Posts Tagged ‘technology

06
Jan
15

Meetings mean money for hotels in 2015

RM_snip_hotel_sign_glassA new year means new professional development opportunities. Admittedly, I’m a PD nerd. So I’ve been excitedly surfing the web for all things writing, media relations and public relations.

But if I have to pick, I’m going to choose an event hosted in a hotel with comfy beds, free Wi-Fi, probably a restaurant….and the list goes on.

Thanks to PD nerds like me, in 2015 hotels should get a big financial boost. According to a new report by Social Tables, the meetings industry will hugely influence the profits of hotels.

First up: cybersecurity.

I touched on it last week in a post about MPI’s meetings forecast for 2015. But it’s worth repeating: Cybersecurity is becoming the No. 1 concern among professionals. Within the last few months, retail giants Target, Home Depot and Hobby Lobby have all experienced security hacks, resulting in the theft of customers’ financial information.

When businesses send their employees to a hotel for a conference, they also send crucial financial information – which they expect will be protected. And so, if venues want to attract clients, they’d better keep up with cybersecurity enhancements.

“The potential for valuable information to be hacked or stolen via insecure networks is a real threat,” said David Peckinpaugh, co-chair of Meetings Mean Business. “As such, cybersecurity at hotels will become increasingly important for events and meetings in 2015.”

In fact, according to the Social Tables report, it seems advanced technology will have the greatest effect on hotels and will be in great demand since Americans own, on average, four digital devices.

In addition to providing adequate Wi-Fi coverage, some hotels are experimenting with remote/mobile check in. Last year, Starwood Hotel and Resorts became the first chain to offer such a service, according to the Social Tables report. Think about the convenience for meeting planners: No more keys in packets.

Consumers are becoming more technologically savvy – and demanding – and hotels are following suit. In 2015, an increasing number of hotels will offer technological conveniences such as whiteboards, social media screens and mobile apps.

conference-preview-img“Meeting planners are becoming more and more creative in rewarding attendees who interact and use technology than ever before,” said Gene Hunt, director of event sales at the Grand Hyatt Washington. “They’re marrying concepts such as gamification with technology before, during and after meetings to develop program content – and it’s our responsibility to help them achieve maximum results on their investments in these technologies.”

Also listed in “9 Ways Meetings Will Impact Hotels in 2015”:

  • Virtual reality travel experiences
  • High occupancy rates (roughly 65 percent)
  • Measurable data on meetings and events

But I think most interesting in the report was brand expansion. As the economy improves in 2015, upper scale hotels will experience an uptick in occupancies for leisure travel, as more people can afford expensive accommodations.

Such a shift will most likely force event planners to seek out lower-priced hotels/chains for events, analysts predict.

“Couple this with the fact that over the next 20 years, the middle class will grow from 2 billion to 5 billion, and you have a powerful argument for the idea that an increased presence of affordable brands to accommodate the meeting needs of planners (affordable room blocks, meeting spaces and build-your-own meeting packages, etc.) will force diversification of hotel portfolios to include more affordably priced properties, and with them, more affordably priced meeting spaces,” the report said.

And so, hotels have a prime opportunity to attract budget-savvy meetings planners and a still precocious meetings industry.

What do you think? If a hotel employs you, we’d love to hear from you.

30
Dec
14

A Happy New Year for meetings?

Happy New Year hd wallpaper 2015The champagne is chilling and we’re pumped to watch the ball drop as we find ourselves humming “Auld Lang Syne.”

Yep. 2015 is nearly here. Maybe not quite so exciting for event planners, however. We know: It’s crunch time for you. Time to book all your conferences and events and finalize the budget.

The past few months have been a bit harried, no doubt. That’s understandable since it appears 2015 might be challenging for meetings and events.

That’s according to Meeting Professionals International’s Meetings Outlook (fall edition).

The report, developed in partnership with the Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau, found that in general, costs in 2015 for event services are expected to rise, while budgets are expected to grow only slightly. Specifically, analysts predict air travel costs to rise 5 percent; room rates 3.9 percent; food and beverage/catering costs 4 percent; audiovisual costs 3.1 percent; and meeting room costs 2.5 percent.

Add to that limited guest room availability and shorter lead times for booking, according to the survey’s respondents. In fact, from June to September, the percentage of respondents who faced short lead times doubled from 5 percent to 10 percent.

“We are finding room rates escalating,” said Kevin Beckman, director of strategic accounts for Crowne Plaza Hotel Louisville, and a member of the MPI Kentucky Bluegrass Chapter. “We are adjusting our revenue goals for 2015 and increasing our rates for group business in 2015 and 2016.”

