2016 OutlookDecember 1, 2015

Technology, Mobile and Work Force Demographics Will Impact the Meetings Industry By
December 1, 2015

2016 Outlook

Technology, Mobile and Work Force Demographics Will Impact the Meetings Industry
John H. Graham IV, FASE, CAE, president and CEO of ASAE.

John H. Graham IV, FASE, CAE, president and CEO of ASAE.

Editor’s Note: Association Conventions & Facilities asked ASAE President and CEO John H. Graham IV, FASE, CAE, to reflect on the key areas of our rapidly evolving industry that meeting and convention planners should be aware of in order to stay ahead of the curve in 2016. Also weighing in on the following pages are Phelps R. Hope, CMP, senior vice president of meetings and expositions for association management firm Kellen Company, and Tony Wagner, vice president of CWT Meetings & Events.

On a continual basis, associations need to examine their environment/markets to better understand how various trends may impact or even disrupt the  industry. The  2016 outlook includes the following major trends that will influence data capture, planning and interacting with attendees.

Onsite Data Capture — Beacons

There is an ongoing need for associations to capture data about their members pertaining to marketing emails, sessions they attend during a meeting, and how they travel and interact on the exhibit hall floor. All of this data helps organizations understand their target audience, and it allows them to better plan meetings and education sessions.

One way for meeting planners to capture data is using beacons. There are two ways to use them: traditional and wearables. The traditional method involves integration between your beacon provider and your app provider. Beacons are placed throughout the venue (in session rooms, exhibit hall, etc.) and communicate with your attendees’ smartphones to capture and aggregate data on their activity.

At the 2014 Technology Conference & Expo, ASAE worked with a company called TurnoutNow to deploy beacons. We tracked how attendees moved throughout the expo hall, education sessions and their visits to sponsored areas. After looking at the data from the first day, we made changes onsite to enhance attendee and exhibitor experiences. During our Marketing, Membership, & Communications Conference, we used beacons to track sessions attendees participated in to understand patterns as well as track hours for certifications.

With wearable beacons, the model is flipped. Beacons are placed in attendee badges, and transponders are in the session rooms and booths. Attendees don’t need the app or smartphone to participate and can opt in or out fully when they register for the conference. ASAE tested this model during our 2015 Technology Conference & Expo, December 15-16. We are considering using this technology for future shows in 2016.

Here are some benefits of using beacons:

ROI from organization’s perspective:

  • Understanding onsite attendee patterns, traffic, and consumption.
  • Allows organizations to make real-time changes to enhance the attendee and exhibitor experience.
  • Gives organizations the opportunity to provide better ROI to exhibitors and sponsors.
  • Create accurate data on how attendees are utilizing the space, which will help book future events.
  • Utilize gamification and motivate attendees to explore parts of the show they normally could not access.
  • Opportunity to develop custom messaging and information based on attendees’ location.

ROI from the exhibitor and sponsor side:

  • Receive detailed traffic and visitor reports for each area of their booth.
  • More accurate lead collection without having to scan an attendee badge.
  • Provide booth traffic dashboards, including visitor demographics, that allow comparison to similar companies throughout the show floor.
  • Qualify leads as hot, warm or cold based on demographics, booths visited and sessions attended.

Attendees will gain:

  • Event activity reports to include sessions attended, booths visited and hours for certifications.
  • Recommend sessions, exhibitors and other attendees based on pre-show demographic data and real-time adjustments.
  • Displays custom messaging based on location and provides an opportunity to participate in gamification activities.

Mobile Computing Trend With Meetings

The continuing, rapid increase in smartphone capabilities and their penetration within the U.S. and global population have resulted in a shift in demographics of mobile computing to what is called the connected generation. Simply, smartphones/mobile access and usage is rising across all demographic and ethnic segments.

This has led to an increase in app usage deployed across our everyday lives as well as around meetings and events. During every meeting, attendees are tweeting, sharing content and blogging about their experience. Smartphones allow attendees to determine how they want to engage with the meeting, and they offer exhibitors and show organizers increased opportunities to communicate as well as interact.

In looking at how ASAE could enhance the attendee experience, ASAE’s Meetings & Exposition Council developed an idea of creating a journey map designed to track attendees’ experience in real time. ASAE worked with software developer Conferences.io to create Experience Guru, a tool that allows attendees to give immediate feedback through quick surveys.

Attendees at ASAE meetings opt-in and receive text messages throughout the conference. It’s a simple survey via text, and attendees answer the questions by clicking on a smile or straight or frowning face. They also can make comments, which are then directed to the appropriate staff member to respond. ASAE strives to exceed members’ expectations, and this immediate feedback provides a chance to avoid having a negative experience turn into a lasting impression. In 2015, ASAE implemented this tool at our five major meetings. During the 2015 ASAE Annual Meeting and Exposition, we had just over 1,000 people participate, which is about 25 percent of our attendees including exhibitors.

