Meeting and convention planners rule

If audacious, they will change the landscape of Hospitality.

If trends are any indicator, the State of Hospitality, undergoing a recent boom, has a very weak seam. Standards, whether in quality or performance, are low; the product has significant highs, a modest middle ground, and an enormous, disappointing base. Service delivery is spotty, the attitude is careless, and the reception is disinterested. Only the Consumer can change this. Enter the Meeting/Convention Planner, who must navigate the unsure landscape we present.

We will see new momentum and demand for change through the efforts of the providers who dictate the most traffic - the meeting and convention planners. They receive, immediately, the reports of our performance or lack thereof, whether it be the hotels which house their constituents or the Destination businesses which support the Visitor, where they may also stay, dine, transit, entertain themselves and shop.

These planners represent huge clout, and Destination past history and current status will impact more so the decisions on where to hold meetings and conventions. They are powerful and ever more circumspect about where to “book” their business. It is about the Visitor Experience! The casual, vacationing and business traveler has also become disillusioned; as these are individual voices, their angst is really measured business by business. We, as an Industry, do such a poor job of capturing Visitor and Guest Satisfaction information that this tide of discontent is sometimes seen as an eddy, but the wave is cresting and frothing.

The Meeting/Convention Planner agenda has been transformed. Of course, they still look for prime location, reasonable price, capacity, logistics and support services. The meeting “junket” is passé; the working conference is now results driven. Planners are increasingly tasking the CVB community, and the Destination leadership must be better prepared to address several pressing concerns:

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Safety and Security. We live a dangerous world, and Destinations need to adapt for their Visitors. Whether it be sensational incidents, natural disasters, or the amorphous spectre of terrorism, Planners will demand to know what the Emergency Preparedness strategies are, and Destinations must be in a position to demonstrate the Plans for community evacuation, triage, communication and leadership. Additionally, the host Hotels must be ready to demonstrate their preparedness, as well, above the usual Guest Room considerations. Too much is at stake!

Track Record. In researching potential Destinations, astute Meeting Planners require data on prior visiting groups/conventions to an area, contact names, and the “Report Card” for their experience. Large Convention Hotels, which are often Flag Properties, and some CVB leaders tend to be myopic on the question of Destination Performance, not fully appreciating that Guests do leave the host hotel(s) and partake of activities within the community. Poor service at Guiseppe’s Bistro or a rude ticket taker or cab driver will nullify an otherwise wonderful stay at the Grande X Hotel. Meeting Planners hear this first hand, and they certainly want to understand the experience of other groups to the area. Reputation cannot rest on the past laurels; it needs to be demonstrated all the time! Any business which “touches the Visitor” is either a partner or a suspect.

Destination Disruptions. You could be home to massive construction activity, civil demonstrations, or even heightened union activity. Meetings Planners want to know of anything which could disrupt their agenda. The “Big Dig” in Boston, protests in France, the reconstruction of the Gulf Coast, and the very real potential of our brethren with UNITE/Here present true obstacles. The union organizing strategy, by the way, is not isolated to top tier cities and regions; they are targeting secondary and tertiary areas of the United States. You cannot hide these realities, but a Destination must have a ready response, or they will lose the business.

Issues of Quality/Lack of Standards. Fundamental delivery on product, service and facility vary greatly. One might assume that all Guest Rooms are clean, comfortable and accommodating. One should believe that most Hospitality businesses would be pleased with our patronage, welcome us graciously, be attentive to our needs, and relish our business. Successful Meeting Planners are not “dumbed down” with low expectations. Their livelihood and reputation rest upon a Destination’s delivery on the promise, and the Hospitality Industry is at the forefront to perform.
So, “wine and dine me”, astound me “with smoke and mirrors”, but understand that it is all about the Visitor Experience. Meeting Planners deliver big time, the competition is intense, and the dynamics are changing. Rightfully, they are becoming more demanding. A Destination’s Brand promise will need to adapt, and Hospitality Businesses will be forced to elevate their performance, as well! The Consumer has spoken, and the messenger and agent is the Planner.
By John R. Hendrie
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