04_30_12_airfareThanks to rising costs, event planners are forced to be more creative. Examples from the MPI report include creating centerpieces from in-season flowers and simple craft supplies and using polyester-like tablecloth pieces. It also means choosing the right location, i.e. a rooftop terrace for a younger crowd (read: less décor needed).

“Great architecture goes a long way, if you highlight it with lighting,” said Pam Madewell, of the MPI Dallas/Fort Worth Chapter, who runs an event management firm. “Fabulous architecture means you don’t have to put a theme-y thing in that place.”

Coming off the heels of a recession, ROI for meetings continues to be important. Unless it’s worth it, companies aren’t going to send their employees to events, and once again, professional development may hit the chopping block.

As a result, MPI says meetings focusing on practical topics, such as training, sales and education, will see the most growth.

WiFiAnd, finally, there’s technology. I’ve written about it many times, and we can’t escape its influence. As technology advances, associations are expected to keep up.

With laptops, iPads and smart phones in hand, participants arrive at events expecting easy connectivity. But some venues don’t seem to have the appropriate Wi-Fi capability.

That’s why Christina Devlin, of MPI’s Oregon Chapter, may purchase a dedicated router to use onsite. She wants to ensure attendees can connect multiple devices simultaneously and enjoy reliable, hiccup-free Wi-Fi.

In short: Event planners may have to plan further ahead and stretch the dollars a bit more. But, from the sounds of it, if you provide good ROI, your guests will come.

As you prepare for 2015, Event Garde wishes you much prosperity. Happy New Year!

30
Nov
14

Bonus content: Event Garde e-news – December edition

IMG_1648

Kim Harwood, president, Results and Hand Software, LLC

Q & A with Kim Harwood, President, Results at Hand Software, LLC

Q: If you were a Christmas ornament, what would you look like, and why?
A: Well, I just returned from Florida and got a bit too much sun, so I would be red with a cheery warm glow!

Q: Think “Survivor” or another reality survival show. What would you choose for your one survival item, and why?
A: Assuming there is a network, my iPhone with a really powerful external battery pack. Does anyone go anywhere without their phone?

Q: If you could choose another profession/career, what would it be, and why?
A: Isn’t U-M looking for a coach? Fortunately, I really enjoy what I am doing now.

Q: What’s your superhero name? (And why do you like it?)
A: MultiTaskor – I would love to complete all my to-dos in minutes instead of days, weeks or months.

Q: How do you find your holiday spirit?
A: The movie, “A Christmas Story.” It’s a hilarious, holiday classic, and I always watch it while wrapping presents.

11
Nov
14

On screen or in a chair?

webeventMost of us would agree there aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done. The email inbox is always full. Meetings seem to pop up on the calendar. And deadlines continue to loom.

Then, if you’re a working professional with kids, you have to balance sports, clubs, carpooling and snack schedules.

It’s exhausting.

No wonder so many of us are spending less time away from our offices and our families to attend professional development events or other workplace functions.

It seems associations got the memo as the industry experiences a slow uptick in virtual events.

Last week, consulting firm Tagoras released Association Virtual Events 2014, a survey of associations’ use of virtual conferences, trade shows and other events. Conducted in August, 33 percent of the 112 respondents indicated they have offered a virtual event. And about 21 percent indicated they plan to offer such an event in the next 12 months.

Tagoras found there are three standard technologies for virtual events: webinar or webcast tools for presentations; communication tools to allow for real-time conversations among participants; and document and resource sharing of event materials.

So why the boom? More than 75 percent of respondents said they offer virtual events for members who can’t attend an association’s place-based events. Tied for second place were “to be seen as offering cutting-edge technology for members” and “to support an overall strategy to deliver more services online.” The third most popular reason for offering virtual events? To reduce costs for attendees.

Jeff Cobb and Celisa Steele

Jeff Cobb and Celisa Steele, co-founders of Tagoras

“These motivations clearly reflect necessity — organizations see a need to provide more options as travel budgets are trimmed and time becomes an increasingly precious commodity for members — but they also reflect a willingness to experiment,” study authors Jeff Cobb and Celisa Steele wrote. “Many association professionals are embracing virtual events even before their members ask for them, and they’re doing so as part of an overall strategy built on online service.”

Obviously, virtual events aren’t for all associations, and several have yet to embrace the growing technological trend. Cost and complexity of technology were the top reasons for not going virtual, while concerns about cost ranked No. 3.

