Top Challenges Facing the Meeting Planning Industry Right Now
Recently, our events team sat down to discuss the top challenges facing our industry today and how to address them. Oddly enough, the majority of topics started with the letter “S,” so we dubbed this our “S*** List” and got to work outlining solutions and tactics to best navigate these issues for our clients.
Here’s our list and tips.
Staffing / Service
From a labor perspective, the hospitality industry was one of the hardest hit by the pandemic. While many industries were able to shift to a remote workforce, hotels, restaurants and airlines faced major layoffs and demand fluctuations and are now playing catch up, hiring and training staff in a tight market. As a result, meeting planners are experiencing short-staffed partners and/or less experienced personnel servicing their meetings.
So how can you prepare? First, adjust your expectations. This doesn’t mean you cannot deliver a quality experience to your audience, but labor challenges should be addressed realistically and factored into your planning process. Work with hotel partners and other vendors to understand their weak spots. Seek venues that have embraced mobile check in, online ordering and other technologies, and where the staff-to-guest ratio remains high. Second, build efficiencies into your plan. For example, reduce labor-intensive setups (i.e., think smaller stage productions and fewer room turns) and adjust service styles (i.e., offer grab-and-go meal functions).
With the inflation rate currently reaching 8.5%, food, travel, shipping, hotel and labor costs are all escalating. Generally, these are major line items when producing an in-person event and rising prices can significantly affect the bottom line. Scour your budgets to determine what is and what is not adding value to the overall ROI. Focus on more compelling content, networking and engagement opportunities and less fluff. Use this as an opportunity to get creative with your program format and offerings. Can the agenda be adjusted to fewer days or sessions, thus reducing hotel and food and beverage costs? Can you host smaller meetings regionally or invite certain audiences – such as international guests – to attend virtually to save on travel costs? Keep in mind that adding a virtual component does involve costs so the reduction in travel should outweigh the virtual programming.
Like the rest of the world, the meetings industry is confronted with supply chain issues, and these can affect nearly every aspect of planning. From trucking, shipping, labor, supplies and equipment, planners are experiencing shortages of goods and longer lead times. Ensure your timelines have enough buffer and, where possible, work with local vendors. Be upfront about deadlines, costs and contingencies. Consider scaling back on new and trendy product orders and work with existing inventories or what is available at the venue (this will also help with sustainability – see below). Also, have a backup plan, even for your backup plan!
Today, organizations that plan events, especially large-scale public events, should make safety and security – both cyber and physical – a top priority. For in-person events, create a formal security plan to include chain of command, crisis protocol, evacuation procedures, locations and phone numbers of emergency personnel and the nearest medical facilities and/or urgent care centers. Ensure that all stakeholders are informed, engaged and trained as appropriate. During registration, capture attendee emergency contact information. While onsite, use proper name badge verification and check in procedures. For virtual events, make sure sensitive data is encrypted and offer password protection or multi-factor authentication for logon.
In addition, with Covid here to stay, planners of in-person events should continue using and/or upgrading to touchless technology, sanitizing stations and outdoor venues where appropriate. Offer hybrid-style events or post-program virtual recordings / on demand content for those not comfortable or unable to travel.
As companies return to hosting in-person events or actualize programs that were rebooked in the wake of Covid (plus leisure travel in full swing), availability for hotels, convention centers and meeting venues is more limited. To secure the best options, it’s important to start the site selection process early and /or be flexible with your dates and days-of-the-week pattern. If possible, look for shoulder season or off-season dates that might work for you. Think creatively when looking for space. Would a tented event or a unique venue such as a museum or sports arena fit for the setting? However, be mindful that unique venues may come with hidden costs (i.e., power, furniture rentals, security) that can add up.
Planners should be increasingly aware of the impacts that hosting meetings can have on the environment, whether it’s single-use plastics or shipping freight to another part of the world. Are your giveaways more like throwaways? Are you still offering bottled water instead of refillable water stations? Can you switch to a digital attendee app instead of printing out agendas, program guides and signage? Take a hard look at the event’s overall carbon footprint and see where obvious and cost-effective adjustments can be made. Also, when selecting a meeting venue, ask if they have green initiatives in place like recycling, energy-efficient rooms and a plan for food waste such as composting or donating unopened items to food banks. Another eco-friendly option is to go virtual or offer a virtual component.
Although this last issue does not start with an “S” (unless you count, “S***, my flight got cancelled!”), I’d be remiss not to mention that travel disruptions are also a top challenge facing the industry right now. We’ve all heard about or experienced long lines, flight delays and cancellations, pilot strikes and a shocking amount of lost luggage. Any of these circumstances can start or end an event program on the wrong foot and potentially increase costs.
How do you plan for these conditions that you have little control over? First, when thinking about a destination for your meeting, steer clear of far-flung locales requiring multiple connections or congested larger airport hubs. Instead, opt for locations with nonstop, frequent service; or if a connection is required, allow at least two hours between flights. Also, communicating with your attendees is key. Be forthcoming about potential travel pitfalls and offer FAQ’s on how to handle them (i.e., pack carry-on bag instead of checked luggage, arrive at the airport earlier, expect delays). Also, have a backup plan for any stranded speakers, such as filming a pre-recorded session in advance.
Our clients are already getting back to face-to-face meetings, despite the issues facing the planning industry today. Why? The value and ROI of making connections and building relationships through in-person events far outweigh the challenges. With a few tools in your toolkit, seamless event planning is possible—and worth it.