Bringing Life Back to Group Meetings
By Sandy Heydt, Director of Sales & Marketing, The Logan, Philadelphia's Hotel
 
Like many other industries, 2016 is a big year for reflection on past and current trends among the meetings and conventions sector, ultimately yielding numerous progressive changes among the way meetings are planned, held and eventually evaluated by meeting hosts and attendees.
Meeting hosts are expecting higher attendance and engagement rates, a more efficient use of technology and creative ways to position the meeting as an interactive experience verses a traditional presentation-style event that ultimately maintains a cost-effective price point. To satisfy growing client expectations, meeting planners are expecting more from meeting, convention and event venues - a central location, affordable group rate and a size-appropriate space are no longer the sole determining factors when choosing a host location.
 
Hotels as a whole have seemingly been able to keep up with the growing planner and client demands in 2016. Group demand in itself is strong and group rates are trending up. However, we are always seeking additional ways to meet, if not exceed, the ever-changing expectations of group meeting planners and their clients to stand out among other host venues and provide planners with a reason to come back for more.
 
We've identified several essential trends and factors that have been shaping the group meeting industry and driving the decision-making process among meeting planners over the past year. Among these trends include premier food and beverage options, a greater need to remain digitally connected throughout the event, along with innovative ways for attendees to do so, and an increased focus on in-house offerings for team building activities.
 
1. Upscale Food & Beverage Options
Not surprisingly, food and beverage costs are among one of the highest budget items when hosting group meetings. Less surprisingly, food & beverage choices are becoming an increasingly influential factor when choosing a host venue. Meeting planners have come to expect first-class culinary options from the host venue, as F&B pairings can be a key factor in providing an energy source for attendees, boosting attendee morale and facilitating the overall networking experience. In turn, meeting attendees have increasingly come to expect planners to choose premier catering options, especially ones that are reflective of current food trends in the market, such as gluten-free dishes made from organic or locally sourced ingredients.
 
The International Association of Conference Centres released a report of the Top 10 Conference Food & Beverage Trends as of December 2015, noting the impact food can have on concentration, productivity and the success of a meeting (International Meetings Review, 2015). Among those food trends includes locally sourced food to reflect the culinary culture of the city the convention is hosted in, passed small-bites instead of a traditional buffet to encourage networking and incorporating sustainable ingredients into the menu that are low in sugar and fats, such as quinoa, kale and beans to increase attendees' energy and efficiency.
 
At The Logan, we offer catering from the same kitchen as our on-site highly-acclaimed restaurant, Urban Farmer. The menu boasts an array of locally sourced ingredients and authentic, straightforward preparations that come from the Urban Farmer scratch kitchen. All food and beverage offerings are sourced from neighboring farms, fisheries and local breweries that complement the Greater Philadelphia region. The hotel even has its own butcher shop and makes all pastries and baked goods, even crackers, from the pastry kitchen.
 
2. Staying Connected
In today's digital age, the importance of staying "connected" and "plugged-in" is at a record high, despite the demographics of your attendees. Even when attending meetings and conventions, attendees are fixated to their phones, tablets and laptops, be it for note-taking, scanning office e-mails, socializing with family and friends or most-often times, a combination of these tasks. It goes without saying that a meeting space must offer high-speed internet, a wireless connection that attendees can tap into on multiple devices at one time and multiple outlets where attendees can reboot their devices.
 
For events targeted to a younger, millennial crowd, we've noticed the importance of not only staying connected throughout the meeting to colleagues, close friends and family, but also the importance of staying connected to the individual's large social media following. Here at The Logan, we make it easy for meeting hosts to sync their social channels to a projecting screen displaying a live feed of social activity happening at the conference. Meeting attendees can tweet, Instagram and share their personal experiences via Facebook to connect with other meeting attendees. Likewise, attendees feel they are receiving a more personal experience out of the event, and not just a mass-produced meeting.
 
This increased dependency on technology subsequently results in an increased need to preserve battery life throughout the day, especially in spaces with a high volume of digital traffic that causes battery life to drain faster than usual. To combat this, we've seen an increased demand from planners requesting portable charging stations that can be placed conveniently throughout the meeting space and in common-areas of the venue, eliminating the prospect of each attendee having to lug power cords around for all their devices. It is an expectation that portable charging station cater to all devices, be it an iPhone, a Samsung, ANDROID, a Mac or PC.
At The Logan, we work closely with our audio visual partners to provide options for attendees to stay charged and stay connected. To limit disruptions throughout the meetings, charging stations are frequently set-up in the back of the room, along with power strips at the tables, giving guests options to re-charge while staying engaged in the meeting. Adding charging stations to your breaks can also give guests an additional opportunity to re-charge while networking with other attendees. At The Logan, we also kept the needs of the business traveler in mind while designing our guest room, ensuring that all rooms offer the Kube Alarm Clock, which features built in chargers for android and iPhone devices, along with a Bluetooth speaker to keep attendees plugged in both in and out of their meetings.
 