Experiential Trade Shows

Technology has and will continue to add participation around meetings, but it’s important for associations not to lose sight of an exhibition as an “experience.” The meetings and events industry needs to find new ways to keep in-person, face-to-face trade show experiences dynamic and engaging at a high level relative to other media experiences.

Here are some questions organizations should ask:

  • Will “gamification” be a necessity for all show configurations?
  • Will “apps” become the engagement tool that drives the onsite experience?
  • Will knowing an exhibition is a green event increase engagement?

In the past, ASAE has incorporated different activities to enhance the in-person experience including: a Jumbotron on the show floor showing live tweets, pictures, video of attendees as well as capturing live activities. During our 2014 Annual Meeting & Exposition, we created a scratch-off card that attendees took to a designated partner booth to be entered into a drawing for a grand prize. Throughout the expo hall and convention center, we created areas that encourage community such as Food Markets where attendees can eat and socialize. We also incorporated elements of technology where people can take pictures and tweet about the event.

Societal and Generational Considerations

According to the 2014 CEIR Index Report, accounting firm Price Waterhouse Coopers (PwC) expects millennials to constitute 80 percent of its global work force by 2016. Hartford Financial Services Group estimates this demographic will make up 75 percent of the entire U.S. work force by 2025. Some work force experts believe this rapid demographic change will have a tsunami effect in terms of organizational composition, technology use expectations and cross-generational employee issues.

Over the next few years, associations have to consider how to reach and engage all generations around their meetings and educational programs. How are we going to communicate the value of face-to-face meetings to people under 30, the “online generation”? We need to focus on developing customized communication and content that effectively reaches each audience segment. We also need to customize the show experience to ensure they are attractive to multigenerational audiences. Lastly, associations need to consider the digital and print materials mix, tailored marketing and education offerings.

Considerations for the Future

As we move through 2016, it’s possible some or even all of these trends may disrupt the meetings industry. Technology may be part of the disruption, but it can also be part of the solution. It’s critical for the exhibits and events industry to be aware and keep up with the changing world, so we can meet the needs, wants, and desires of our members and exhibitors now and into the future.

John H. Graham IV, FASAE, CAE, became the President and Chief Executive Officer of ASAE August 1, 2003. During the first year of his tenure, ASAE and GWSAE completed a historic merger resulting in a new, unified organization. Before ASAE, he served the American Diabetes Association (ADA) in Alexandria, Virginia for 24 years, the last 13 as Chief Executive Officer. Prior to ADA, John served the Boy Scouts of America for nine years. He serves on the Association Committee of 100, US Chamber of Commerce; Chairman of the Better Business Bureau Mobile Giving Foundation Board of Directors; and the boards of directors of Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity and the National Capital Area Boy Scouts of America.

3 Factors That Will Impact Your 2016 F&B Budget

From Drought to Service Charges, Brace for Higher Costs

By Phelps R. Hope

Hope,Phelps-Kellen-147x147Event attendees have to eat. That will never change. But what is constantly changing is the cost to feed them. Global supply chains are always in flux, and even slight upward and downward economical ticks can reverberate across the food and beverage industry, and upend your event plan. Sometimes it even feels like we’re fighting the very forces of nature to get reasonably priced hors d’oeuvres.

In terms of the 2016 outlook, the year isn’t shaping up to be the easiest in terms of reining in your food budget. But the good news is that there are creative ways to shore up overhead costs while keeping your event attendees intrigued and satisfied. Here are a few ways the 2016 food and beverage landscape is expected to change and how you can make the most of it.

1. Mother Nature is drying up your options.

The last year saw serious weather-related catastrophes ranging from flooding to drought — none of it good for crops. And when the crops take a hit, you can expect the consequences to eventually trickle down to you. In short, base your 2016 food and beverage budget on 2015’s headlines. For the purposes of this article, let’s focus on California’s, now in its fourth year of extreme drought conditions and with no signs of letting up in 2016.

Depending on whom you ask, the effects of the drought on consumer food prices range from minimal to severe. Canadian consumers, for example, have reported fruit and vegetable prices up between 4 percent and 9 percent between 2014 and 2015, compared with an overall inflation rate of just over 2 percent. The price of lettuce — an events menu staple — was up as much as 40 percent. Others are more optimistic about the lasting effect of drought on food prices, at least as it is specific to California. The Wall Street Journal suggests that diversified food sources and an impressively drought-resistant farming infrastructure in that region have so far spared us from skyrocketing food costs and might continue to do so into 2016.

