Mr. Fears

Hotel Market Reports

Meetings Outlook: Redefining the Meeting Experience

By Bruce Fears, President, ARAMARK Harrison Lodging

This year is going to be one of the most exciting times in the meetings and conference industries to date. With all the changes taking place, it can also be daunting if you're not on top of the competitive arena. The following article outlines some of the most significant trends and opportunities in the industry as projected by myself and my team at ARAMARK Harrison Lodging, a leading provider of professional services to 50 conference and corporate training centers, specialty hotels, national and state parks, resorts and other tourist destinations throughout the United States.

The meetings and conference industry will continue to expand

Over the past few years, we've seen significant sustainable growth in the meetings and conference industries. A recent study conducted by PhoCusWright, and partially funded by ARAMARK Harrison Lodging, reported that the group and meetings revenues will develop into a $175-billion industry by 2008 - up from $164.1 billion in 2007. While much of the expansion is associated with a rebounding economy, it can also be attributed to a number of other factors.

Overall, we are seeing bookings stretching out from two to four months in advance instead of one or two months; that is always a sign that the economy and meetings market is getting better. Additionally, a survey conducted by the Wall Street Journal querying 60 economists forecasted that the U.S. economy is poised for rebound this year - offering another optimistic outlook for 2007.

The leisure meetings industry represents the best potential for revenue growth

We are predicting that the social/leisure group travel business will represent the most significant market opportunities in the meetings industry this year. The PhoCusWright study backs this up by reporting that this segment, representing a $47.2 billion market in 2006, is projected to reach $51.3 billion by 2008.

In order to capture this business, conference centers and hotels need to be both strategic and creative in how they market to this segment to bring in and tap this growing revenue stream.

Competition is going to be as fierce as ever

While the hotel business is still strong, the market is going to cool down from 2006, and hotels are going to look to the meeting business to keep profits on the rise.

Online bookings are also going to draw from revenues that traditionally would have gone to conference centers and hotels, more so than ever before. These online third-party entities are trying to become a one-stop shopping center for meeting planners. Suppliers will need to simplify and streamline business processes as well as leverage online bookings and the Internet, or else risk revenue loss to competitors and/or new entrants.

Conference centers will also need to incorporate these online entities into their sales repertoire to stay on top of the market. Forefront leaders like AHL may even decide to take a "hybrid approach" and work with online booking agents and/or companies to garner additional revenue, yet keep their existing client database satisfied with quality customer service.

The good news is that more and more meeting planners are choosing venues that offer one point of contact that caters to their individual needs. They are selecting conference facilities that are modern and include scrumptious dining, excellent customer service, and nearby attractions to make their experience more enjoyable and productive-and they can easily find these amenities by interacting with dedicated sales staff.

Pure conference centers like AHL will also need to continue to be creative and take a holistic approach to stay competitive, exceed individual customer needs and keep clients. They will need to offer customized packages and excellent customer service in order to keep and grow business.

Business travel and meeting expenses will continue to rise

The American Express Global Business Travel Forecast recently reported that the cost of business travel will increase across the board in 2007 as a result of continuing demand without a proportionate increase in supply.

The report also found that the average domestic North America trip inclusive of air fare, car rental, and hotel stay is expected to increase by 4.5 percent in 2007, while the cost of an average international trip with its air fare and hotel stay will increase by 4.6 percent.

Additionally, the report found that the United States and Asia will be the top destinations for European meetings in 2007. Not only will this increase the competition but the old standby of supply and demand predicts that this is also going to fuel rising costs of meetings.

Meeting budgets will increase as a result

High passenger traffic, lack of hotel room availability and expensive room rates continue to drive meeting costs and budgets higher.

Additionally, training is in demand, especially with Asian companies hiring more and more individuals from the U.S. and the proliferation of Generation X and Y into the workforce. And, with a larger number of baby boomers set to retire; and a younger generation moving into the management ranks, has led to the need for more meetings in the form of succession planning as well as new employee training.

The current landscape has procured opportunity for conference centers to expand their client base and target audiences.

Technology will lead the charge this year

Furthermore, technology is going to continue to be an important factor in the meetings industry in 2007. Traditionally, companies have not yet seen a reason to support technology initiatives, but I see that changing this year.

Conference centers will now need to not only offer state-of-the-art meeting technologies for their clients, but will need to stay on top of new technology as it becomes available. The AHL-managed Babson Executive Conference Center, for example, is one such center that offers advanced technology including simultaneous translation services and video conferencing abilities.

New, technologically-savvy market entrants will give attention to upgrading technology in order to educate the consumer and promote online bookings. In order to remain competitive, conference centers are going to have to centralize inventory and rates and incorporate them into other systems to enhance offerings while also optimizing resources.

While the conference center industry is predicting a high growth yield, it is important for companies seeking conference center facilities to understand the amenities offered. We recommend that meeting planners utilize International Association of Conference Centers' (IACC) Certified Centers. IACC, a not-for-profit, facilities-based organization whose mission is to assist members in providing the most productive meeting facilities around the world, utilizes a certification program for member conference centers and mandates that its active members comply with the 30 stringent standards of the universal criteria. Certainly, IACC recognizes the role venue plays in enhancing the learning process.

