How Will Generational Buying Preferences Transform the Meetings Marketplace?

March 19, 2013

The meetings (MICE) industry is in a state of flux with matures (those aged 66 and older) retiring and millennials entering the workplace. It is projected that employment in the North American meetings market will grow by a massive 44 percent through 2020. This rapid growth will usher in a new era of new expectations and demands for conference centers seeking to woo a meetings planner’s business.

It was with this in mind that Development Counsellors International (DCI) and the International Association of Conference Centers (IACC) Emerging Trends Committee partnered together to survey meeting planners of various generations—from boomers to Xers to millennials. The findings of the survey were announced at IACC-Americas 2013 Conference in March.

This survey explored whether there are generational preferences among meeting planners and if these preferences shape how meeting space is selected. For the purpose of this study, the generations were defined as mature (age 66 and older), baby boomer (Age 47-65), Generation X (Age 33-46) and Generation Y/millennial (Age 18-32). The largest cohort of respondents were baby boomers followed by Generation X.

On average, the planners responding to the survey organize meetings for 11 organizations annually. A majority of respondents, 76 percent, were familiar with IACC. When asked the importance of holding events at an IACC facility, meeting planners responded that it was somewhat important.

Choosing and Declining Conference Facilities
According to the survey results, the most important factor in choosing a conference facility is ease of connectivity via WiFi followed by the onsite presence of a staff planner and conference room design. When asked to further elaborate, respondents noted that adequate meeting rooms/flexibility of the space and the appeal of destination were highly important in selecting the location of meetings they had recently planned.

The top reasons for declining a facility were cost and excess charges followed by inadequate meeting space, location appeal and appearance/condition of the property.

Perhaps the most surprising fact, however, is that the preference of attendees—those individuals for whom the meeting planner is planning—actually didn’t rank as important. This is an interesting consideration for destination marketers who have long been trained to think about their “end audience” when crafting their conference center sales and marketing plan. It turns out there are always exceptions to every rule.

Key Generational Preferences
Overall, the generations have very similar preferences. There are a few differences to keep in mind, however, when selling to meeting planners of different generations.

  • Matures: When pitching a meeting planner of the mature generation, provide details on business-friendly guest rooms, spaces that are conducive to learning and collaboration as well as off-site activities that are within walking distance of the venue.
  • Baby Boomers and Generation X: Promote your Wi-Fi capabilities. Like matures, these generations are also interested in spaces that are conducive to learning and collaboration. They are apt to decline a facility for inadequate meeting space (size/quality/layout) as well as cost and/or excess charges.
  • Generation Y: The top two reasons that this generation is likely to decline a facility are the same as baby boomers: inadequate meeting space and cost/excess charges. However, Generation Y cares deeply about the appeal of the destination, so it is beneficial to share entertainment and evening activities that are available off-site. In addition, this younger generation is interested in space that provides the ability to recognize key performers, so if you have a stellar set up for an awards banquet, make sure to highlight that in your discussions with this generation.

Written by Karyl Leigh Barnes

Karyl Leigh Barnes is managing partner of DCI’s Tourism Practice. Since joining the firm in 1998, Karyl Leigh has led destination strategy and created marketing communication programs for destinations on every continent except Antarctica.

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