business.
Catherine Chaulet: Selecting the right location is critical yet often time-consuming. By utilizing a global network such as Global DMC Partners, planners can speed up the process with in-depth local knowledge on a worldwide scale. We take budget constraints and industry regulations immediately into account to instantly identify best-fit destinations.
Karl Pietrzak: For any event to be successful, the facilities need to meet the needs and goals of the event. From hotels and convention centers, to off-site venues, the actual facilities must be able not only to accommodate the event as envisioned by the host organization, but provide the right environment to set the tone.
John Solis: The most important factor is knowing your audience and developing relevant content for a diverse group of attendees.
John Bettag: From my perspective, the destination has to first meet the specific needs for each client. While that always starts with dates, rates and space, it goes far beyond that. Groups look for a destination that will meet the other needs of their event and help to drive attendance or provide event resources that may add to the content. For example, here in St. Louis we’ve become on the of the nation’s biggest innovation centers primarily in technology and the areas of plant science and bio-sciences. Groups are able to tap into this talent to enhance their meeting content as we have a variety of local experts who can serve on panels, provide insight or simply provide on the ground support. Additionally, planners and groups are always blown away by the outstanding attractions, world-class restaurants and entertainment options that rival much of our competition. You definitely won’t be lacking for something to do if you attend an event in St. Louis.
What major challenges do meeting planners and the C-suite face when trying to engage an audience?
JL: It’s important to start the process early to brainstorm and develop content that will engage attendees. With over 250 luxury hotel partners worldwide, planners turn to ALHI not only for our venue expertise but also for our broader understanding of what trending themes are relevant and of interest to audiences in our ever-changing world.
CC: What used to be a guarantee for engagement, such as a popular destination or an innovative app, is no longer necessarily the case. Planners must think and work differently. Access to new ideas and sharing best practices for creating buzz and stimulating engagement is more important than ever before.
KP: Today attendees engage differently than audiences have historically. Technology has changed the way people consume information. Recognizing the challenges and opportunities of engaging modern audiences, being willing to do things a different way, and even having the resources required to incorporate technology into events, are all requirements for successfully engaging audiences.
JS: Meeting planners must understand how to deliver this content through appropriate channels such a face to face meetings, webinars or various social media platforms.
JB: Addressing groups’ perceptions of our destinations is something our team deals with daily. Once we get a potential client here, they are always impressed with the city and our convention facilities, but the challenge is to get them here and not think of us as “fly-over” country. More often than not, when we bring in a client to see first-hand what St. Louis has to offer, their perception changes and they are amazed. The entire region is in the process of a transformation with more than $8 billion of investment in our region featuring new attractions, businesses, hotels and improvements that are planned to our convention center. Just some of the new additions to our convention package include 12 new hotels (including a Live by Loews! hotel near Busch Stadium) and the opening of the Saint Louis Aquarium at Union Station in late 2019.
What industry trends are helping shape the future of the meetings, events and travel industry?
JL: Overall lifestyle trends are really starting to shape the future of meetings and events. This has been the case in leisure travel for some time, but it is now becoming a much more prominent part of meetings. People want more flexibility in event programming, and they want to see a level of responsibility and thoughtfulness in the experience.
CC: Corporations are investing in events, treating meetings as a tool to keep employees engaged and motivated. This is particularly important with the millennial workforce where turnover is high. Incentive trips, travel, and education are highly desired by today’s workers, just as much if not more than work-life balance and benefits.
KP: Sustainability has been a transformative trend in the meetings industry over the last 10-15 years. Societal and demographic forces are impacting the meetings, events and travel industry. The impact of the millennial generation has led to the creation of new events and hotel brands. Diversity and inclusion are leading to changes in content, speakers and even the goals of organizations at events.
JS: Meeting planners are beginning to engage more heavily with their respective destination-marketing organizations for assistance with incorporating all regional and local resources into the fabric of their event. Examples are utilizing intellectual capital, city infrastructure and other local opportunities such as community service events to create a lasting footprint of their organization.
JB: Technology is a big driver as planners and groups are always looking to leverage the latest and great technological enhancements to please their attendees. From the use of apps to share immediate information with attendees, to reliable and ease of Wi-Fi access, technology is and will be going forward a big key. Additionally, food continues to be key for planners. While price is always important, it is also key to be able to deliver on a multitude of dietary requirements and request from attendees. Food and beverage providers need to demonstrate continued flexibility in meal planning as well as a popular trend of locally sourcing ingredients for the dishes served at conventions and meetings. In St. Louis we are fortunate to be in the heart of America’s Breadbasket with local suppliers who are eager to work with venues across the region to help create fresh and regionally unique offerings for all types of events.
How can an event space or destination make an event even more engaging?
JL: The best way to captivate attendees and ensure their engagement is to incorporate local traditions and destination activities that cannot be found elsewhere. Ultimately as hoteliers, we are in the story telling business and we need to leverage local attractions, attributes, and ambassadors to tell that story in a more powerful, real, and memorable way.
CC: First, ensure that the expected basics are covered (i.e. good wireless coverage, a smooth airport arrival process and memorable F&B offerings). Then, shine with creative, local activities that will ‘wow’ attendees. Even tried-and-true destinations and venues need to showcase their lesser-known, off-the-beaten-path offerings to bring back audiences year after year.
KP: It starts with a destination and/or event space being welcoming. When people of all backgrounds feel welcome in a destination or event space, then they can focus on the event itself, and be open to being engaged. A host destination and host venue needs to do their homework to truly understand the goals of the organization they are hosting. They need to become partners with their customers, and move beyond a transactional relationship. Once that has been established, they can work with the event planners together to achieve the vision the organization set for the event. Being flexible and adjusting to the unique needs of their customers will help destinations and venues respond rapidly to the varying needs of different groups.
JS: Selecting the optimal space or destination for your event assists to create a unique, authentic and memorable experience which aligns with the needs of the attendees and goals of the organization.
JB: One of the best ways an event space can truly leverage a group’s satisfaction is by offering a unique experience that is unique to the host city and will help create an experience that will resonated with planners and their attendees. We have several venues in St. Louis that fit the bill perfectly, including the Gateway Arch National Park, Ballpark Village and City Museum. The recently completed $380 million project to transform the Gateway Arch ground and museum has created spectacular indoor and outdoor event spaces that have visitors lining up to explore. Located adjacent to Busch Stadium, home of the St. Louis Cardinals, Ballpark Village has been giving groups of all sizes an outstanding event venue that provides guests a world-class experience with live entertainment, sports, food and of course St. Louis’ favorite beverage, beer. No to be missed is the enchanting City Museum that not only welcomes nearly 800,000 visitors annually, but has become a mainstay for meeting planners looking to create a memorable experience for their attendees. No matter what you are looking for, the St. Louis market truly has a special event venue to meet the needs of any group or organization.