"IACC member facilities represent the highest-quality venues on a global basis," says Tom Bolman, IACC Executive Vice President. "The whole objective of our 30 universal standards is to provide the most productive environments for adult learning."

IACC-certified conference centers are required to include amenities such as ergonomically designed chairs, tables that are non-reflective and allow at least 30 inches of space per occupant, a controllable level of lighting, and a dedicated conference planner. IACC certified conference centers are required to have dedicated conference rooms that are separated from living and leisure areas and are available to clients on a 24-hour basis for storage of materials.

As President, ARAMARK Harrison Lodging, Bruce Fears is responsible for operations at over 50 conference centers, corporate training centers and specialty hotels in educational environments, as well as 14 state parks and other resort operations. He assumed his current position following the integration of ARAMARK’s conference center, corporate training business with its parks and resorts business. Mr. Fears received a BA from Bridgewater College and participated in programs at University of London’s School of Economics and University of Florida’s School of Management. Mr. Fears can be contacted at 425-957-9708 or fears-bruce@aramark.com Extended Bio...

HotelExecutive.com retains the copyright to the articles published in the Hotel Business Review. Articles cannot be republished without prior written consent by HotelExecutive.com.

Receive our daily newsletter with the latest breaking news and hotel management best practices.
Hotel Business Review on Facebook
RESOURCE CENTER - SEARCH ARCHIVES
General Search:

JULY: Hotel Spa: The Expanding Wellness Movement

Leslie  Wolski

As the wellness movement expands hotels are scrambling to offer a healthy environment to their health and fitness focused guests. Owners and general managers realized years ago that the spa is more than an amenity, but now the market is driving them to further develop their spa and fitness components. The challenge is to combine spa and fitness to create an authentic wellness experience that is true to their hotel brand. READ MORE

David  Stoup

We are in the Age of Wellness. The archaic cultures of waste and over-consumption, have given way to a healthier and more holistic mainstream ideology. Corporate social responsibility, sustainability, going-green, and locally grown are just a few phrases that define this era. Virtually every business sector has taken a stance on wellness including automotive, finance and energy. Finally tourism has joined this growing trend. READ MORE

Deborah  Evans Parker

If possible while reading this article, sit with your bare feet directly on the Earth’s surface – concrete, dirt, gravel or grass. You will experience what you are reading about, how contact with the Earth’s natural healing energy, electrical field, restores your body’s natural electrical field. The positive shift you feel is the beginning of process in which your body becomes recharged from the multitude of Earth’s electrons when direct contact is made. This is Earthing, a simple, safe and natural healing process that reduces inflammation, improves sleep and energizes the body. READ MORE

Tracey Anne Latkovic

In today's fast-paced, overscheduled and hyper-stressed world, it's not easy to find the time to slow down. In the past, activities like a quiet visit to a coffee shop or well-deserved appointment at the spa allowed you to quiet the mind. Not so anymore. The traditional spa experience may not even allow the separation needed to slow down the pace. At day spas everywhere these days, guests are seen carrying their cell phones and iPads and even continuing to use them during their treatments. With this frenetic pace, people are not slowing down enough to ask important spiritual questions: Why am I here? How can I contribute to what is needed in this world? How can I find peace? And one thing is for certain, you aren’t going to find the answers to those questions at Starbucks or on your smart phone. READ MORE

Coming Up In The August Online Hotel Business Review


Feature Focus
Food and Beverage: Investing to Keep Pace
After five harrowing years of recession and uncertain recovery, revenues in the hotel industry (including food and beverage) have finally surpassed the previous peak year of 2007. Profits are once again on the rise and are expected to advance for the foreseeable future. The consequence of this situation means that hotel operators now have the funds to invest in their food and beverage operations in order to keep pace with rapidly changing industry trends and the evolving tastes of their hotel guests. One of the most prominent recent trends is the “Locavore Movement” which relies heavily on local sources to supply products to the hotel restaurant. In addition to fresh produce, meats and herbs, some operators are engaging local craft breweries, distilleries, bakers, coffee roasters and more to enhance their food and beverage options, and to give their operation a local identity. This effort is designed to increasingly attract local patrons, as well as traveling hotel guests. Some hotels are also introducing menus that cater to both the calorie and the ingredient conscious. Gluten-free, low-cal and low-carb menu items prepared with fresh, seasonal ingredients are available to more fitness-minded guests. Another trend is placing greater emphasis on “comfort” and “street” foods which are being offered in more casual settings. The idea is to allow chefs to create their own versions of these classic recipes, with the understanding that the general public seems to be eschewing more formal dining options. Finally, because the hotel lobby is becoming the social epicenter of its operation – a space which both guests and locals can enjoy – more diverse and expanded food and beverage options are available there. The August issue of the Hotel Business Review will report on all the recent trends and challenges in the food and beverage sector, and document what some leading hotels are doing to augment this area of their business.