The Present and Future of Meetings and Events

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The Present and Future of Meetings and Events

 

By Beth Buehler

 

The more than 90 attendees at Destination Colorado Meetings’ April 25 luncheon had the opportunity to hear from a panel of two planners and two suppliers and get a glimpse of Southwest Business, the airline’s ramped-up focus on business travel. The meeting was held at Table Mountain Meetings and Events in Golden and gave participants a look at the present and future of meetings and events.

 

“We gathered a diverse panel of Colorado meeting professionals to answer attendees’ industry questions from the initial RFP to seamless execution. Whether a seasoned event professional or just starting out, the discussion provided valuable insights and practical tips,” says Kelly Layton, executive director of Destination Colorado Meetings.

 

The discussion was facilitated by Barb Taylor Carpender, creator and operator of Taylored Alliances and included Maureen Carter, senior vice president, global sales for CSI DMC; Sonny Kerstiens, vice president of sales for Aspen Hospitality; Stephanie Sadri, director of meetings and events for the American Craft Spirits Association; and Jeanette Stensgaard, owner of ShePlans Co.

Planner and supplier panel for Destination Colorado Meetings' April luncheon

While there was much discussed, three big takeaways Carpender noticed are “short-term bookings are here for the foreseeable future, force majeure clauses in contracts are widening in scope, and AI is being more widely and judiciously used.” Also, when considering the future of meetings, attendance numbers continue to rise slowly with people requiring a compelling reason to attend in-person events and programs.

 

Make It Worthwhile

“If we are going somewhere for a meeting, it better be someplace great and a great event too,” Sadri confirms. “Experience is just as important as logistics and budget, and attendee feedback is important.”

 

Bringing in the “wow factor” and making a gathering feel “special, unique and customized” is key to standing out and getting people to leave home and family, suggests Carter.

 

While this may sound like extra work, it provides “a great opportunity to build relationships within the hospitality industry,” says Stensgaard, noting that proven and creative partners are brought back to the table regularly. “This is the best industry in the world as we get to do business with people we trust and have become friends with.”

Sonny Kerstiens, vice president of sales for Aspen Hospitality

Reasons for Optimism

The pandemic and the corresponding rise in use of video conference calls only goes so far, “You can get productivity at a desk on a video call to a point, but it will never replace personal connections,” notes Kerstiens.

 

On an even deeper level, gathering in person and making these connections can change peoples’ lives, especially when working for an organization like the American Craft Spirits Association. “We can change local economies and well-being of our members’ families. The human currency is much more valuable than just pulling dollars in and putting heads in beds,” Sadri emphasizes.

 

“I see so much optimism when out traveling across the country and our team sets up a beautiful event. Watching attendees enter and their faces light up when seeing friends they haven’t seen since last time brings joy to my heart,” Carter says.

Stephanie Sadri, director of meetings and events for the American Craft Spirits Association

Standout RFPs

Before responding to an RFP request for a future meeting, do some research about the potential client and their events. “It is one extra step that shows you care about this. For me, this is my baby … and my job. If you give me a little extra, I know this partnership will be a good one … personalization and a touch of research,” Sadri says.

 

Stensgaard suggests it can be as simple as answering her questions and providing requested quotes. “If you send me something complete, you are at the top of the list.” She adds, “I always go to referrals first for RFPs. For me, it’s Meeting Professionals International and someone who has done business at that place.”

 

As a supplier, CSI DMC’s mission is to make proposals stand out, especially with the experiential element. “It’s a competitive market out there, and you have to take it to the next level. Tell your story … sell your services,” Carter says. This element will continue to rise in importance for the future of meetings

Maureen Carter, senior vice president, global sales for CSI DMC

Site Inspection Best Practices

Carter stresses the importance of phone conversations with planners before a site visit to determine how many people are coming from a potential client’s team and if they prefer to start with a morning meeting or lunch. As part of proposals, CSI includes information such as what planning teams will do, try and see on site visits.

 

Kerstiens also emphasizes the need for open lines of communication between suppliers and planners before an on-site visit. “We are all about site visits and want you to leave transformed. If a planner only gives me 30 minutes, I must change my approach,” he says.

 

When hosting planners, suppliers should make sure to know the person’s schedule such as when are they arriving to the destination and where are they traveling from. If the planner is flying in late, don’t start site visits too early and provide coffee. Also make sure the venues of interest are available to view, advises Stensgaard. “I know you want my business, and I want to know if you are available and have the needed space,” she says.

 

Stensgaard also valued when one destination invited her husband, so they could experience the community together. “It’s a cool concept that I don’t see very much.”

 

Sadri appreciates when destinations and other hosts make it very clear what is being covered when a site inspection invitation is issued. Does it include transportation, lodging, meals, etc.? Transparency is key. One special touch she remembers is a hotel customizing the pillowcases in sample guest rooms with her client’s logo and giving them to the client upon departure from a site visit.

 

Meeting Trends of Note

“The common thread is personalization, and AI is helping guide personalization,” Kerstiens says. Also, there are many new people on both sides of the industry—supplier and planner—and the time spent in training has shortened.

 

Carter appreciates the greater focus on sustainability and curbing wastefulness by doing things such as repurposing food and examining and offsetting carbon footprint.

 

There also is a push to hold gatherings in condensed timeframes. What used to be four or five days may be consolidated into a weekend. “It has to check all of the boxes and not just be education anymore but also networking and a wow experience,” Stensgaard shares.

 

“It’s quality versus quantity,” Sadri agrees. “The days of how things used to be done are evolving.” She is seeing the desire for more organic networking and the elimination of group dinners so that people can take clients out for a meal instead. “It isn’t the same old anymore.”

Jeanette Stensgaard, owner of ShePlans Co.

Booking Windows

Stensgaard and Sadri confirmed that bookings pushed forward due to the pandemic have wrapped up. In terms of the future of meetings, Stensgaard is looking at 2027 and 2028 and Sadri’s association is moving full steam ahead examining at what still works well and booking gatherings into 2027.

 

For destination management companies (DMCs) the scenario is slightly different. “We are often the last layer; short-term isn’t abnormal for us,” says Carter. However, signing the dotted line sooner rather than later is helpful for everyone involved, she notes.

 

Final Words

As the discussion wrapped up, Carter encouraged planners and suppliers to ask questions, be information seekers and have a positive impact on the meetings and events industry.

 

“Partnerships are not transactions; they require transparency and vulnerability. Also don’t be afraid to say, ‘I don’t know,” agrees Kerstiens.

 

Also know that it isn’t “planners vs. suppliers or suppliers vs. suppliers,” emphasizes Sadri, who has transitioned between the roles over the years. “We’re all in this together—relationships matter,” reiterates Stensgaard.

 

The present and future of meetings and events is always an interesting conversation, especially with four industry professionals who have worked in the industry for several years with various organizations. Stay tuned to Destination Colorado Meetings’ calendar of events for other 2024 educational events.

 

Top Photo: Table Mountain Meetings and Events in Golden, photo by Destination Colorado Meetings

Other Photos: Courtesy of Christie’s Photographic Solutions

 

Colorado native Beth Buehler has been editor of Colorado Meetings + Events magazine for 19 years, helped launch Mountain Meetings magazine, and was on the team that introduced Southwest Meetings + Events. She has planned numerous meetings and events and enjoys exploring Colorado.