Each year, prior to our Best of Michigan Awards party, the MIM+E Editorial Advisory Board meets to discuss the state of the meetings and events industry, including the challenges it faces and the trends taking hold or on their way out. Here’s what our members had to say this year.
MIM+E: Let’s start by talking about the issues facing our industry. What are the top challenges?
JENNIFER BERKEMEIER, catering and special events manager, Cobo Center: We sometimes don’t have enough hotel rooms to accommodate people. Sometimes we get skipped over for a conference because we don’t have enough hotel space. The boutique hotels that are popping up are going to help, but were going to need more.
JANET KORN, senior vice president, Experience Grand Rapids: The problem with boutique hotels is they won’t throw room blocks in for convention bids. You have to go to the larger hotels.
LINDSAY KRAUSE, senior meeting and event manager, Special D Events: For a recent conference, one of the main concerns was getting around. I had to explain, you’re not just going to walk out and get a cab. We encouraged Uber, we had shuttles. But I think transportation and getting people around is a struggle [in Detroit], compared with other cities.
TRACI BAHLMAN, director of sales, Holiday Catering: I was just in Cleveland for a one-day conference, and one of the segments was insight into the Republic National Convention. They have the opposite problem—all these hotels but no convention center. The whole convention is happening at an arena. It made me think, wow, now we have Cobo. Detroit has a great convention center now. When are we going to be in line for something like [a national political convention]?
MIM+E: What are the top trends you’re seeing in the industry?
REBECCA SCHLUSSEL, director of marketing, Star Trax Events: I think that transportation is big. People are bussing people to their events. Adults are having the option if they want to ride. It helps because the events are at all these interesting places now. But also our economy has changed so much that something that would have been an extra, that would have gotten cut, is included now.
LK: I’ve found a lot of requests for fun venues, unusual venues. It’s great but it’s challenging as an event planner, because it’s not one-stop shopping. There might not be a kitchen or lighting. But the request for it is not going away at all. It’s fun and exciting, but it’s a challenge.
TB: I just can’t keep up. You need a full-time person in your office keeping tabs on what’s cool. Because next week it changes. These funky venues, you have to bring everything in. Even though I think people want that, I don’t think they understand how much it costs.
ANA SKIDMORE, owner and principal event planner, TwoFoot Creative: I’ve been booking a lot more clients lately who want to start with us before they find a venue because they want something special. I really enjoy that. What I do is, when they say they want a tent or a barn, if they’ll also consider a building as a back-up option, I’ll break them out and show the options.
MIM+E: What do you wish people would spend more money on?
LK: Entertainment. It’s what brings up the energy in the room and it’s something you’re all experiencing at the same time. I went to a conference in January, and they had a rock violinist lead groups from one space to another. It was unexpected, it was entertaining, I thought it was cool.
JB: Hire a professional planner. In the end, they manipulate your budget so you can work it in. And they will steer you toward more reasonable [vendors].
MARK EPHRAIM, wedding officiant: It’s a very hard sell. People don’t get it. They look at the cost [of a planner] and think, that’s so much. But they’re going to get nickel and dimed so much on their own. A planner will save them money.
TB: I worry, am I going to lose out to somebody else if I don’t help with the planning? It’s hard. But then when I find myself dealing with balloons I think, how did this happen?
MIM+E: What are the top food trends you’re seeing?
TB: I think food trucks are getting bigger. I’m getting more clients who expect me to cooperate with food trucks.
TARYN MIRACLE, director of sales and catering, Great Wolf Lodge: In Traverse City, we’re still seeing a huge focus placed on local, healthy food, and the craft beers and local wines we have to offer. Most recently what we’ve noticed is that they’re looking for takeaways at these food functions. One guest wanted the chef to do a demonstration and then guests could walk away with a recipe. Their budgets are more open and they want more of a value add.
JB: I’m noticing there’s been a lot of focus on executive chefs. I think maybe it has to do with all the chef shows that are on. It’s raised it to a true skill that is to be admired. Chefs are becoming part of selling your venue.
TM: Customizing the menu is a really big deal. We email out the menus and planers will say, “What else can you do, can I talk to your executive chef?” I think especially when you get a planner that rotates their meeting around the state each year, they’re always looking for something better.
AS: A lot of my couples are really challenging caterers to donate food, or least donate to farms so animals can eat the scraps. It’s making sure they’re not as wasteful as they could be.
JB: We’re a green facility, and part of what we’re judged by and have to do to keep our certification is we have to report how much stuff—anything—goes into the waste stream. Food was a huge part of it. So we now donate it to a big farm and they treat it and it gets turned into energy.
MIM+E: What’s hot in social media and events?
JK: It is integrated into your event unless you take their phones away from them. From a meetings perspective, depending on the demographics of your group, I think it represents a tremendous span of things you have an opportunity to do. We hold some youth conferences, and we’re having a lot of fun with Snapchat and Geofilters. This is a new thing for us. We just found a software that will help us understand our reach better. It’s fun having thousands of kids sharing our destination message with a filter on top of their photos.
JB: In the social event world, we offer a custom Geofilter to our clients now. You can select just the building you’re in. It’s an inexpensive thing to add to personalize something.
LK: We contract a mobile app company. That way guests have a mobile platform for communicating with each other. It can be as simple or as robust as you want it to be. It’s nice for capturing data. You walk away with a lot of really nice metrics.