MIM+E: What are some hot topics you’re hearing about in our industry?
Rebecca Schlussel, marketing director, Star Trax Events: There’s a shortage of hotel rooms in Detroit. With all the sporting events happening downtown in one city, I think we’re going to get some big hotels, especially with the sports venues hosting other events. In the social sphere, we used to start planning large life cycle events 18 months, two years out. Then it scaled back, now we’re back there.
Jennifer Berkemeier, catering and special events sales manager, Cobo Center: Detroit still loses events, some large conferences because we don’t have enough hotel rooms. We don’t have a hotel that connects to the Cobo Conference Center. The RFPs I see are comp rate this and comp rate that, this is included, that’s included. We just respond and don’t take that as a make or break it. They’re still asking for it, but I don’t think it’s a deal breaker.
Taryn Miracle, area director of sales, Great Wolf Lodge: Some clients will still throw it out there a number of requests and take whatever sticks. Most understand it’s a seller’s market right now. All of the conversations we have with them right now are even more important to gaining the most benefit for the client, to gauging needs as well as wants.
Lindsay Krause, senior manager, Special D Events: I have some clients who are thinking more long term. If it’s an annual event, thinking two or three years out and staying with the same brand and working the negotiations that way. They’re realizing they can’t on a whim just get the space they need. My clients are looking for more of a 360-event experience. Not just the venue. They want to know about the city, what the city offers and what you can do there. It’s not just about the space and the F&B anymore.
Aaron Wolowiec, president, Event Garde: Associations are susceptible to so much change. Some attendees and exhibitors are now going to certain in-person conferences only every other year. Many associations are also co-locating or merging events. I’m seeing a lot of change really fast. I have clients who are nervous about keeping up with stakeholder needs—designing must-attend learning and networking meetings and events—while also navigating what has become a seller’s hotel market.
Mark Ephraim, wedding officiator: Clients are much more interested in getting a great experience for their event. They’re more flexible on the budget than they were a few years ago. Which brings me to my concern, which is service excellence. I think it’s been faltering a little bit. Everybody is more concerned about the sale. People at Cobo Center proved that can be turned around and turned around amazingly.
Kat Paye, executive director, National Cherry Festival: Traverse City is booming in construction. We also struggle with hotel rooms. I’m five years out to make sure I get what I need to have entertainment solidified with hotels. It’s a challenge to be a festival that keeps growing, bringing in up to 600,000 visitors. But where do they go? They’re staying as far away as Cadillac. That doesn’t help us as a community, doesn’t help our tourism if people can’t find a place to stay or a place to eat.
MIM+E: What are some of the technology trends you’re seeing?
KP: Apps and beacons. We’re getting into that technology in the open space at the festival. We have to bring in our own infrastructure for Wi-Fi. We can do push notifications through an app now, such as “REO Speedwagon is tonight, don’t forget to buy your tickets!” So it’s less print.
JB: Part of our renovation at Cobo was to install a very sophisticated Wi-Fi system three years ago. We recently upgraded even more. At the same time, a Quicken company installed a lot of tech at Ford Field. Complimentary Wi-Fi has become the norm.
AW: I think people need it and want it, but I don’t think it’s a norm yet. I’m still getting quotes for $30-$40,000 to get Wi-Fi for a conference.
RS: New this year is that people expect us to use an app called Social Tables that allows us to plug in thousands of venues. We put the event specs into the system, create the entire flow, look and feel of the event and it comes to life before your eyes. You can enter your linens, your chair count. Our clients have come to expect it. You can walk your client literally through the entire event on the screen. And they can work on it with you. No more red and green diagrams with your numbers. It’s insane.
Ana Skidmore, owner, TwoFoot Creative: There’s a virtual reality version of that as well. You stand in the room and drag and drop.
AW: Increased used of RFID and beacon technology, for sure. We’re tracking attendees and we know what education sessions they’re going into. There’s so much data. Even knowing which times are more popular or not popular and using that to change next year’s event. I think as meeting planners, when the CMP was created over 30 years ago it was about logistics, you provide the chicken, chairs and water and that was your role. Now it’s so much about strategy. The planner’s role now is about being strategic.
MIM+E: What are some key challenges and areas for growth?
RS: Pontiac is a new market area, especially with its M1 Concourse. I’m really hoping in the next five years we’re also going to see a resurgence of Pontiac.
AS: There really aren’t many luxury hotels. Ann Arbor has none of them. Detroit has a couple. If you really want your guests in an upscale hotel, they’re just not there. They keep building three-star hotels.
RS: My company has done a huge push in the last few years on the internal culture of the organization. If you’re happy, you perform better and you love what you do. We’re now blogging about who we are and what we do. Other companies should be doing that as well.
JB: Is there ever going to be a change to the keynote and breakout? What’s the next big thing?
AW: The next big thing is turning the spotlight on the attendees. It’s about co-creating an experience with attendees and clients.
LK: You have to add in team-building or wellness because people expect that now. If you’re going to be off-site for two days of your life, you want to get something out of it. It’s also about providing a lot more information up front to attendees so they come prepared to discuss different things.
The Michigan Meetings + Events Editorial Advisory Board meets four times each year to discuss industry topics and how the magazine can best serve its audience. If you’re interested in sharing your ideas and joining our board, please email editor Ron Garbinski at firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to hearing from you.