Benchmark Hospitality, the Texas-based operator of 31 hotels, resorts and conference centers, recently polled its property-level managers to develop predictions of future trends in the meetings business:

Real-time hospitality. A property's website is its portal to success and must include up-to-the-minute information, dazzling photos and graphics, mechanisms for inquiry and response and the ability for guests and groups to customize their experience.

No BlackBerrys. Meetings are for human contact, and many groups are forbidding the use of BlackBerrys and other digital assistants during meetings.

Customers sound off. A number of popular websites and blogs give consumers a convenient forum to discuss what they like and dislike about hotels, as well as to comment on levels of service and facilities.

Work hard, play hard. While for the most part, meeting budgets are holding steady, increasing resources are being directed to teambuilding events and leisure opportunities. Companies demand more from attendees, but they recognize the need to counterbalance this by blowing off a little steam.

Packaging rules. Meeting planners want no back-end surprises, so they've embraced the idea of all-in-one-price packaging. Benchmark offers a standardized meeting package that's available in diverse markets over a variety of property types.

Last-minute bookings. While Benchmark executives report that meeting pace remains strong and group sizes are holding firm, many planners use the Internet to book meetings at the last minute, forcing operators to struggle to forecast volumes and staffing levels.

They're back! The lucrative pharmaceutical, insurance and hi-tech meeting segments are holding meetings once again, as they plan for new growth, reenergize their executive teams and prepare for new product launches.

Too many cooks is a good thing. Culinary teambuilding is a hot trend, and many planners are requesting this program for their meetings. This kind of teambuilding is fun, nearly everyone can relate to the experience and the playing field is totally level for attendees. Best of all, the experience is sealed with dinner afterwards.

So you're a meeting planner? Since anyone in an organization — administrative assistant to CMP to CEO — can be a meeting planner, hotels need to have one message that communicates to all. Hotels only get a brief moment with each prospect to zero-in on location, benefits, value and service messages.

Reach back, plan forward. An increasing number of groups are seeking a bit of the past as they plan for the future. They may choose historic properties or visit historic sites as part of their agendas.

Looking ahead, Benchmark executives also see green meetings as another trend on the rise.

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