At the same time, most of the respondents indicated a virtual event has to be self-sustaining to be worth the investment, while 50 percent reported a virtual event should drive revenue. And most associations reported they charge both members and nonmembers to participate in a virtual event.

“Over time, we think associations will grow more adept at estimating realistic costs and determining a plan for covering those costs, whether through registration fees, sponsorships or both,” Cobb and Steele said. “That said, there’s skepticism on the sponsorship front.”

And then there’s fear of the unknown. Will virtual events cause a decline in attendance at an association’s traditional event? Tagoras doesn’t think so.

Is it possible to learn as much remotely as it is sitting in a room with colleagues, listening first hand to an expert? Data seem to swing both ways, but nevertheless, convenience sometimes wins.

(An editorial sidebar: Multitasking and distraction are justifiable concerns. But attendees will likely check email, text and tweet regardless of where they are. Just my two cents.)

LearnwithMouseTake a look at the stats Tagoras compiled about its survey. It seems virtual equals value.

  • While 58 percent of those who haven’t undertaken a virtual event cite technology concerns as a perceived barrier, 90 percent of respondents who have held a virtual event describe themselves as very or somewhat satisfied with the ease of use of the technology.
  • Some 58 percent of those who haven’t held a virtual event cite concerns about costs, but 74 percent of those who have held a virtual event describe themselves as very or somewhat satisfied with the cost of the technology. And 60 percent characterize themselves as very or somewhat satisfied with the revenue generated by the virtual event.
  • Some 46 percent of those who haven’t held a virtual event cite concerns about attendance, but 76 percent of those who have held a virtual event describe themselves as very or somewhat satisfied with attendance.

“We are still in the early days of virtual events as a trend, but the use of this format across a diverse range of organizations — and its continued use by most who have tried it — suggests that virtual events will become a mainstay of association education and events going forward,” Cobb and Steele said.

So what do you think? Does your association offer a virtual event? Tell us about it.

28
Oct
14

Technology truths for meetings and events

Silicon Valley Human Rights ConferenceI’ve admitted it before, and I’ll do it again: I’m a social media and technology addict.

So when I’m choosing conferences to attend, I look for technology use. Is there a hashtag? Will speakers engage with participants in real time – or afterward – via social media? If something comes up, will the organizer provide content virtually? Also, is there an app that can help me plan where to eat, where to stay and sights to see?

According to a new report by American Express Meetings and Events, I’m not alone.

In the first half of this year, American Express Global Business and Travel surveyed 336 meeting planners and 161 meeting and event attendees to learn more about the evolving landscape of technology in meetings.

Overall, the survey found smartphones and wireless data/streaming video have had the most influence on the meetings industry. In fact, according to the study, 77 percent of smartphone holders use their phones “always” or “often” for business during a meeting or conference.

And almost all attendees have computers, which makes virtual attendance a breeze. While virtual meetings are becoming more popular, they’re still far less common than on-the-ground events, the study found.

Survey respondents ranked less time away from the office and a reduced need to travel as the top reasons for attending virtual or hybrid events. But interestingly, most event planners reported they don’t offer virtual options. Among the top reasons: distraction. They seem to be worried that a virtual environment offers too many temptations to pay full attention.

From the report: “There is strong agreement that in-person attendance still provides the best overall experience. Seventy-four percent of attendees and 85% of planners feel that: ‘In-person meetings are more valuable to me because they allow more social interaction.’”

So, American Express Meetings and Events recommends event planners survey target audiences to gauge interest and need for virtual events. Once it’s determined virtual events are necessary, planners need to provide tailored content, specific for the web.

SocialMediaUseNow. Let’s talk social media. Event organizers use Twitter and Facebook to spread the word about events and to track interest among users. But there seems to be a divide: The survey found social media is more important to planners than it is to attendees. (This surprised me!) Forty-three percent of planners said social media capabilities were important, while only 35 percent of attendees said the same. So it follows, then, that planners ranked hashtags as more important than attendees.

The report speculates that social media users are still a bit hesitant about posting things that aren’t relevant to their followers, i.e. a conference/event they aren’t attending. And, there’s still concern about privacy.

Like social media, meeting planners rank meeting apps as more useful than participants – 67 percent vs. 55 percent. Access to basic event information and scheduling features are important app features for both groups. (See page 13 of the report for a comprehensive chart of important features.)

