Each year, prior to our Best of Michigan Awards Gala, MIM+E’s editorial advisory board meets to discuss the state of the meetings and events industry and how the magazine can best serve it. ¶ Here’s what some of our members had to say about the key issues facing the industry, trends they’re seeing and the value of education.

MIM+E: What are some of the key issues you’re seeing in the industry right now?

Deb Denyer, senior sales manager, Mission Point ResortThe tides have turned in terms of it being a buyer’s market. I think people planning meetings and events need to understand that—why it is, how it is, and understand that we maybe can’t be as giving as we were back in 2010 or 2012 in terms of concessions.

Michael Norton, media relations director, Traverse City Tourism: That’s very true in media relations. It used to be easy to find comps. Now it’s not so easy.

Rebecca Schlussel, vice president, Joe Cornell Entertainment: In terms of events, people who think they can do something in six months, like they used to, now need more like 18 months. I can’t work with someone in six months, whereas I used to, I was happy to.

Jennifer Berkemeier, catering and special events sales manager, Cobo Center: I would agree. I do single-day events at Cobo. Just recently someone wanted two back-to-back days in May, and I couldn’t do it. That’s the way it is almost every month. Also, traditionally, people have always asked for discounts, which is fair, but it’s constant. On our end, we’ll only go so far—you can’t even find space, so why should we give a discount?

Aaron Wolowiec, president, Event Garde: It’s a matter of planners understanding the value of their meetings and being able to communicate that effectively and being savvy enough to say, “I may not be able to increase my room block, but I may be able to increase my F&B.” They might still only be filling a small portion of a hotel’s rooms and function space, and for national properties, the event might look much smaller. How strong is your meeting from the perspective of the hotel and how can you package it effectively?

Janet Korn, senior vice president, Experience Grand Rapids: We’re in a good time right now because we’re in a seller’s market. But things can change quickly. You want to help educate. You want the consumer to think further ahead, but how do they understand what that means?

MIM+E: What are some of the top trends you’re seeing?

JB: Food creativity. People are trying everything. They are so open to being creative. To me, that’s fun, that people are branching out.

Ana Skidmore, owner, TwoFoot Creative: I’m seeing a lot more familystyle service. People want their guests to mingle and interact. We have to rent platters a lot, which is never fun, but that’s really catching on.

JK: We could have some education about food allergies. Very few places do a good job with that. There’s a disconnect between all the different food allergies and how to communicate that to the kitchen.

JB: Our chef actually came up with a plate that encompasses gluten-free, nut-free and vegetarian. So it’s a big check mark. It’s quinoa and a stack of vegetables with a balsamic glaze.

AW: Two angles here that I think are super important. First is planner/venue coordination. How are we asking for this information from our attendees? How are we communicating that information to the site? What is the on-site experience for the vegetarians? I have gotten meals an hour later after everyone has eaten, asking for a vegetarian meal. So what does that experience look like? Also, I actually get very frustrated by venues that try to make every allergy go away by making one dish. The most successful I’ve seen is where meals are made on the fly, based on request. I’m seeing those special meals being done differently from venue to venue. It’s a huge challenge but it’s going to be become a huger challenge. We’ve all seen it: a vegetarian dish comes out and others see it and request it and it throws off the whole food service.

JB: The bottom line is the chefs have to be nimble. You’re never going to have an event where everyone does what they’re supposed to do, especially when you get to 7,000 people.

MIM+E: What nonfood-related trends are you seeing?

RS: I see people spending more money on party souvenirs. It’s something they’re taking home so they can continue to live the experience.

JK: So what’s the next photo booth?

RS: There’s the selfie booth now. You can take a pic and send it to your Instagram, Facebook, etc. For social events, with hashtags, everyone’s taking a picture and sending congratulations. The person can sit down and look at it later. It’s the memory book of the 21st century.

JB: I think apps—having an event app. People always say they’re going to go paperless. We’re not there yet. But I think we’re getting to the point where if you don’t have an app …

JK: One thing is the impact the millennials have on everything. Whether they’re in your event or planning your event, there’s this impact that’s coming in the way they expect things to come quickly.

Kat Philips, director of operations, National Cherry Festival: Traverse City just hosted a conference for Rotary. The entire conference was about bridging the generation gap. The millennials were like, “We don’t need a printed program, let’s just do an app.” The baby boomers were like, “We need a printed program.” So we did both. One thing we learned is millennials do not want to spend three days in a conference.[They think,] “If I can’t get it in one day, why am I here?” And it’s totally acceptable to millennials to be on their phones while someone is speaking. The other half [the baby boomers] are sitting there riveted and don’t even know where their phones are.

AW: Along those same lines, I think a lot of groups are hung up on three- or four-day conferences. And I don’t think people have that time. I definitely see the collapsing into one- and two-day programs. I did a presentation to ASAE in March on event evaluation. If you use the little circle marks, and ask people to rate from 1-5, at the end of the event those numbers get boiled down to an average. What does that mean? We’ve boiled down data to numbers that mean nothing. Then averaged them out to a further abomination of an evaluation. Couldn’t we or shouldn’t we be asking better questions? Like, did you learn something you plan to apply in your workplace in the next seven days? Yes or no. Did you meet three new people you’ll meet with in the next 30 days? Why aren’t we asking more meaningful questions? We fail to appropriately gather the attendee experience.

RS: At our social events, we always ask at the end: Please let us know your favorite part. So you get actual words, something you can learn from.

JB: I ask, “Did you consider this event a success?” Or, “How did it go for you?” That’s a good way to get a really honest answer.

AS: For weddings, I don’t get people coming back. What I do is always send out a survey right after. If I don’t send it out and The Knot sends it first, I don’t have the time to intervene. It’s good to have that buffer. I was a buffer throughout the planning and so remain one at the end and keep people from looking bad.

KP: We do guest satisfaction surveys. They’re quite extensive. We incentivize, so if you fill it out you get entered into a raffle. We ask about everything— the Port-a-Johns, food, ticket prices. We ask a lot of regional and demographic data. Students from Grand Valley State do our survey and sum everything up. We use it to see what we could do better next year.

The times they are a-changing, and that has never been truer than when it comes to selecting an A/V partner and deciding whether the in- house A/V vendor or an outside third-party provider is the right partner for you. Due to advancements in technology, lighting and other A/V equipment that has come down in price, planners are now finding op- portunities to use previously out of budget technology with a much more palatable price tag. 

 

Retreats and off-site meetings present wonderful opportunities for groups to collaborate, strategize and build relationships away from their normal office environments. With proper planning, these sessions can be highly effective and even pivotal in setting a new direction. However, off-sites may present some unforeseen challenges that can quickly deflate the energy in the room if not anticipated and addressed in advance.

 

Landing a big-name keynote speaker can be a significant part of your conference budget. That person should add credibility to the event and hopefully boost attendance. But if your speakers just deliver canned presentations before making a quick exit for the airport, you and your attendees are missing the full value they can bring to an event. With some extra planning, you can help set up the speaker and your event for success.