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5 Things Meeting Planners Want in 2013

“People might be doing more meetings, but they’re still very uncertain and very cautious about what meeting budgets are going to look like next year,” says André Fournier, senior vice president of sales & marketing for Destination Hotels & Resorts. “There’s growth, but it’s cautious growth. It’s still growing over last year, but not like it was in January. That upward climb is starting to flatten out a little bit.”

Destination Hotels & Resorts recently commissioned a survey of meeting planners to determine what they’re looking for within those “cautious” budgets.

1. Location. For business meetings, properties should be easy to get to, says Fournier. That means flying into a major airport and minimal transfer time to a hotel. Meeting planners are looking to optimize meeting and social time and not spend them on transfers. Location is followed by rate, flexible space and amenities as concerns.

2. Sustainability. Meeting planners are ahead of leisure travelers when it comes to choosing green efforts. Forty-five percent of planners say eco-friendly practices are ‘somewhat important’ when choosing a venue, while an additional 18% say they’re ‘extremely important.’

“It’s more of a moral issue that people are dealing with today,” says Fournier. “You almost feel ashamed or guilty if you don’t do something.” Basic examples of that are using CFL light bulbs, recycling soap and reducing laundry.

As a more dramatic example, he cites a team-building exercise available to meeting attendees at the Wild Dunes Resort in Charleston, SC. There teams can use the guidance of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources to rebuild a weather-ravaged ocean reef.

3. Healthy F&B. More than 78% of planners identified culinary offerings as an important part of their selection process. Less than 10% cited a ‘signature chef’ as part of that. Instead, planners call for food that focuses on health and nutrition (43%), as well as specialized dietary offerings (35%).

That comes as a surprise to Fournier. “I would’ve thought it would have been trendier to have big name chefs when selecting events,” he says. “But nutrition is more important than who’s cooking it. Guests want memorable meals. But, they want to be alert and strong afterward instead of going into a food coma. I think that’s what we’re seeing trend wise.”

The Stowe Mountain Lodge has an adventurous take on healthy f&b. They not only source food locally and seasonally, but they’ll make an event of taking guests to area farms to learn more.

4. Team Adventure – Health goes beyond eating. When asked about teambuilding trends, more than half (54%) indicated that adventure/active options were of the greatest interest.

“We’re starting to see teambuilding mirror leisure trend patterns,” says Fournier. “Why go all the way to Stowe, VT, to sit in the classroom, meeting style, and never get outside and experience the environment.”
“We’re seeing planners look for a local, authentic experience,” says Fournier.

In addition to weaving adventure into sustainability and healthy f&b, Destinations Hotels & Resorts uses the location to customize adventure. For example, at the Stowe Mountain Lodge teams learn orienteering.

“They get into the environment and use a compass and a map to work their way through a challenge course,” says Fournier. “It gets attendees outside the classroom and gives their minds a chance to rest. It allows them to work well as a team or use a skill set that they’ve developed in a professional environment.”

He says the AIG effect is starting to wear off. “Meeting planners want to build activity back into their planning. That went away from 2008 to 2012 because it was viewed as social or splurging. Now meeting planners are saying we need to bring that back.”

5. Technology. Meeting planners are looking for brand reputation. Half check TripAdvisor and other social media reviews before deciding on a hotel or resort. They want to know what others are saying and how hotels are listening and talking back.

Meanwhile, more than 36% noted an increase in technology integration with meetings compared to a year ago, with strong indications that the trend will continue. Streaming media, web conferencing and on-site video production were the most common uses, with more than 25% of meetings relying on at least one.

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