Regardless, events planners know that they have to brace for the worst. At the very least, the drought has illustrated that finicky weather patterns can have unexpected effects on food prices. And should droughts spread beyond areas with the right infrastructures to minimize consequences, you have to have the flexibility to deflect the rising costs of specific crops.

2. More of your F&B budget will go toward wages.

A public outcry for higher wages is taking hold and could gain steam in 2016. Of course, there are consequences to higher wages — namely, the money has to come from somewhere, and it could be coming directly out of your F&B budget.

When you look at whose wages are likeliest to increase, it doesn’t paint a pretty picture for events planners. The Pew Research Center reports that the impact of minimum wage increases are enormously skewed toward the food service industry. In fact, it’s the “single biggest employer of near-minimum-wage workers,” according to Pew, with actual occupations ranging from cooks and waiters to janitors and building cleaners. As it happens, those are exactly the people you need to pull off a successful event that includes food service.

Aside from reducing services, there isn’t a whole lot you as an events planner can do to mitigate the anticipated increase in overhead, as it relates to compensating for hourly wages. Rather, it is important that you brace for the higher costs in 2016 with a higher or reorganized events budget.

3. Hotels and facilities will insist you share the cost.

The last year was a banner one in terms of hotels and facilities cashing in on service charges. In part, it helps them mitigate their own increasing expenses, but it has evolved to be a key money-maker that increases their overall profits. It’s a trend that’s not fading away in 2016; if anything, expect service charges to continue to inch up, with some hotels charging upwards of 24 percent.

In simpler times, an optional gratuity of sorts would suffice, and only if a venue exceeded your expectations. Let’s say a venue made out-of-the-ordinary changes in their own protocol to accommodate your event’s main dinner, so you would reward them in-kind with the assumption that your service tip would be distributed to staff and workers on the ground who made it possible. But as you now know, service charges have morphed so that they are no longer optional and no longer based on quality of service. Rather, hotels and facilities are tacking on exorbitant service charges to cover their own rising expenses. In other words, you’re paying more for the same.

Revenues from hotel service charges are reaching record highs, and the hotels themselves have absolutely no reason to deviate from the course. As an industry, it’s forcing us to be more creative to mitigate these previously flexible overhead costs.

What Can You Do?

We’ve covered the key obstacles anticipated for 2016. Now for some solutions. Here are just a few ways you can change up your routine and negotiating styles in order to keep your events fun, well stocked with food and within budget.

  • Shake up your menu. You’re used to the same menu options, and so are your attendees. But that doesn’t mean they won’t appreciate a little variety. Pay close attention to produce that is seeing higher-than-normal inflations (lettuce for example) and opt for interesting options that are often overlooked.
  • Theme your event. Smoke and mirrors can do wonders in terms of shoring up your F&B budget. Themed meals (like international cuisine) are an excellent way to phase in affordable food options without sacrificing the overall dining experience.
  • Don’t waste budget on fancy prep work. Presentation of food takes time, and time is money. You have plenty of fine-looking food options that require little or no prep work. Expenses like food prep really add up, so going simple is a great way to cut costs.
  • Go local and seasonal. Work with the chef on lower cost local foods that are in season to help keep the costs down and add the local flavor into the event.

In summary, 2016 will be a year of challenges and creativity. It will test your imagination, but ultimately, it could improve your overall process and how you plan events.

Phelps R. Hope, CMP, is senior vice president of meetings and expositions for Kellen Company, an association management company with offices and representation in the United States, Europe, China, the Middle East, India and Southeast Asia. He can be reached at phope@kellencompany.com or 678-303-2962.

Tips & Tools to Plan a Better Year

From Meetings Management Strategies to Technology Solutions

By Tony Wagner

Wagner,Tony-CWTMeetings&Events-147x147Wondering what the 2016 outlook is for the meetings and events industry? In partnership with the GBTA Foundation, CWT Meetings & Events recently released its annual 2016 Meetings and Events Forecast, which outlines what we expect the coming year to look like for the industry, including tighter hotel cancellation policies, growing food and beverage (F&B) costs and an increased focus on compliance. This forecast explores price projection for hotels, provides details on what’s coming in terms of supply and demand, emerging trends and recommendations to succeed in 2016.

A Seller’s Market

Strong performance for suppliers is expected as demand continues to grow this year, particularly in North America. With demand outweighing supply, 2016 will be a year of stronger supplier power that will cause challenges for meeting planners. Notable changes coming to the industry in 2016 include: global adaptation of Strategic Meetings Management, increasing food and beverage costs, and higher price and lower flexibility in hotel bookings.

Strategic Meetings Management

With this environment, it’s important to find ways to bring meetings under more management to find efficiencies and cut costs. North America is still the most mature market for SMM; however, regions like Latin America and Asia Pacific are beginning to see an increased interest in it, which could lead to higher momentum across the industry globally.