3. Focus on Team Building Activities and Multiple Networking Experiences
As a result of technology heightening meeting attendee's need to stay connected and social share, technology is forming a subconscious need for a sense of community among social media users, as it ultimately connects people with other like-minded individuals (Meetings Imagined, 2016). In order to capitalize on these relationships formed online, meeting planners need to provide opportunities for these social connections to be taken offline and create multiple face-to-face networking experiences before, during and after the meeting.
 
For larger meetings and conventions, meeting planners may take a more standardized approach, such as providing a progressive breakfast tour of the event space, a seated luncheon and a happy hour following the event. For smaller meetings, meeting planners are forced to get creative and cultivate a personalized networking experience where each attendee has the opportunity to work with each member of the group individually and share/feedback on the team's ideas.
 
For these smaller meetings, such as a team off-site or new employee training workshops, we have noticed that meeting planners are becoming more tuned-in to what in-house interactive activities the host location and venue can offer meeting attendees.
Some hotels offer hands-on culinary classes, interactive scavenger hunts or literal team-building activities, such as creating a giant structure of cardboard bricks (Meetings & Conventions, 2016), among other activities. While activities offered change based on relevancy to the event, the city the meeting space is located in and the business as a whole, each activity is intended to challenge groups, strengthen internal employee relationships and make the team stronger to facilitate creative thinking, employee collaboration and interpersonal mindfulness skills that can be taken back to the office.
 
The Logan offers a handful of options to promote team-building and thought leadership. Most commonly asked for, The Logan, in partnership with Philadelphia's CoreFitness, offers a 3-hour mindfulness retreat to stimulate positive energy and strong mental health, complete with a one-hour yoga class, one-hour mindfulness class and a one-hour intro to meditation class. Classes are offered at The Logan's exclusive outdoor courtyard (weather permitting - inside space available otherwise). We also work to build outstanding relationships with some of the hotel's neighboring museums and recreational activity centers to provide meeting planners with discounted group activity rates. A few team-building activities we recommend to meeting planners, both inside and outside of the walls of the hotel, are:
 
·         Philadelphia Scavenger Hunt
·         Art tour throughout the hotel, with appetizer and drink pairings
·         Behind the scenes kitchen tours featuring our scratch kitchen
·         Guided "Rocky Run" from Hotel to the Art Museum steps
·         Mixology class with our expert craft bartenders
·         Cooking class competition led by hotel culinary team
 
While we are not certain what trends 2017 will bring to the group meetings industry, we are confident the trends listed above will only have an even greater impact on group meeting planners' decision making and continue to challenge hotel and other event venues to become more progressive, creative and consumer-focused when designing meeting packages and offerings.
 
Sandy Heydt is Director of Sales and Marketing at The Logan, Philadelphia’s Hotel. Ms. Heydthas 25 years experience in luxury hotel sales and marketing, for both resorts and city hotels. Ms. Heydt’s passion for building brands, strategic marketing, team empowerment and collaboration supports the owner’s vision and goals as The Logan strives to be the most exciting and successful hotel in the marketplace. Sandy’s knack for introducing and engaging new brands to a targeted customer base and working with operations teams to deliver the brand promise is essential to her success at The Logan Hotel. Prior to joining the team at The Logan Hotel, Ms. Heydt was Vice President of Sales at the AAA Five Star/Mobile Five Diamond Eau Palm Beach Resort and Spa, and was instrumental in transitioning this former Ritz Carlton to an Independent resort. Prior to that, Ms. Heydt founded and owned Panetiere Marketing Advisors for 10 years, a company that provided sales and marketing consulting and temporary staffing to a variety of hotels ownership groups and management companies. Ms. Heydt personally worked on projects with Destination Hotels & Resorts, Noble House Hotels & Resorts, Leading Hotels of the World, Preferred Hotels & Resorts and many private owners and investors. Ms. Heydt can be contacted at 215-963-1500 or sandra.heydt@theloganhotel.com Please visithttp://www.theloganhotel.com for more information. Extended Bio...
 
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