Budgets, greater quality control, cost and reliability of AV and technical services, security of content and the challenges of meeting the increasingly complex dietary demands of a more diverse demographic: these are among the major concerns of the nation’s meeting planners.
Teneo Hospitality Group, the premier group representation firm, gathered observations from top meeting planners to determine their most pressing issues and concerns. They represent a spectrum of the meetings industry – 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 meeting content.”
In dealing with these issues, planners must be able to trust their suppliers, Schugt notes. “Our planners stressed the need for honesty, accuracy and rapid response as a major requirement for effective planning,” he asserts.
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 special applications designed for each meeting. 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. 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 placing the participants at a competitive disadvantage.
Linking Wi-Fi to AV is increasingly problematic, with stories of breakdowns in coordination that have impacted presentations and events. At a recent luncheon in a major city, the AV company failed to do the required run through and the entire AV had to be shut down. Reliability of AV can be easily compromised – interference from outside the venue can compromise bandwidth as much as 25%. 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. 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. It is no longer enough to have power sources in guestrooms 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. Demand for connectivity does not stop in the guestroom or meeting space. 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.
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. 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. 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 Mike 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 topnotch technology and property improvements while working towards more consistent levels of customer service.
Flexibility is the key here according to Mike Schugt. Meeting planners may need to adjust their expectations, while hotels can explore ways of making policies less rigid – something he notes that independent hotels, not bound by strict corporate policies, can more easily do. “Whatever economic factors are involved, the conference and hotel industries have the same goals,” says Mike Schugt. ‘’These issues will be with us for the foreseeable future and we should unite to solve them.”