(Pictured Above: Ted Davis at 2019 Benchmark Leadership Conference)
What better way to kick off the first month of 2020 than with a look at what’s on the horizon for the next year in meeting industry trends? With CWT Meetings & Events recently publishing their 2020 Future Trends Report, that’s just where our head is at. While we suggest you download the 88-page report yourself, which covers everything from strategies to engage Millennial and Gen Z meeting attendees, the explosion of experiential and incentive meetings, and how automation is improving meeting and event experiences, we delved into the data through the lens of Ted Davis, Benchmark’s chief marketing officer. Here’s what he had to say.
The report stated that the meetings and events industry – which is already an $840 billion industry – is projected to grow by eight percent in 2020. Were you at all surprised by this number?
“Yes and no. We are seeing similar encouraging growth in the coming year, but we are also not assuming this trend will continue indefinitely, and we have a very assertive effort in place ensuring we are strategic in optimizing booking opportunities in 2021 and beyond.
As for the stat that stated that 25 to 30 percent of overall marketing budgets are being spent on face-to-face live events, now that I was not surprised by. Although technology has dramatically changed and improved the way meetings are conducted, as well as how attendee engagement and participation is evolving, there will always be an inherent desire for the personal interface and bonding by attendees. It’s difficult to change human nature. Our commitment to creating memory-making and rewarding meeting experiences underscores the importance we place on the future of authentic face-to-face events.”
Under “The Future of Events & Local Trends” section, they shared the top cities in North America to host meetings and events. Are there other cities you have in your sights that you think will be on the rise this year for whatever reason?
“Yes, it is a dynamic environment and change is to be expected. We have hotels and resorts in many of those noted destinations in both 2019 and 2020, including Seattle, San Antonio, Orlando, Dallas, Chicago, as well as proximity to major cities like New York. With our current portfolio, growth trajectory and the wide range of destinations is on our radar. High-demand gateway locations are important, but also essential to our success, is the specific project and opportunity involved.”
The report makes a statement that “People no longer just attend events, but expect to be an active participant.” What do you think is causing that?
“There is no question as to the impact Millennials are having on the meetings industry at the moment and will continue to do (Millennials are projected to become the largest group of business travelers by 2024). We are extremely cognizant that an increasing component of travelers today are totally reliant on their smartphones. Our research has demonstrated that just in the past three years, our guests’ engagement with us on their smartphone or tablet has increased by more than 30 percent. In addition, in our recently released 2020 Meeting Trends, we highlight some of the significant changes and new demands Gen Y and even Gen Z are creating. For example, increased specific dietary requirements, hyper-advanced technology facilities and engagement, personal enrichment experiences curated to their individual interests, wellness (both physical and spiritual), private time, community involvement, and responsible sustainability. Millennials are also extremely interested in exploring and expanding new horizons, which is why we focus so much attention on curating inspiring experiences while on-property or immersing themselves in the destination and discovering the true charm, character, habits, and haunts of the locals.”
There is also talk about the boom in experiential events continuing for the next 12 months and probably not going away anytime soon. Do you agree?
“We certainly don’t see the demand for experiential travel diminishing, rather just the opposite. Our team places an intense focus and emphasis on understanding what the consumer, business, and group traveler are searching for when selecting their travel or meeting destinations, as well as trying to be ahead of the curve by curating new, creative, fun, meaningful, and rewarding experiential events and activities. It’s at the heart of our DNA as an organization and is woven into the fabric of who we are as a company. It’s also good business, as through prolific and dedicated research in an escalating global economy, we understand there is an increasingly commensurate desire by the consumer for spending their disposable income on personalized and rewarding travel experiences.”
The report states how incentives aren’t just ways for those who qualify to spend time with senior leadership, but a way to give back with unique CSR (corporate social responsibility) programs. Do you see the popularity of CSR programs diminishing or remaining at the forefront of 2020 (or beyond)?
“We don’t necessarily view it as gaining ‘popularity’ but rather an obligation and commitment to maintaining a socially responsible and accountable business model. Our focus is to be admirable and respected corporate citizens for our guests, our employees, and our stakeholders. We are an entrepreneurial organization with a conscious. Whether it is a corporate program or a grassroots initiative at the property level, we highly encourage local philanthropy and volunteer efforts. We also have a heightened focus on sustainability, culinary sourcing, renewable recycling, and responsible control of waste disposal. An example of a recently implemented program would be our Single-Use Plastic Reduction initiative, which includes carefully crafted messaging that reaches all our employees, suppliers, and, most importantly, our guests.”