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MICE: Get down to business

Trends in the MICE field are constantly changing with rapid advances in technology, finds Robert Carlsen

 

Technology advances improving event planning and management have spurred a post-recession buzz in the meetings/incentives/conferences/exhibitions (MICE) business travel sector. This is helping to reduce uncertainties about event effectiveness as well as adjusting to facilities’ current dilemma of limited supply due to increased demand.

The meeting-planning marketplace is big, growing, and difficult to reach and influence, according to a study conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers for the Convention Industry Council. The 205 million attendees who participate in meetings contribute $907 billion in total US economic activity through direct and indirect spending. About $60 billion in US labor income is directly generated by the meetings industry, coming from sectors including food and beverage, accommodations, transportation, recreation/entertainment, retail and travel services. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the meeting, convention and event planner profession is projected to grow 33% from 2012 to 2022.

According to another recent study released by Meeting Professionals International (MPI) for IMEX America, which hosts the annual IMEX worldwide exhibition for the MICE sector, more than 61% of meeting professionals agreed that current available event technology makes event management much easier, but 92% admit that meeting planners are not making the most of these high-tech solutions. This technology will continue to develop and change dramatically in the next 10 years, and the study also found that 55% of respondents expect virtual attendance at meetings to rise. In keeping with this trend, some industry professionals are looking for budgets not simply for technology, but for experimenting with new approaches.
The MPI study also suggests today’s planners act quickly and prioritize a wish list of their three to five most desired concessions, instead of ticking off 15 items. Hoteliers and venues are getting clearer on the sectors of clients with whom they want to do business and targeting their marketing to reflect this.

“Technology has become a driving force in how events are being designed and measured,” said Cate Banfield, director of event solution design at BCD Travel Group’s meetings and events division. “We are seeing increased use of meetings technology across all events. Mobile apps are growing exponentially and the opportunity to measure the attendee digital journey is providing increased insights into what attendees are doing, thinking and feeling during an event.

“Technology is now allowing us to achieve desired outcome and drive measurable business growth in a way we have never been able to quantify before — and driving up attendee engagement.”

As an example of improved meetings technology, Cvent, a publicly held event management technology firm founded
in 1999, is now seeing a big boost in its business through an improved range of software options, including online event registration, venue selection, event management, mobile apps, email marketing and web surveys.

Then there’s a new online site called MICE.com that brings together a “community to check references, review suppliers or connect with them and keep up to date with industry contacts,” according to Michael Mayhew, director of business development. He suggests travel agents wanting to break into the MICE sector or expand their business to build
relationships with the players and “collaborate, discover educational opportunities, search venues
and find services and share updates, links, photos, videos and documents.”

Also on the rise is enterprise resource planning (ERP), business process management software that allows an organization to use a system of integrated applications to manage the business and automate many back-office functions related to technology, services and human resources. ERP vendors include SAP,
Oracle, Microsoft, QAD, Lawson, Epicor, Sage, IFS, Exact Globe, Syspro, NetSuite, Visibility, Consona, CDC Software and Activant Solutions.

“The challenge with limited supply due to increased demand requires planners and companies to act faster and be more strategic with their sourcing,” said Banfield. “We are seeing multiple-year bookings due to limited supply, which provides much-needed assurances space will be secured for future programs and that rates and space can be locked in.”

Banfield added that technology is “now allowing us to achieve desired outcome and drive measurable business growth in a way we have never been able to quantify before — and is driving up attendee engagement.”

Even with the supply/demand situation, Banfield said lead times are still dwindling with an average of eight weeks for most worldwide regions, while North America is closer to 18 weeks, partially due to the larger meetings being held in the US such as conferences and trade shows. Because of shorter lead times, negotiating more complex contracts, including extra clauses/addendums, is adding time and effort for both the hotel and planner, she said.

According to American Express’s 2016 global meetings and events forecast, the most frequent meetings being planned are training, internal team meetings, sales/marketing and conferences/trade shows. Amex said that meeting spend is rising globally, led by the Asia Pacific region with a 2.1% expected increase this year, followed by a 1.9% rise in North America; the forecast said that supplier rate hikes are a big reason for the increases, with hotels enjoying record performance and airplanes packed.

Travel consultancy firm Advito, part of the BCD Travel Group, said in its most recent business forecast that tight space for future meetings is due to limited expansion of meeting space at newer hotels. “On average, hotels built over the past six years have 24% less meeting space than those built between 2000 and 2009,” Advito said.

“As a result, booking the desired city on the desired dates without paying a steep price is harder than ever.” Advito said buyers are responding to this problem in different ways. Some are staging more, but smaller, meetings, for which space is easier to find. Availability and high pricing are issues in the biggest cities, so buyers are looking at the next tier down. Plus, staging the event on a Sunday-Wednesday schedule is less expensive than Monday-Thursday. Room rates in the US
are expected to increase 5% to 6% in 2016 with a continued rise in 2017.

“The seller’s market comes from the high demand growth and flat supply growth as well as hotels’ increasing use of yield management strategies,” Advito said. “In response, some companies are negotiating transient travel rates at lower-tier properties.”

Advito said service charges for meeting space are also on the increase, especially for smaller meetings and catering-only events like dinners. “Even if buyers avoid charges for the main meeting room, they are likely to be charged for breakout rooms, ” said Advito, adding that hotels are also charging clients if they go beyond set-up and dismantle times and they are simply saying “no” more often to business that is unlikely to deliver a good financial return.

Advito’s meeting-destination winners, according to its survey, include cruises, Nashville, Austin, Peru, Australia and French Polynesia; destination losers are Istanbul (because of security concerns), and the Caribbean, Costa Rica and Mexico (due to fears of the Zika virus). Meanwhile, as an example of supply/demand and lower-tier choices, the most recent ASTA conference in Reno, Nev., in late September was agreed upon three months before its 2015 conference in Washington, DC because booking its first choice location and meeting site fell apart in the negotiating stage, said John Leinen, vice president of convention and tourism sales at the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority. The conference choice in Reno was the Peppermill Resort, whose executive director of hotel operations and sales, Pat Flynn, said provided an “extremely positive” experience for the 850 attendees, many of whom had never been to Reno before. The resort boasts 1,623 rooms and 106,000 square feet of meeting space.

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