Ten Meeting Trends for 2003

By Heather Baldwin

If you’re curious as to whether your meeting decisions for this year are in line with what other companies are doing, Benchmark Hospitality can tell you. Every year the international hospitality management company, which operates luxury resorts and conference centers in the United States, Canada and Japan, asks its properties to identify major meetings trends for the upcoming year. Here are the trends they see emerging in 2003.

1. Technology rules. Demand for T1 lines, wireless Internet and high-speed Internet access in guestrooms is becoming the norm, but customers aren’t willing to pay upgrade charges for the advanced technology. LCD and data projectors are rapidly becoming the new standard for meetings.

2. Strategic and higher-level focuses. Meetings are strategic, participants are at higher levels within their organizations than previously and the content across industries is focused on top-line revenue growth, new business planning and strategic marketing. Fewer product-introduction, sales and incentive meetings are occurring today.

3. Shrinking budgets. Companies have trimmed meeting budgets significantly – and in some cases have cut drastically.

4. Intense pricing pressure. It’s a buyer’s market and this is generating creative responses with packages completely customized for the client.

5. Shorter and cheaper stays. Meetings in 2003 will occur less frequently, will be shorter in length and in many cases are being booked at regional facilities to save travel costs.

6. Online demand. Property Websites have become important marketing tools, especially for developing new business relationships and generating RFPs. Email is the preferred means of soliciting and delivering meeting proposals for first-time customers, but the telephone rules for long-time customers.

7. Booking pace up. New meeting booking activity for first quarter 2003 is stronger than the same period last year, but lead times remain very short.

8. Private functions scaled back. Private food and beverage functions continue to be requested as part of meetings, but they are much more conservative and purchased at a lower price point than in the past.

9. Video what? Videoconferencing is nearly nonexistent. While it seemed to offer tremendous opportunity after 9/11, demand quickly tapered off.

10. Fewer professional planners. As budgets shrink, senior level managers are assuming duties related to site selection and meeting expenditures. The senior staff then often delegates coordination of the details to their administrative assistants.