Specifically, networking capabilities of an app are important to both groups, especially when it offers search functions so users can search by company. Meeting apps that provide the ability to schedule meetings with exhibitors and vendors are also valuable to both groups, according to the report.

Event planners also listed apps as the most effective measurement tools for success, followed by social media. That said, in-person monitoring and post-event surveys are still the most popular.

“Technology continues to change the landscape of meetings and events, presenting new opportunities to increase engagement, reach a broader audience and deliver value for attendees and meeting owners alike,” the report said. “Meeting planners and meeting owners bear the burden of incorporating these technologies into meetings and events in a way that drives value for meeting attendees. Understanding the expectations of your meeting attendees as it relates to technology is an important step in the meeting planning process.”

How do you use technology for your meetings and events? Share with us here.

14
Oct
14

Wi-Fi woes for Marriott

wifi-cellularLast year, I attended a conference at a venue that shall remain nameless. During the two-day event, similar to most professional events, live tweeting was encouraged.

So imagine my frustration when I couldn’t connect to Wi-Fi. Worse yet, imagine the frustration when no one in the room could connect. No one, that is, except for the person at the back of the room using his mobile hotspot.

After several minutes, a panicked IT crew finally resolved the issue and we were filling the Twittersphere with hashtags, comments and replies.

Crisis averted, but what if that hotel had blocked our access? What if my fellow conference attendee hadn’t been able to use his hotspot?

Connectivity is perhaps the most important amenity at conferences. Whether it’s using technology during a session or whether it’s working remotely, professionals expect speedy, affordable Internet connection.

So that’s why an angry conference participant filed a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission against Marriott in March 2013.

On Oct. 3, FCC released a statement announcing Marriott – which owns Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Conference Center, in Nashville – will pay $600,000 to resolve the FCC investigation. The FCC found that employees of the Opryland Hotel intentionally blocked access to guests’ personal Wi-Fi Internet connections. Yet, Opryland charged customers, exhibitors and others up to $1,000 to use Marriott’s Internet.

multiplemobile“Consumers who purchase cellular data plans should be able to use them without fear that their personal Internet connection will be blocked by their hotel or conference center,” said Enforcement Bureau Chief Travis LeBlanc. “It is unacceptable for any hotel to intentionally disable personal hotspots while also charging consumers and small businesses high fees to use the hotel’s own Wi-Fi network. This practice puts consumers in the untenable position of either paying twice for the same service or forgoing Internet access altogether.”

The complainant alleged that Marriott employees intentionally “blocked” hotspots by manipulating technology, and as a result, forced conference goers to connect to Marriott’s spotty Internet.

Under the terms of the consent decree the FCC announced, Marriott must stop the use of Wi-Fi blocking technology and take significant steps to improve how it monitors and uses its Wi-Fi technology at the Gaylord Opryland. And Marriott must file compliance and usage reports with the FCC every three months for three years.

As you can imagine, Internet consultants are having a field day with this story. Not to mention ethicists. Marriott claims it was trying to protect customers from “rogue hotspots,” but that argument doesn’t seem to hold water with the general public.

Some travel analysts predict that soon the issue might be moot, as customers grow more insistent on 24-7 access. In fact, they say, in the near future, Internet access may very well be free for all hotel guests.

But for now, industry professionals agree that Marriott was in the wrong.

“Of course, convention venues have every right to charge reasonable rates to support exhibitor access to the hotel’s broadband network and to secure that network against hackers, but when it comes to jamming, we’d draw the line where the FCC drew it,” Travel Weekly argued in a recent editorial about the investigation.

While this may not be common practice at hotels, I’ll be anxious to watch this unfold. How will other venues react to the investigation? Will we start to see “customers’ bill of rights” pop up?

A little public relations tip for hotels and conference centers: You’d be wise to jump on the bandwagon. If you’ve got an opinion on the ruling, make it known. Write an op-ed. Advertise your Wi-Fi policy.

Stay tuned for more on this, as I’ll be writing follow up posts. I’d like to hear from hotel professionals and/or lawyers. Did Marriott violate customers’ rights?

In the meantime, tell us. Do you review a venue’s Wi-Fi protocols before booking?




meet aaron

Association learning strategist & meetings coach. Founder & president of Event Garde. Passionate about cooking, hot yoga, blogging, old homes, unclehood & pet parenting (thanks to Lillie the pup).

meet kristen

Writer, editor, public relations professional. Proud mom of three. Total word geek. Spartan for life.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 3,379 other followers

Twitter Updates

Featured in Alltop

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,379 other followers

%d bloggers like this: