R7M Executive editor Jessica Heasley traveled to Microsoft headquarters on a mission to find out how one of the industry’s oldest tactical events departments changed its course to become a strategic powerhouse. Here, an exclusive interview with general manager-events and studios Jeff Singsaas and director-event marketing Kati Quigley on the evolution of event marketing.
U.S. hotel rates last year were 8.7 percent lower than 2008 levels, Smith Travel Research said, and some meeting buyers are seizing the opportunity. Kirsten Olean, director of meetings for the Association of American Medical Colleges, told MeetingNews in December that although she typically books 18 months in advance, she has been trying to book as far ahead as 2012 to take advantage of current deals. However, some cities' hotels, such as Chicago, are not showing a willingness to bid on small pieces of business that far in advance, she said.
Large group business, however, is having some success with advanced booking, said Steve O'Malley, vice president of Maxvantage, the strategic meetings assessment program born of the alliance between American Express Business Travel and Maritz Travel. O'Malley said he's seeing hotels respond to advance requests for proposals without reticence. Corporate meeting buyers, however, often are not able to book as far in advance as usual because of their own policies, he said.
"In many cases, we were working with customers to book four years in advance for automobile shows, product launches and corporate meetings, but a new normal has been set," O'Malley said. "Still, we do have many customers we're working with looking at two- and three-year plans, and hotels are very desirous for that business."
George Odom, senior consultant for BCD Travel consulting arm Advito, said he sees few on the corporate meeting side booking more than 18 months or two years out. Like O'Malley, however, he said there are savings opportunities for those who are doing so.
"Hotels are offering good rates and are glad to have the business," Odom said. "A number of hotels are actually guaranteeing rates years from now. Even if you look at transient rates, a lot of them are doing them for two years flat."
Omni Hotels vice president of sales and distribution Tom Faust said he's seeing an increase in advance group bookings. "The savvy meeting planners are recognizing that there are a lot of deals to be had," he said. "2011 is not that far away, and as demand increases, those prime available dates are going to go away."
Cities like New York that are gaining pricing power make advance bookings more difficult, but there are opportunities in secondary cities and major meeting venues, such as Las Vegas, O'Malley said.
Advance bookings are not without risk. Olean said she's seeing hotels show more resistance to signing reciprocal cancellation clauses, which specify compensation from hotels to meeting planners for costs related to a cancellation of the event by the hotel, such as finding another venue. The concern for meeting planners would be that if rates rise significantly in the next few years, hotels might find it advantageous to cancel a planned event to bring in business at higher prices.
Reciprocal cancellation clauses in the past were not standard, but Odom said they are becoming more prevalent, particularly as legal and procurement departments become more involved in meeting planning.
Odom said a hotel canceling a meeting for financial advantage is not out of the question but that "it probably wouldn't happen in 90 percent of the cases. In the 10 percent that it would, it's really a shortsighted whim."
Omni's Faust concurred, saying it's the hotel's responsibility to evaluate data so that it does not lock in deals that put it at a disadvantage in the future. "Not to suggest that it would never happen, but if you've committed to an event and signed a contract with the client, it's your obligation to fulfill it."
Planners also should be diligent in analyzing and benchmarking bids for advance bookings, O'Malley said. "There's a number of hotels that are probably going on a fishing expedition, just throwing out a price and seeing if they'll bite," he said.
Hotels also could try to allow rates for advance bookings to adjust with market conditions, but O'Malley advised against such a policy.
Advito's Odom said many planners try to eschew deposits, but they can provide an extra level of security for advance bookings. "They can protect your interest in the future and make it less likely that hotels will change your rates," he said.
Should there be a significant recovery in 2011 or 2012, O'Malley said meeting planners with secured bookings might find some new opportunities for savings. Rather than canceling , hotels looking to maximize revenues sometimes offer sweeteners to planners to move an event's location or time.
"If hotels are willing to be gracious enough to offer alternate space, we can find ways to make that work," he said. "They might move to a sister property and offer discounted food and beverage or audiovisual services.
Originally published Feb. 15, 2010 by Michael B. Baker via MeetingNews.com
How shared working spaces are facilitating start-ups.
When software engineer Brad
Neuberg opened a communal workspace in 2005 and called it coworking,
he wanted to achieve the benefits of self-employment without the
loneliness that working in a bathrobe can entail. He rented a space from
a non-profit organization that gave him a deal, set up rolling tables
that could be moved out of the way at night, and waited for people to
come work with him. Nobody came until two months later, and he closed
the coworking space after about a year.
"I thought coworking was dead," says Neuberg. "But then it turned out that all those people who had come by--because I told them take this idea, steal it, and remix it--planted all of these seeds that started blooming about a year or two years later."
Five years later, there are coworking spaces in almost every major city in the United States and more than 75 spaces globally, listed on the coworking Google group's website. There are coworking "remixes" that fit every niche from green business to working mothers. And coworking is emerging not just as a rich work community for the self-employed, but as an efficient platform from which to build a business.
"[People who start businesses from coworking spaces] are not your completely traditional entrepreneurs, but they've got enough of a desire to be independent and entrepreneurial that given a little bit better foundation they can take those steps," says Todd Sundsted, co-author of I'm Outta Here! How co-working is making the office obsolete. "They've got energy, they hook up with people, they start to collaborate, and start putting things together."
Sundsted says last year he started noticing an increasing number of entrepreneurs who were interested in setting up "coworking plus" locations that would offer services to entrepreneurs beyond the sense of community and networking that coworking traditionally supplies. Many of these ideas were aimed at facilitating start-ups, such as adding small venture capital components and consulting services to the spaces. But most of these new models, Sundsted says, have yet to get out off of the ground.
The Hub, though not formally part of Neuberg's coworking movement, is one form of a "coworking plus" idea that has more than taken off. With 18 branches worldwide and about 51 more in planning stages, the Hub has been facilitating new businesses since 1995, when it opened its first location in London. The Hub is intended to foster social and environmental change organizations, and it uses its 4,500-person strong global network to introduce members to other Hub users who have similar interests.
For instance, a host at a The Hub Berlin might connect someone interested in doing development work in Nicaragua with someone working on a similar project at The Hub Sao Palo.
"There's been a total evolution in how to mobilize business," says Alex Michel, who helped open The Hub Berkeley last September. "You don't necessarily need the brick and mortar solutions that we once had, so people are far more mobile. Coworking spaces make much more sense in being able to access communities. Our business model is based on sort of a zip car for business where you just pay for the hours you need."
The Hub Berkeley is the first American hub, and three months after opening, it has about 220 members. Five other locations are planned to open in the Bay Area within the next five years.
In addition to The Hub Berkeley's collaborative workspace, kitchen, meeting space, and office tools, members have access to the worldwide network of Hubs. If they're traveling in another area or country, they have not only a workspace, but a connection to the same community. Every hub also has a host like Michel who is trained to help facilitate connections, and start-ups benefit from legal, social media, and business consults offered by fellow members and staff in both lecture and drop-in formats. HubCap, a project in the works at The Hub Berkeley, will one day offer venture capital to its members.
Sundsted, who met his current business partner in a coworking space, sees a bright future between coworking spaces like The Hub and small business—especially as the technology to work in nontraditional offices and the empowerment of creative people to work outside of a big company increase.
"I think entrepreneurs tend to be pragmatic enough to latch onto things that help them be successful," he says.