Teneo Hospitality Group identified the top concerns and trends within the meetings industry so far in 2018, according to its recent poll of planners in the U.S. The results presented by Teneo identify budgets, quality control, cost and reliability of audiovisual and technical services, security of content and the challenges of meeting increasingly complex dietary demands as the most prominent concerns of planners.
Those polled by Teneo represent a spectrum of the meetings industry, including those with roles in banking, pharmaceuticals, technology, associations and travel management companies.
According to Teneo President Mike Schugt, rapid expansion of technology has generated new and more complex issues and rising prices. “Concerns about technology costs and reliability led the list of trends, and planners expressed unease with their ability to protect [meetings-related] content.”
In dealing with these issues, planners must be able to trust their suppliers, Schugt noted.
“Our planners [surveyed] stressed the need for honesty, accuracy and rapid response as a major requirement for effective planning,” he said in regard to the Teneo poll findings.
Following are the six areas of concern on planners’ minds as presented by Teneo.
Effective, high-speed Wi-Fi is the most critical aspect of today’s meetings, bringing together phones, tablets, laptops, messaging services, AV, lighting and an array of specially designed applications.
But more than ever, planners are frustrated by high prices, increasing labor costs, lack of flexibility, difficulties in negotiations and in some cases, a lack of options in hiring a firm for these events, according to Teneo's findings.
Planners agree that Wi-Fi should be more reasonably priced since current policies can make planning and cost control difficult. Many of these costs are passed on to smaller businesses, associations and exhibitors, making participation costlier and potentially creating a competitive disadvantage.
Linking Wi-Fi to AV is increasingly problematic, with stories of breakdowns in coordination that have impacted presentations and events. Reliability of AV can be easily compromised—interference from outside the venue can compromise bandwidth as much as 25 percent.
Controlling costs and ensuring technical quality are a challenge for both venues and planners.
Venues must provide top-of-the-line technical services, keep abreast of advances and ensure their equipment is operated by a highly-trained staff, either in-house or outsourced, according to Teneo.
In order to negotiate effectively, planners need to become more familiar with terminology and the specific needs of exhibitors, vendors and attendees.
Plug-In Power Sources
As devices proliferate, travelers are faced with the problem of recharging everything from phones and tablets to laptops and other portable electronic devices. The demand has rapidly outpaced available charging options, leaving airlines and railways scrambling to add charging stations at airport gates and aboard trains. Hotels and conference centers are equally challenged to keep up with demand.
It is no longer enough to have power sources in guest rooms and meeting spaces and comments from meeting planners and attendees indicate that the existing outlets cannot always accommodate the number of devices guests take with them. Today’s travelers want to be plugged in at all times and everywhere in the conference venue. That includes lobbies, bars, dining rooms, gyms and lounges.
Teneo suggests that planners hosting a meeting overseas should check to ensure attendees will have access to voltage adapters at the venue, should they be needed.
Diet, Diversity and Liability
These issues are not new but few elements of meeting planning have expanded more rapidly and caused more concern than the demand for special dishes at meetings, according to Teneo.
Where once planners offered a few options such as kosher, vegetarian or perhaps a heart-healthy dish, today’s menus are flooded with choices that span gluten free, lactose intolerant, Halal, pescatarian (fish, no meat) and infinite varieties of vegan and vegetarian options that are ever-evolving.
A recent meeting of 271 participants drew 37 requests for special meals—mostly vegetarian and vegan. As the attendee base becomes more ethnically diverse, dietary requirements are predicted to increase.
Consistency of Service
Even in an age of highly standardized big brands, consistency of service remains an issue. As one respondent noted, it is possible to book the same meeting at the same hotel brand in two different cities and find notable discrepancies in cost, facilities, services and staff competence.
This may be due to several factors, including the inability of owners to make necessary renovations or invest in new technology and training.
Security of Data
As technology expands, so do the opportunities to steal information and compromise a company’s data. Security problems can range from thefts of mobile devices that can result in a major loss of information if an attendee has downloaded any of the meeting content, to a full-blown hacker attack.
Just how seriously governments are taking data security and privacy issues can be seen in the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The regulation provides protection and personal control to European Union residents over data transmission and privacy and seeks to simplify existing legislation regarding international business transactions via the internet.
The regulations apply to any organization that processes and stores data from an EU-based individual or company. These organizations must comply with the new EU standards regardless of whether they themselves are EU based. The European Union defines personal data as “any information relating to an individual, whether it relates to his or her private, professional or public life.”
“It can be anything from a name, a home address, a photo, an email address, bank details, posts on social networking websites, medical information, or a computer’s IP address.”
These are all valid concerns and complex problems that require realistic and long-term solutions, according to Teneo's Schugt. “Right now, the hospitality industry is at its zenith, with demand exceeding supply. In a seller’s market, planners must cope with a range of issues from explosive changes in technology and rising costs to changing demographics and increasing regulation on a national and global level.”
It’s a challenge that both hotels and planners must meet. Successful negotiations for technical services now require a wider and more in-depth knowledge of IT.
Hotels and suppliers must take the long view and invest in top-notch technology and property improvements while working towards more consistent levels of customer service.
Flexibility is the key here according to Schugt and Teneo. Meeting planners may need to adjust their expectations, while hotels can explore ways of making policies less rigid.
“Whatever economic factors are involved, the conference and hotel industries have the same goals,” Schugt said. ‘’These issues will be with us for the foreseeable future and we should unite to solve them.”