Negative Perceptions Of Executive Board Meetings Wane
Buyers of executive board meetings this year are freer to choose upscale resort locations without weighing in perception factors, as economic times improve. Though the number of executive board meetings is not increasing as fast as other types of corporate meetings, that number never decreased, as did other meetings, during the recent economic downturn.
John Schultenover, president of Krisam Group, a Washington D.C.-based site selection and meeting planning company, said while Krisam's overall meetings business is up 21 percent from last year, board meetings remain relatively stable. "Our corporate accounts and destination management companies tell us that U.S. executive board meetings have held steady over the past two years. They didn't fall off when everything else did," he said.
At the Broadmoor, a luxury resort in Colorado Springs, director of sales John Washko said there has been sustained demand for board meetings during the past two years, with a slight increase this year both in volume and length of stay. "This segment, like the top-tier business traveler, does not fluctuate with the economy," he said. "They have to meet during good times and bad in order to set a strategic direction for the company. In fact, this is even more important in bad times."
Similarly, Rick Nagaoka, director of sales for the Mauna Kea Beach Resort on the Big Island of Hawaii, said the hotel's long-established market among executive board meetings has changed little over the years, even post-Sept. 11, 2001. "What we are seeing this year, however, is that board groups are booking a few more room nights," Nagaoka said. "They are growing a bit in size, if not in number."
Although most companies have become more cost-conscious regarding travel and meetings, board meetings appear to remain far less subject to budgetary restrictions. "In general, corporations are concerned with taking care of their board," Krisam's Schultenover said. "They want a first-class destination, at the very least, and if possible, a luxury destination. These people run the company and there is a lot of pressure on them. They need to be put in an effective environment and there is a feeling that good service and privacy are worth the extra dollars."
Nagaoka said board groups "are not cost-conscious. They know what they want and they don't haggle."
Shareholder and employee concern about perceptions of extravagance in recent years restricted site selection for board meetings. "A big change this year is that we're no longer losing business because of perception issues," said Ted Davis, area sales manager for Wyndham Hotels & Resorts in Scottsdale, Ariz. "I don't hear about this anymore."
Jerry Janove, director of sales for the Resort Meetings Consortium, an Orlando-based organization that assists corporations in negotiations with resorts, also recognized this trend. "Now that the economy is better, there is less worry that a resort meeting will look bad," he said. Although Janove said more board groups this year appear to be choosing resort locations, most are not going offshore. "The increased interest is primarily in domestic resorts," he said. "People still like the simplicity of getting to a domestic resort."
The fact that many board meetings are short, often just one or two nights, may be a strong reason why domestic resorts are favored. According to Schultenover, many site decisions are guided by the travel time involved. "Frequency of air service and easy access to an airport are very important," he said. "They cannot afford delays or wasted time."
The J.W. Marriott Las Vegas Resort & Spa is among domestic resorts experiencing an increase in board meetings this year, according to director of sales and marketing Chuck Albright. "Not only is the quantity up, but the quality is up as well," he said. "During the past two or three years, board meetings were strictly about getting down to business. Now we're seeing this start to loosen up a bit, with more free time for golf, the spa or taking in a show on the Las Vegas Strip. Often they're extending the meeting by a day."
Also seeing an upswing in board groups is the Hilton El Conquistador Golf & Tennis Resort in Tucson, according to director of sales and marketing Mary Huddleston. "During the past several years, some board meetings that had been going to resorts started going to urban or airport hotels instead," she said. "Now, these boards are meeting at resorts again, because it's become more acceptable in the public image. We see a return of the old cycle."
Differing from some of her industry colleagues, Huddleston does believe that board meeting buyers, like those managing other corporate business, remain concerned about cost. "A difference from years ago is that more board groups are buying a complete meetings package," she said. "They want a quick buy and don't always have time for a tailor-made program."
The changing demographics of many executive boards seem to be altering the nature of some board meetings. While golf still is king, some hoteliers said increasing requests for spa treatments and adventure-oriented activities are reflecting the fact that more women and Generation Xers are moving into leadership roles. "This is a new generation and they want things other than just golf and spa," Huddleston said. "They want more unique activities, often with a teambuilding aspect or a chance to feel really engaged. We recently even did a small cattle drive."
The Broadmoor's Washko said the changing demographics of board meetings influences activity choices. "The spa is important," he said. "Board meetings are no longer exclusive boys' clubs, but include a growing number of women. That's not to say women don't play golf and men don't use spas, but it does mean that the spa has become more important to these groups."
At the Hyatt Grand Champions Resort in Indian Wells, Calif., director of sales and marketing John Hernstadt said that spa and wellness-related activities increasingly are popular with board meetings and higher upscale corporate groups. "We have a medical director who will talk with groups about nutrition and wellness," he said. "There's a lot of interest in this."
At the Boulders, a Wyndham luxury resort near Scottsdale, a new program called the Adventure Concierge is being used to design creative activities for small corporate groups. "We're doing things like tee box breakfasts on the golf course, night hiking with night vision goggles, astronomy walks, Hummer tours of the desert," Davis said. "It offers a personalized agenda for meetings."