By Heather McNeill
If the past 10 years have taught us anything, it might be this: We have to be ready for change. That has been a recurring theme as we have looked at meeting and event trends in celebration of MM&E’s 10-year anniversary.
Staying adaptable and open to change also means being prepared for the future and thinking about what lies ahead. What does the future of the meeting and event industry look like? What current trends will matter in 10 years, and which ones will be dead? What should planners be on the lookout for, and what should they prepare for? How can planners be ahead of the game?
In this final part of a three-part series, a few industry leaders tackle these questions about the future of the industry. Their answers suggest that business is looking up. Meetings and events continue to have an important impact within organizations. They also have an integral role in the health of the wider economy and its recovery.
“Tourism has always been a driving force for economic development. Whether it’s at the city level, state level or even international travel, visitors are always looking for an experience. Their visit to any destination has to be something that they will leave with, and they have to feel that they’ve experienced something,” said Cori Day, tourism director for the city of Independence.
THE FUTURE OF MEETINGS AND EVENTS
Jim Ruszala, director of marketing for Maritz Travel, suggested that in some ways the economic challenges of the past 10 years have provided the opportunity to re-envision how to do business better. Maritz, which specializes in incentive travel programs, has worked to help organizations connect better with their employees by reaching what it means to motivate people and measuring the impact of programs and how they apply to organization’s and individuals’ goals.
“Those softer, intangible values don’t come up unless you ask the right questions,” Ruszala said. “You have to work not only with planners, but with the entire staff to find out the motivations of individuals – everyone has different objectives. Our question has been, ‘How do we measure these objectives?’”
The emphasis should be on designing better programs up front, rather than following a model of how things have been done in the past, Ruszala suggested. In other words, in the context of creating more effective programs for attendees, “‘What do they want to hear about, rather than what do I think they want to hear?’”
The focus on increasing value also applies to how destinations have tried to appeal to groups over the past 10 years, and how they will do so in the next decade. Day said the city of Independence has had several new developments that have made it a hub for sports events. The Independence Events Center, for example, is a new major attraction, home to both the Missouri Mavericks hockey team and the professional indoor soccer team, the Missouri Comets.
“Sports have become a huge market for Independence. And we continue to thrive due to the immense amount of history that we have to offer. We will continue to come up with new and innovative ways to attract a range of ages to our market,” Day said.
TECHNOLOGY TRENDS WILL MATTER
Technological developments have been some of the most important trends of the past decade, and will no doubt continue to be. “The biggest trend has been the advent of various technologies,” Ruszala said. He advised that the best way to integrate technology, such as social media and mobile applications, into programs is to find out first how those technologies can best connect with participants.
“At Maritz Travel, the focus has been on the whole program, assessing not only pre-experience, but during and after the event to ensure that the attendees are getting what they need,” he explained. “People want to have experiences and they want to have good ones.”
Day agreed that technology has had a substantial impact on the way meetings take place. “The way we communicate with one another is different and we’ve had to adjust to that. I see smaller meetings such as board and committee meetings using conference calls and Skype as a way to communicate rather than meeting face to face.”
Yet, Day also emphasized that in-person meetings will always be important. “No matter how much technology advances, I think there is still a need for face-to-face contact. There’s something to be said for getting to know people and having that connection.”
WHAT TRENDS IN MEETINGS AND EVENTS WILL BE DEAD IN 10 YEARS?
“Organizations that do not have any transparency in terms of value of programs are not going to have budgets [for those programs] in the future,” Ruszala said. He also pointed out that it’s important not to rely on only one method of engaging meeting attendees.
“You need to have keen understanding of the audience. Going too heavily into one communication channel or another can lead to disengagement. It needs to be more about an integrated approach.” He continued: “From an experience standpoint, the question becomes, ‘How do I set meeting goals, and have those be more people-focused and experience-centered?’”
Day comes back to the idea of flexibility. “[Destinations and planners] need to be able to move with the times and have back-up plans. I know that there have not only been many hotels going out of business, but there have been several businesses closing down as well. These aren’t things that anyone can see coming. We have to roll with the punches and pick ourselves back up when we need to. However, it’s important to stay positive and just keep doing your job.”
STAY AHEAD: PLAN FOR ANY CONTINGENCY
No one can be certain about what the future holds, but the past does teach us that keeping up-to-date and cultivating relationships will always be crucial for continued success. “It’s important that destinations look for new and innovative ways to reach new markets and communicate with their existing clients,” Day said.
Planners, too, should be aware of all their options, she suggested. “Planners may want to start looking at new destinations to familiarize themselves with what’s out there. The tried and true methods of meeting planning and going to the same hotel each time is fine as long as you know what your other choices are. Back up plans are invaluable.”
Whatever approach planners and destinations take, they might be reassured by the meetings and events that are being scheduled right now. Ruszala pointed out that when meetings were scaled back over the past decade because of the economy, the effect was felt. He said currently Maritz Travel is now back to 90 percent of pre-recessionary revenue, which he says is a “good testament to the idea that, ‘You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.’”
It is a promising sign for planners and destinations that organizations are showing increasing interest in holding events and recognizing their employees. As this business returns, planners who have been adaptable during these challenging past few years will surely be the stronger for it. MM&E
(Heather McNeill is a contributor from Kansas City, Mo.)
As we conclude the celebration of our 10-year anniversary and look ahead to exciting changes and growth in the meeting and event industry, we take a quick look at two final properties – one that has that stood the test of time and a more recent one that is sure to be around for years to come as well.
Tan-Tar-A Resort, Golf Club, Marina & Indoor Waterpark – 1960
Tan-Tar-A Resort, which opened in 1960, is nestled on 420 acres along the Lake of the Ozarks in Osage Beach. Through the years, the resort has greatly expanded its meeting and event spaces. It offers 93,000 square feet of flexible function space that can be divided into meeting rooms for 10 or used as a ballroom for 3,500. Planners can count on the finest audio-visual equipment in the Osage Beach area.
The resort offers a full range of amenities and activities including a wide array of water sports, two championship golf courses, horseback riding, a full-service spa and Missouri’s largest indoor waterpark, Timber Falls.
When your guests are ready to get some rest, Tan-Tar-A has 720 guest rooms and 150 suites. Spacious one- and two-bedroom units, some with balconies or fireplaces, are ideal for in-room meetings and social gatherings.
Overland Park Convention Center – 2002
Just 30 minutes southwest of the Kansas City International Air-port is the conveniently located Overland Park Convention Center. With 60,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space, a 25,000-sq.-ft. ballroom, 15,000 sq. ft. of meeting space and 85,000 sq. ft. of contiguous exhibit space, the center is ideal for trade shows, conventions, training sessions, corporate meetings and social events.
The OPCC is not your typical convention center. More than 50 regional artists have work permanently displayed at the center, including a 30-foot blown glass chandelier, sculptures, paint-ings, metalwork and more.
The center offers free parking, including 400 covered spaces;high-speed Internet access; eight bay loading docks and elephant doors; and spacious pre-function and registration areas. It is connected to the 412-room Sheraton Hotel.