News & Views

Pre-IMEX POV: Meeting Planners Share What’s In and What’s Out

What’s hot and what’s not in the Business Events / MICE arena? We take a look at trending topics, including hot markets, corporate responsibility, and yes, those millennials.

Meeting and convention planners are always trying to move the needle ahead of delegate desires. With meeting locations selected years in advance, it’s vital for planners to channel an inner medium to anticipate what lies ahead. Here’s a look at what they are saying and what it means for destination marketing organizations.

Buyers vs. Sellers?

Mandy Espey Photo

Mandy Espey, ITA Group

At the moment, demand continues to surpass supply, especially in domestic markets. This creates the need for planners to be creative with negotiations. According to Mandy Espey, Supervisor Event Purchasing & Industry Relations, ITA Group, “We’ve been pressed to educate our clients to buy in advance and be flexible in order to secure the best overall package as it relates to both the participant experience and financial investment. On the flip side, we have been tasked as planners to “sell” programs to suppliers. Showcasing historical spend from a master account and ancillary standpoint is critical in having our hotel partners want to bid and offer the best rate.”

That said, there may be a climate change for DMOs looking to land meetings in the year ahead. According to industry guru Bjorn Hansen, Ph.D., clinical professor at NYU’s Tisch Center for Hospitality and Tourism, the 2017 outlook indicates a change in the balance of power from sellers to buyers. According to Hansen’s study, this is due in part to occupancy rates forecast to be slightly lower. Another part of the equation is that buyers are increasingly open to alternative lodging options, including mid-price and budget hotels, along with AirBnB.


Fred Diniz

Fred Diniz, JP Morgan

The issue of corporate sustainability/responsibility (CSR) is still growing in importance as event sites are chosen and details are planned. According to Fred Diniz, Vice President/Latin America Events for JP Morgan, corporations are regularly examining the impact they have on communities they serve, and that carries over to meetings.  JP Morgan tries to align events with the firm’s larger CSR commitment by employing reputable suppliers and using local resources. That includes food and beverage, with the trend toward customizing menus using local ingredients.

ITA’s Espey offers programs allowing attendees to do something for the local community they are visiting. She selects a worthy cause, tells attendees why the organization was chosen and how their work can have an impact, and then develops flexibility from a time commitment standpoint (people can stay 30 minutes or three hours, depending upon their passion for the project). “Telling the story of why this organization was chosen and what type of an impact they are making is critical – another way to incorporate a relationship aspect which people are seeking,” notes Espey.

What About Those Millennials?

Social engagement is just one way to appeal to millennials. As more of the generation attend meetings, its needs are increasingly taken into account in terms of content, activities and venue.  Diniz notes, “We actually do events specifically designed to “next-generation” participants, building the content of our events with topics and themes tailored to new audiences.”  According to Espey, “offering a more customized approach and creating FOMO (fear of missing out) in our communication campaigns has been successful.”  She adds that incorporating technology and wellness into events is also effective.

Other strategies appealing to this younger set (and much of the older set as well):

  • Promoting programs via social media buzz pre-event (creating Twitter, Facebook accounts)
  • Developing a mobile app to allow attendees to receive real time communications
  • Increasing engagement by using mobile apps for polling and live questioning of speakers

Where to Go

Jim Cavanagh

Jim Cavanagh, Motivation Excellence

Terrorism has had some impact on global business, particularly in choice of sites. Jim Cavanagh, Vice President, Strategic Development for Motivation Excellence, says he has pulled many destinations off the list of potential options for US-based companies, due to perceived risk. Espey adds that “clients are requesting additional security recommendations/assistance to proactively prepare for any type of terrorist threat or attack.“  In some cases, ITA partners with private security firms to determine emergency contingency plans should anything happen during program operations.

That said, people still want to travel. Where do clients want to go? At JP Morgan, Diniz says top choices include Miami and Rio de Janeiro, basking in its post-Olympics glow. Cavanagh cites the continuing appeal of Las Vegas, and mentions Austin as an up-and-coming destination. The mountains of Switzerland and Whistler, Canada are topping Cavanagh’s international trip list. Meantime, Espey’s clients like it hot. Domestic destinations are Hawaii, Florida and California. On the international front, river cruises in Europe are on trend. What’s not hot: some areas of the Middle East, Turkey and Russia seem to be falling off the planning map.

Written By

Pam Balakian

Pam boasts almost 30 years of experience in the Hotel Sales & Marketing Industry. She joined the team 25 years ago after working for Scott Calder Intl, a hotel sales & marketing firm that specialized in marketing & sales of deluxe hotels worldwide.

More Articles by Pam Balakian

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