Going by indicators such as a confident stock market, corporate liquidity, positive lending environment and carryover of 2016’s record year for mergers and acquisitions—plus hopeful expectations of traction from a pro-business, pro-transactional Trump administration—the corporate outlook for 2017 so far appears generally upbeat, with enough action to keep the wheels of business turning.

With those conditions boding well for corporate meetings and travel, both transient and group, the following industry leaders offer their insight into emerging and evolving trends influencing and reshaping why, how, when and where corporate groups convene—and what they do and talk about when together.

Andrew Flack
Vice President, Marketing &
eCommerce Americas, Hilton

  • “Creating ‘an experience’ is pivotal. We find that the most successful planners are always looking for ways to create value and meaning for their guests beyond the four walls of the meeting space. It’s all about the 360-degree experience, which is an essential element of our new WowMakers program [see Zoom In, page 18], which we launched last October to recognize the hard work of deserving, often under-recognized meeting professionals, and inspire others planning their own events.”
  • “Meeting, event and travel professionals want practical solutions, real-life inspiration and the right partner to help them achieve the highest satisfaction possible. WowMakers allows our sales team to engage with their customers with experience as the priority. With overwhelmingly positive customer feedback since the launch, we’ve continued to roll out resourceful planning tools and tips on our website, including infographics and checklists covering everything from the RFP process to creating “wow”-worthy event spaces to budgeting with precision. Profiling WowMakers on our new meetings website, meetings.hilton.com, and our social media channels, we also debuted a partnership with iMeet, allowing people to nominate a WowMaker or submit their own “Wow” story for Hilton to spotlight.”
  • “Health and wellness, in-person meetings, networking and technology are all driving trends. According to our recent survey, healthy food and feeling energized from short activity breaks are crucial to attendee productivity. Our enhanced Meet with Purpose packages meet this demand by incorporating health, wellness and sustainability elements into meetings and events. Face-to-face meetings, as opposed to conference calls, Skype and such, create impactful connections on a personal level, which we find are deeper when attendees feel they are working toward a common goal together. Networking can be a deal breaker for event attendance. Seventy-five percent of the 7,000 respondents to an International Association of Exhibitions and Events study deemed networking ‘critical’ in their decision-making process to go or not. And planners are embracing live event streaming, video conferencing, on-site apps and other technology tools that make events more productive and efficient. At Hilton, we ensure that our meeting and event spaces are set up to handle the latest technology for attendee engagement and satisfaction.

 

Carina Bauer
CEO, IMEX Group

  • “The ultimate objective for our industry, and main focus of our 2017 shows, is Purposeful Meetings. Both mindset and practice, this describes planning that satisfies and engages attendees; delivers insight, solid outcomes and lasting positive value; and supports enduring C-suite objectives such as mitigating risk, saving money and generating revenue. Our emphasis in this area includes exploring how behavioral science can help us to better manage and measure typical outcomes such as improved team communication, genuine connections, better decision-making and enhanced learning. Another component is refocusing event design on emotions and experience, in ways that can transform ‘dull and dreaded’ into ‘resonant, meaningful, energizing and effective.’ Wellness, too, is a crucial focus, including providing ‘white space,’ or a strategic pause for attendees to relax, refuel and absorb what they’ve learnt.”
  • “Corporate planners don’t necessarily see themselves as part of the meetings industry, often taking a vertical market mindset instead. To address this and related issues, we collaborated with corporate planners and in-house communications, marketing, travel and event executives from around the globe to redevelop our Exclusively Corporate education and networking program for IMEX in Frankfurt 2017. Challenges we learned about included the pressure to create reinvigorated, fresh event experiences, be it through new technology, emerging destinations or unique venues, on an ever-decreasing budget. Another is that corporate planners tend not to go to tradeshows because they rarely address their needs. The new program covers these and others issues, with speakers from companies including AstraZeneca, Cisco and Lego sharing their knowledge and experiences.”

 

Andy Finn
Vice President, Group Sales, Benchmark Hospitality International

  • Current trends we are seeing include the increasing use of unique, often outdoor venues for opening night receptions, such as covered terraces, by pools and lakes, and on-mountain. Attire for meetings is more relaxed and comfortable, and participation is the norm. I can’t recall a meeting that I’ve attended in the last 24 months where I was not required to participate in one way or another. Mind and body connections are increasingly common, including morning walks, healthier food options, exercise breaks, yoga and more. Plus, community give-back, such as the corporate group at our Cheyenne Mountain Resort in Colorado Springs that handed out logoed backpacks filled with supplies to local schoolchildren.”
  • “Technology-driven future trends, meanwhile, include 3D, virtual reality site inspections, high-tech mobile check-in kiosks and beacon technology for tracking and communicating with resort guests in timely and meaningful ways.”
  • “In terms of forward-thinking program elements, education and growth are focal points. Planners want participants to leave the meeting with knowledge beyond the agenda that they may not have possessed when they arrived. The philosophy of ‘a little less partying and a little more learning’ extends outside the meeting room to fun and memorable experiences in the destination, such as using lunch breaks to tour a local historical site. ‘Skills’ are not required—what counts is participation and effort in team-centric activities that reinforce company culture and shared sense of purpose.”

Issa Jouaneh
Senior Vice President and General Manager for American Express Meetings & Events

  • “For North America, our 2017 Global Meetings Forecast predicts flat spend for 2017 and meetings volume and size decreases due to budgetary constraints and rising property and related costs. Predictions include fewer larger meeting types, including tradeshows, product launches and incentive and special events, and fewer attendees for internal training, senior leadership and advisory board meetings. Options include fewer meetings with more attendees or more targeted invitees, or replacing larger meetings requiring significant travel with multiple local meetings.”
  • “With quality prioritized over quantity, content-level innovations can help resourceful planners create highly engaging experiences for attendees. These include food and entertainment, and especially mobile apps, which experts believe hold the potential to transform and shape meetings, from extending networking to revealing how attendees engage with meeting elements. While adoption is high globally, our forecast suggests that much remains to be learned in this area.”
  • “Leading trends include duty of care when unexpected events or interruptions arise. With multiple vendors, varying transportation booking processes for attendees and more creating complex scenarios for tracking and managing meetings and events, technology, combined with well-crafted policies, can improve and quicken impact assessment and response should crises occur.”
  • “Another is recruiting and retaining Millennials. According to PwC, to be attractive to the Millennial workforce, the M&E industry must provide real-time feedback, offer flexibility and fast promotions, encourage learning, and create a genuine culture of inclusivity. The good news? Our industry appeals to this generation with these very qualities.”
  • “Corporate travel and meeting programs are also changing to become more relevant to the travelers and attendees, with greater emphasis on ease of bookings and the traveler/attendee experience. This, along with growing pressures from the new sharing economy suppliers that have made their way into corporate programs, is driving the need for a change in how content is shared, shopped and booked.”