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Collaborating with Hotels: The Next Frontier in Meeting Management

In June, Site Selection Manager Ashley Pruitt attended Meeting Professional International’s World Education Congress 23 (WEC23), held in Riviera Maya, Mexico. She shares her experiences from learning and engaging in conversations surrounding the current and future landscape for meeting planners partnering with hotels. 

A Shift from Hospitality to Transactions

At Etherio, we stay current with the ever-changing trends and forecasts affecting meetings management strategy. So, when I had the opportunity to attend WEC23, I got ready to dive into an event designed just for meetings experts. 

During a session led by a senior vice president from Hyatt, we discussed how hotel owners have changed their approach from focusing on hospitality to prioritizing transactions since the pandemic.  

This shift places higher importance on profitability and operational efficiency, making it tricky to keep the traditional personalized touch of hospitality. A trend we are seeing with this shift is that contract negotiations are more complex, and concessions you would have seen in 2019 are no longer being offered. Our team relies more than ever on our national sales partners with each brand to ensure we get the most for our clients.  

A crucial takeaway for event organizers: Be prepared to be flexible and not do the same thing you’ve always done. The meetings industry will always be different from before the pandemic, so we must shift our perspectives.

Staffing Changes and Adaptation

One of the significant discussions during the conference revolved around staffing. Because staffing levels may never return to 2019 levels, hotel owners are now focusing on more combined roles. For example, a director of sales might also be a director of events, and a chef might also manage restaurants. This combination can mean a loss of experience, requiring more training. However, Hyatt and other hoteliers are at the forefront of adapting to these and other changes by implementing comprehensive cross-training and systematic onboarding processes.  

A crucial takeaway for event organizers: Stay calm and keep your conference services manager (CSM) updated for a smooth planning process. Staying organized from the beginning and tracking all changes and decisions will easily set you both up for success. Remember, their success is your success.

Rethinking RFPs

The request for proposal landscape is transforming as well. A frenzy of event demand means hotel sales managers are overwhelmed with leads, and discounts are disappearing, especially in the food and beverage sector.  

Here’s a tip: Don’t automatically expect a deal in future contracts. Think about other high-value concessions in replacement.

At Etherio, we’re already working on strategies to navigate these new dynamics. A blanket 10% discount on food and beverage pricing may have been in every contract you made before. Some hotels are less inclined to offer since food and beverage revenue is a lot less than it used to be due to inflation. Instead, ask for a better complimentary rooms policy and more discounted staff rooms to help bring down your overall costs. 

Planning Tips to Partner for Success

WEC23 gave me a wealth of helpful information to share with my Etherio team. A few other essential meeting planning tips that emerged from my time at MPI-WEC include:  

Virtual Tours: Embrace the remote approach and scan spaces by relying on virtual tours, a trend almost every major hotel adopted post-pandemic. 
Collaborative Tools: Some properties now offer collaborative diagramming software so you can ensure the details are just right. When contacting your hotel, ask if that’s a possibility. 
Meal Planning and Sustainability: With many hotels changing to 7-day meal guarantees and 40% of attendees having dietary restrictions, be creative and flexible in your meal planning. Embrace sustainability by avoiding food waste and engaging with hotels to create eco-friendly events. 

Pricing and Room Setup

Event organizers should be mindful of the budget with changes in pricing and room setup costs. Expect pricing increases of 7% YOY, including labor and shipping. Be mindful of room setups and repurpose spaces whenever possible to minimize turns to alleviate the staff.  

If you’ve wondered about the rise in audiovisual costs since the pandemic, it’s due to the loss of tenured staff and the challenges of hiring back employees at the same salaries. However, in its July 2023 report, AVIXA®, the Audiovisual and Integrated Experience Association, revealed an optimistic outlook. Meetings and events continue to attract sold-out crowds, driving AV sales up, while supply chain management headaches decline.  

Despite hiring challenges, the overall global situation is moving in a favorable direction. 

Final Thoughts

Collaboration with hotels is now more than just transactional agreements. It’s about understanding the shifts in the industry, adapting to new realities, and forging partnerships that meet business goals and enhance the attendee experience. 

Whether it’s working with hotels to create sustainable events, adapting to changes in staffing and RFPs, or embracing recent technologies, Etherio is committed to helping you navigate the evolving landscape. 

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