Image courtesy of Omni Hotels According to a recent survey conducted by meetings software company Active Events, half of all 2012 eRFPs tracked across the study’s five major cities were for meetings of 0 to 50 people, an increase of 5 percent over 2008. In addition, over the same time period, the number of events of 51 to 100 people fell 2 percent, while the number of meetings of 101 to 250 participants fell 3 percent. This survey agrees with other information suggesting that despite continued economic recovery, the impact of the recession will be long lasting and may permanently change the way businesses plan and conduct their meetings. The growth in the number of smaller meetings comes from small, medium, and large enterprises and associations and is taking place in destinations across the United States. Originally motivated simply by the downturn in the economy, the trend toward smaller and shorter meetings represents a shift in a number of areas: the continued development in meetings technology, the need for shorter lead times and planning windows, and the wish to avoid appearing lavish and extravagant in a lean business environment. These trends have a far-reaching impact on the meetings industry. There has been a shift away from choosing resorts in favor of downtown hotels. Destinations that offer more direct flights or more travel options are winning out over their competitors. Significantly, venues that are capable of offering smaller meeting spaces are finding themselves on level footing with large convention halls, competing for events that had not traditionally been available to them. The 2014 American Express Global Meetings and Events Forecast sees an increase in total meetings and total meetings attendance, yet it reports that total meeting expenditures are expected to hold steady. Companies are still trying to maximize their meetings dollars, and smaller and/or shorter meetings help reduce costs in lodging, meals, transportation, and venue rental. Image courtesy of Mount Pleasant Granary The AmEx survey suggests that stability in meetings growth will continue into 2015, with more organizations committing to future events than in the past several years. However, this long-range increase is incremental, giving small venues that don’t require long lead times or planning windows an advantage. The meeting budgets for many companies are not approved until the latest financial data is available. All of this information taken together means that there is a market for venues that have not traditionally seen themselves as competing for those dollars. Taking advantage of these trends, the “non-traditional” business meeting venue must be able to offer more than simply having small and inexpensive conference rooms. During the lean years from 2008 to 2013, technology and connectivity became crucial components that every facility has to offer. Fast and easily accessible Wi-Fi along with remote conferencing hardware and software went from being a competitive advantage to a baseline requirement. Properly trained support staff and updated equipment are investments that offer a tangible return and will help capture a greater share of the small-meetings market. To fully take advantage of the long-term changes in the meetings industry, venues that can offer small-meetings services need to effectively promote themselves to their potential customers. eVenues offers small and medium-sized facilities the means to quickly and clearly show how they’re geared to provide the perfect meeting space.

When event planners talk about their biggest pain points, the issues that come up over and over include shrinking lead times, rapidly changing technology, disappearing budgets, and demonstrable return on investment in the conference itself. Many of these issues are new to the business and have only arisen in the past few years during the sweeping changes to the meetings industry brought on by a lean economy.

Shorter Lead Times

Industry professionals invariably mention shortened lead times as a modern challenge. Given that many organizations don’t know what their meetings or event budgets will be until the most recent fiscal results are available, the planning cycle has shrunk from one or two years down to months or even weeks. Tish Davis, CEO of Elegant Event Sitters, says, “Coming to someone two weeks before and expecting a flawless shindig for 1,000 isn’t impossible, but it is a lot of pressure to put on yourself and on your planner.” However, Davis notes that this is happening with greater frequency.

Keeping Pace with Technology

Image courtesy of Incorporating technology into meetings has grown from being a novelty to a necessity. The use of mobile devices has conditioned meetings and event attendees to expect information and interactivity to be constantly available. An event website now includes apps, mobile sites, and the use of pre-existing social media channels to enhance meeting attendance and experience. Recording and repurposing data and presentations at conferences and meetings is commonplace. The term that has come to describe meetings that involve both face-to-face interaction and virtual technology is “hybrid events.” Meetings technology provider INXPO describes the advantages of hybrid meetings, which may include extending the reach of your traditional audience, reaching new groups of customers, cutting costs, and generating additional revenue.

Shrinking Budgets and Controlling Costs

Most planners agree that the “traditional” cost structure for meetings and events has permanently disappeared; in its place is a shift toward smaller meetings of shorter duration, scheduled regionally or locally to reduce travel and expenses. Sponsorships that were traditionally geared toward large signage and big dinners or receptions have moved into the virtual realm, creating new revenue potential at the aforementioned hybrid events. Meeting and event planners have to prepare for these changes and the client’s expectations that go with them. Industry experts at Plan Your Meetings suggest such several tactics that will help you control costs while still presenting a memorable event. Consider writing everything that needs to be controlled into the contract, sign multi-year agreements, and make sure you receive credit for any unused comps.

Measuring ROI

Image courtesy of Pattaya Exhibition and Convention Hall As cost-consciousness has driven visible changes within the industry, one of the invisible impacts is the desire to measure the return of the investment (ROI) in the meeting or event. It’s no longer enough to simply put on a great event and walk away. The International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials offers a succinct primer on discovering the return on investment in a conference. First, planners must measure discrete expenses like registration, travel, lodging, local transportation, per diems, and other costs. Beyond that, however, are more intangible benefits: Do meeting sessions have relevance to your company’s work? Does the conference introduce tools and technologies that will benefit your organization? Will you meet new vendors and make important contacts while you’re there? Does the conference highlight industry best practices or offer actual training? An organization’s ROI will depend on finding out the answers to as many of these questions as possible as early as possible and then applying the benefits of the conference to the real-life work setting after the conference is over. The American Association of Critical-Care Nurses suggests creating worksheets to track the value of participation in a conference and then, significantly, communicating that value to management afterwards.