On July 13-16, Marriott International hosted THE EXCHANGE, its annual association and corporate customer conference. Held at the newly renovated New York Marriott Marquis, the three-day event brought together nearly 1,100 customers, hoteliers, and industry leaders.
At a media roundtable for meetings industry press held before the event kicked off, Marriott executives, including Julius W. Robinson, chief sales and marketing office for the U.S. and Canada; Drew Pinto, head of global sales, and Denise Naguib, vice president of sustainability & supplier diversity, shared some trends they’ve observed in group business. Here are excerpts from the conversation:
Group Business Has Rebounded
“We can say with confidence that groups are back. Our numbers aren’t totally back to where they were in 2019, and business travel is still lagging behind leisure, but we’re rapidly recovering. Just a few months ago we were 30% to 40% down in what we call our special corporate business. We’ve been improving by several percentage points every month. How long is it going to take us to make up the final 15 to 20%? We don’t know for sure, but we see encouraging signs, including in bleisure, the blending of business and leisure, with shoulder night occupancies—Thursday, Friday and Sunday—higher than they used to be.”….Julius W. Robinson
Booking Windows Have Gotten Shorter
“On the meetings front, we didn’t think that meetings business would be the second biggest segment to come back, but it has. One thing that’s different is the short-term nature of group business. Customers are booking 800 or 900 rooms 45 or 60 days out, something that was unheard of before, but is now almost commonplace. And when we talk to customers today, because of all the volatility that’s out there, they don’t see that trend changing anytime soon.”….Julius W. Robinson
Flexibility is Important, Especially for Small Groups
“One of one of the things we’re working on, which, hopefully, we’ll be launching this fall, is increasing our ability to do instant booking with small groups. We have some of that capability on our website now and we also have a partnership with groups360. We see a lot of opportunity here. Our customers are telling us, for small, simple meetings, just let me find availability and book it online. That way we can all spend our time on the bigger, more complex gatherings that can’t be handled this way.” …Drew Pinto
The Pacing of Meetings Has Changed
“What we hear and see when we look at our events is a lot more time for conversation and small interactions. In the past, the meeting planner would typically try to get as much of the content into the general session as he or she could. Today, breaks are no longer 15 minutes, they’re 45 minutes. That allows people to have time for small meetings and downtime to get together and have more intimate conversations.”….Julius W. Robinson
Hybrid Meetings Remain, But They’re Complicated
“The hybrid component is still a part of the conversation. It really depends on the sector that you’re talking about. Medical conferences, for example, still need a hybrid component because there are specializations where doctors and other medical professionals require training and if they can dial in, when they can’t attend the training in person, they can still get the certification.
“But for the significant majority of customers, what we hear is that hybrid meetings are a very resource-intense process, because you’re really delivering two meetings. You need a production crew for the live meeting, and you need a production crew for the online meeting. That requires a significant amount of cost and staff, at a time when many meeting departments have back on staff. So, when we have interviewed meeting planners, the feedback we get is ‘everywhere we possibly can, we’re going back to face-to-face meetings.’” ….Julius W. Robinson
Virtual Meetings Use Energy, Too
“It’s easy to assume that virtual meetings are a lot better for the environment than in-person meetings. There may be reductions in some areas, but the amount of energy that is produced on the back end to run these events digitally is real. Depending on where the virtual event is produced, you may be tapping into systems of energy that aren’t the cleanest. So, there’s a carbon footprint associated with virtual meetings too; it’s not zero.” … Denise Naguib