Whether they’re hosting a conference for 300 out-of-town guests or an away-day for a 30-strong team from a local company, hotel meeting and event spaces are in high-demand.
The global market for meetings and events is currently growing at seven percent per year, in turn driving up prices for meeting space across North America, Asia, and Europe.
Yet not all facilities are in the same league. As hotels look to gain the edge in winning new and repeat business, many are considering how they can modernize, refresh or add to their meeting and events spaces to extend their appeal to companies and business travelers.
“Tired, old facilities won’t work for today’s companies,” says Jeff Sachs, Senior Managing Director of JLL Hotels & Hospitality Group. “They’re looking for modern, well-designed spaces and well-maintained facilities that create a positive impression on people attending the event.”
Technology is a key component for today’s meeting spaces, and hotels are often keen to adopt new smart solutions.
In partnership with events production company Universal Live, QHotels has equipped its conference rooms with audio visual (AV) technology called ‘touch of a button’, allowing screens and audio devices to be operated without cable connection. A selection of NH Hotels offer hologram conferencing, beaming 3D versions of people, products, and presentations into the space.
Installing cutting-edge technology, however, can be risky. “Meeting planners often don’t expect more than high speed wifi,” says Sachs. “AV technology moves fast and tends to become outdated quickly. Plus, most people want to use familiar technology, and work with third parties to customize their setup.”
Yet it can be a different matter on the sales side. Marriott, for example, is using virtual reality (VR) to win over organizers by giving them a more immersive look at its events spaces than they could get from images on a website.
At the same time, the expectations of business travelers and meeting attendees are shifting. “People want comfortable rooms and a pleasant meeting space, but they don’t want to move too far between venues to do that,” says Sachs. “There’s a growing desire to meet, eat, and sleep in one place.”
The big hotels groups are taking this on board. In February, for example, Hilton announced a new hotel brand called Signia, which focuses exclusively on the meetings and events market by incorporating cutting-edge technology and design into the guest experience.
Demand is also growing for more casual and social room design that allows for collaboration, such as couches set around coffee tables and breakout areas for checking emails. “We’re seeing planners invest in these setups on an event by event basis, as it generally makes for a highly successful meeting,” says Sachs.
In response, hotels are adapting the size, design, and layout of their meeting spaces, using flexible partitions such as sliding doors to customise rooms and meet the needs of different groups while also opening up the option of hosting multiple smaller events at the same time.
They’re also taking a leaf from modern workplaces by creating airy, natural spaces to encourage engagement and focus. Adjustable window blinds that ensure lower levels of light for better screen visibility during presentations are also a feature.
With meetings often starting early and events running into the night, catering is an important consideration. “Today’s guests want healthy, fresh food so catering is becoming a competitive point for meeting planners,” says Sachs. “To tap into that, hotels can hire local chefs that have a good reputation, offering creative choices made from top quality ingredients that you’d see in a restaurant.”
After a long day listening to speakers or participating in discussions, many guests like to unwind in a more social environment, such as the bar or get moving in the gym, which offers opportunities for hotels to add-on events or packages. At the Grand Hyatt Singapore, for example, event planners can customize wellness packages as part of the event experience, from guided runs to meditation and yoga sessions or access to spa facilities.
With heightened competition among hotels for meeting and events business, such touches can help with marketing, but ultimately any big redesign decisions must focus on creating high quality spaces that are appealing and accessible to a wide audience to ensure a long-term return on investment.
“Whether adding space or refurbishing, hotels need to think carefully about where the ROI will come from, be it though higher rates, improved occupancy or increased food sales,” concludes Sachs. “But there are definite opportunities to tap into this growing market by understanding and responding smartly to shifting expectations.”