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W Hotel City Center - September 23, 2019
Le Meridien Etoile - 4 October, 2019
London Marriott Hotel Regents Park - 7 October, 2019
Venue choices are changing. That's not just the consensus of a few meeting managers. You can see it in the dynamics of the meetings marketplace. The expansion of purpose-built businesses like Convene and Etc.venues. The proliferation of technologies serving niche venues: There was Gaest, which was bought by Airbnb, and there's Breather, which continues to grow as its own platform, turning around designed spaces on a dime (but definitely not for a dime). Big players also have stepped into the ring, such as Cvent, which acquired Kapow to deliver turnkey venues and experiences for meetings. We see the shape-shifting in the market, but why? Traditional hotel venues have been serving meetings well for decades. There's a new business need—or maybe a few—driving these changes. BTN editor-in-chief Elizabeth West talked to meetings consultant Betsy Bondurant, Lloyd's Register global travel manager Ruth Oren and Estee Lauder executive director of global travel program design Jami Stapelmann about today's sourcing strategies.
BTN: Hotels have served meetings for a long time and have done it well, but there are other viable venue choices in the market. What's driving the change?
Betsy Bondurant: There are a couple of factors. One is simple: People might be a little tired of always going to hotels. Whether this is a generational shift or changing corporate cultures is debatable, but I do see people just wanting other options. The other factor, and I would have to validate statistics on this, has to do with real estate. I talk to a lot of companies that are downsizing their physical footprints. Many people are working remotely, and companies reduce their space. In the process, they reduce their on-campus meeting facilities. Maybe there's nothing available or maybe it's always booked, so companies need alternatives. The unique need may not be an exact fit with a hotel.
Jami Stapelmann: Estee Lauder is actually growing. We recently acquired Le Labo, Too Faced and Becca. And when you acquire new companies you can use these venues like Convene or Breather or WeWork to flex and adapt and really augment your existing office space, which is at a premium. To that point, we're actually upgrading our office space around the world, as well.
BTN: How are companies deciding what business to put in hotels versus other types of venues?
Stapelmann: We've been able to look at the data and analytics to really understand, through reason codes and other details we capture, what types of meetings our brands actually have. Are they internal? Are they training? Are they meeting with retailers? All of these meetings need different types of venues, and we also recognize that some don't need venues. We are encouraging people, in our transient booking tools, to consider Skype and Zoom and other technologies, and we are equipping our internal spaces with state-of-the-art technologies that can help facilitate [effective remote meetings].
Bondurant: There's the type of meeting in terms of meeting objectives, to Jami's point, but also confidentiality issues. Pharma, biotech and a lot of regulated meetings require that confidentiality. You might not get that at a space where there are common break areas like a Convene or Etc. But if [the meetings] are a day or two and they're being planned by nonprofessional planners, a lot of times those types of venues can offer a lot more support for people and a different environment that helps drive attendance. Hotels are often accustomed to working with more professional planners who understand the lingo and setups.
BTN: Are you seeing that more programs are working through admins and ad hoc meeting planners to organize events these days? Is this a change that's driving some shift in the market?
Bondurant: Some companies are recognizing that ad hoc and smaller meetings are a significant part of their meeting spend, and they are trying to put in mechanisms to capture that data without having to bring that volume under centralized control. So I don't know if recognizing that type of meeting is what is growing the business at these alternative venues, but it's not hurting them.
Stapelmann: That's one of the elements we like about the Breather platform because we do have nonprofessional meeting organizers booking these meetings. There's less contracting being put in the hands of a booker or an admin.
BTN: There are plenty of upsides to using hotels as meetings venues, and according to most meetings platforms like Cvent and Meetingsbooker.com, the vast majority of meeting organizers continue to book business at hotels. One reason, I imagine, is leveraging volume negotiations with transient business. What are some others?
Ruth Oren: Lloyd's Register absolutely leverages the transient hotel program for meetings. That's very important for us, but the value of the hotel goes beyond that. Nearly all of our meetings have international participants, and we want them to be together—not just during the meeting but for all the networking. I also think the fact that we are holding fewer meetings today, thanks to technology like Skype and remote conferencing—we need to give all these people around the globe as many opportunities to connect in person when we bring them together. Holding an event at an alternate venue and then allowing everyone to choose their hotels would undermine that objective.
Stapelmann: There's also the value of those deeper hotel partnerships that go beyond price. So, things go wrong sometimes. It's inevitable with travel. You want a solid relationship with your partners so that when things do go wrong, you have an escalation point and the reassurance that things are going to be handled and managed the way they should. When you have that preferred relationship, you elevate the importance of the business to that supplier. There's a lot of value in that.
BTN: I've seen a lot of changes in the physical spaces for meetings: more collaborative areas, more technology. Do hotels keep up with these developments?
Stapelmann: I think some of the alternative purpose-built venues are at the forefront.
Oren: It can be harder for some of the bigger chains to make a consistent investment. Some of the independent properties we work with are quite hungry for our business and they've tried much harder to meet our needs.
Bondurant: But I see hotels really investing here, as well. We used to call them executive conference centers, but now it's really evolved to a much more flexible space with different types of seating and collaboration technologies. With many of the newer hotels that have the luxury to be building now or those undergoing big renovations like with The Park in Las Vegas, we're really starting to see a lot of that transition.
BTN: Do you find hotels and these alternative venues compete heavily with one another for business?
Stapelmann: I see the opposite. A catering-only or a small event may not be that attractive for a meetings hotel because it's expensive for them and they make most of their money on the sleeping rooms. So alternative spaces like Convene or Breather are addressing a different piece of the market. But now, when I go to a hotel that may not have that much meeting space but they want group business, they'll make sure to let me know that there's a WeWork around the corner. I see the hotel market getting creative with these kinds of opportunities.