Food and Beverage

F&B remains to be a significant force behind per-attendee costs at events. A strong focus on providing locally grown, sustainable and organic menus for event catering will continue into 2016. Planners must adjust the F&B patterns to manage budgets and accommodate the usually higher prices of these menu items, while also continuing to promote healthy alternatives.


As demand continues to exceed supply in North America, hotel prices will increase globally in 2016. While Europe sees slow but steady growth, economic challenges in Asia and Latin America are causing uncertainty in supply that will likely linger in the coming year. As a result, hotels are reducing flexibility when it comes to key clauses related to cancellation and attrition policies in both rooms and F&B. Hotels are limiting rebooking for future dates and making it harder to resell unneeded rooms. Finally, when responding to availability requests, hotels in high-demand markets are no longer holding space.

Tips for Success

Considering these trends, we’ve created the top five tips for success when it comes to negotiating with suppliers and planning for 2016:

  1. Consolidate for control and savings. Efficiency should remain a crucial point of focus for companies as they work to control spending and increase savings on M&E processes. Using an enterprisewide SMM program can help realize these cost savings while streamlining and consolidating hotel strategies. In turn, cost-saving opportunities within travel patterns, and key and emerging markets can be more easily recognized.
  2. Plan ahead. By getting ahead of the curve, negotiation power for large events can increase substantially and bring more savings for the event. Lead time for registration and venue contracts continues to decrease, so it’s important to boost negotiation power whenever possible by planning far in advance for larger events.
  3. Look at F&B costs. The U.S. has seen an increase of 2.9 percent year-over-year for F&B, and that pressure continues to have a substantial impact on cost-per-attendee. Consider trading down on menu items that don’t largely influence attendees, such as moving from bottled water to tap water, to slightly relieve the cost. Also consider reducing the number of breaks during an event to further manage F&B.
  4. Limit your risk with hotels. As cancellation clauses experience increased pressure and attrition remains relatively stable, it’s important to understand your options when negotiating. Consider establishing an addendum for desired cancellation terms with preferred suppliers. Not only will this establish best terms, it also will mitigate the risk of additional charges.
  5. Engage in strategic contract management. Look at a broader, more connected view of all meeting-related agreements. Streamlining the management process will ensure alignment with legal and demonstrate clear efficiency and cost-savings benefits. Organizations can use this foundation to negotiate master service agreements with key sellers and find opportunities to develop customized negotiation strategies for high-volume markets.

Innovation Through Technology

As technology solutions continually improve efficiency, create clarity and enable reporting, these same solutions also help you better manage the cost of meetings. CWT Meeting & Events’ dedicated meetings and events app, Meet by CWT M&E, provides attendees at meetings or events of any size with tools and functionality that address the overall experience. By using technology to gain visibility and collect the right data for event needs, these capabilities can make meeting management more efficient and easier.

  1. Online registration tools. Online adoption, tracking and monitoring will grow as more organizations activate small meeting strategies. Using online registration tools will help increase savings and give organizations greater visibility and transparency.
  2. Social media and meetings apps. Social media use will continue to grow, as the younger generations appreciate the immediate connection that is available through digital channels and mobile apps. Clients will look to implement apps throughout the planning, onsite and post-event stages of a meeting or event. New technology will create an innovative experience that can allow companies to measure effectiveness and return-on-investment.
  3. Tools to address unmanaged spend and small meetings. Even managing the smallest meeting can make a difference toward savings and budget goals for an organization’s M&E program. By implementing a small meetings solution, organizations can take control of current unmanaged spend through self-service tools that are available. However, it’s important to choose intuitive tools and educate planners on how to use them properly and effectively. Otherwise, the goal of increasing efficiency will be missed entirely.
  4. Virtual and hybrid meetings. Though it’s not a new tool, it’s important to consider whether or not a virtual meeting is the right solution for an event. Ask the question: Would the organization’s culture support a virtual meeting for this need? Is a more personal, in-person approach necessary? Local offices or lower-cost markets are also options when an organization requires additional cost savings for a meeting but can’t incorporate a hybrid option.

As we move into 2016, planners must bring meetings under more management to boost the leverage and negotiation power with suppliers. Additionally, this increased management can create better efficiency for meetings and events planning, and drive stronger interest in SMM and consolidation. In order to stay atop of the upcoming year, organizations must adapt to the changing meetings and events landscape and get ahead of the curve by leveraging meetings in the most efficient way to help drive a smart and innovative business. AC&F

Tony Wagner is the vice president of CWT Meetings & Events for the Americas. He leads an expanding line of business which has doubled in growth since 2009. His team of 400-plus employees across nine countries in North America and Latin America support more than 10,000 meetings and events annually. Wagner is also a member of the CWT Americas leadership team.

Back To Top