Hoteliers on the “Are meetings meeting expectations?” panel at the 2016 Hotel Data Conference said meeting planners and hoteliers need to have flexibility.
NASHVILLE, Tennessee—Flexibility is the word for planners and hoteliers when it comes to organizing meetings at a resort or hotel, according to panelists on the “Are meetings meeting expectations?” panel at the 2016 Hotel Data Conference.
“I think probably the biggest surprise is the compression and the lack of flexibility from the hotel side when we’re talking to the customer,” said Michael Dominguez, SVP and chief sales officer at MGM Resorts International. “They still act surprised, and I think we have to do a better job of educating … When we keep talking about the amount of limited space, the amount of compression that we’re experiencing, it seems to still surprise them.”
Cedric Fasbender, VP of operations at Benchmark Hospitality, said there needs to be flexibility on the meeting planner side and on the hotel side.
“Flexibility is really the word. It’s on both sides … on the planner side and on the resort and hotel side as well,” he said. “Tuesday through Thursday … that’s not going to work. It’s also flexibility on the hotel or resort side, and creating a venue that’s unique. If you don’t have the space, utilize outdoor space, utilize something to give more of an experience, but also to be flexible … You’re not putting the whole program into a box.”
Millennials’ influence on meetings
Millennials don’t have a huge influence on meetings business as of right now, but experts at Hilton Worldwide Holdings are expecting millennials’ influence on how meetings are operated by hotels to increase dramatically in the next three to four years, according to Tim Benolken, SVP of hotel operations, Western North America, at Hilton.
When asked how millennials would influence meetings, he said he reached out to teams in main markets to talk to people on the front line.
“Knowing I was going to get this question, I called four of our major markets and spoke to the people on the front line,” he said. “Really, they felt, call it 3% to 5% right now. They were feeling an influence of millennials in decision-making capacities, but accelerating dramatically to the point where that will be up into 25% to 35% in the next three to four years.
Benolken said the needs of millennials, like instant communication and the desire to get things done quickly, has changed the way in which Hilton staffs in order to meet the needs of millennials.
“It has changed how we staff against those, and how we staff against meeting their needs, all the way from an enterprise perspective and from a Hilton perspective … technology straight-to-room, instant real-time data, real-time availability, all of those things that have sort of become a (barrier to entry,)” he said. “Because (if) you want to play, you’ve got to be able to present that development. That’s become very, very important to the millennials.”
Dominguez said hoteliers need to realize all millennials don’t want the same things or have the same aspirations.
“I think it’s important to separate the millennials,” he said. “There’s the older millennials and the younger millennials, and when you look at the 28 to 34-year-olds, the older millennials, and all the research is telling us this, they don’t behave that much differently than generations before them, except that they use technology, and much more advanced than any generation.
“The research we’ve done in the industry tells us, they want to meet face-to-face more than any other peer group, they’re looking for networking, professional development and mentorship … I think it’s sometimes dangerous to say we’re going to build our hotels for millennials because the older millennials, as they get older, their aspirations change.”
Are complete meeting packages still alive?
All-inclusive meeting packages aren’t the same as they used to be, but they’re still prevalent, panelists said.
Fasbender said complete meetings packages, or CMPs, are being modified.
“In the Northeast, it’s still pretty prevalent … you see a lot of hotels and resorts and conference centers selling them, primarily to pharmaceutical groups, training programs that are out there,” he said. “We talked about flexibility earlier on in the panel, and what we’re seeing is, complete meeting packages being broken apart. And that was really the rule 10 years ago, you’ve got to keep it whole, you can’t break a complete meeting package…
“What we’re seeing a lot is modification, called MMP, or modified meeting package, where it’s a meeting, it’s all-inclusive, except dinner’s on their own … It’s not dead, it’s flexible and modified.”