What are smaller destinations experiencing in terms of meeting business so far this year? Here is what a half-dozen destinations and venues say are the 2014 meeting trends.
Off-site events and team building are back.
Meeting planners are asking for off-site event and team-building ideas, said Joan Kranovich, sales manager for the Quad Cities CVB. “They will say, ‘I want to add a spa day for spouses or take them somewhere fun.’”
At Eagle Ridge Resort and Spa in Galena, Illinois, director of sales Colin Sanderson said, “We are seeing a very big increase in team-building activities to kick off their events.”
“The corporate meetings were the ones that cut out the fun, and now they are putting it back in,” said Dianna Rom, regional sales director for the Ohio State Park Lodges and Conference Centers, five resorts managed by Xanterra.
Business is on the uptick.
In terms of bookings, the Quad Cities CVB is on track to surpass last year, when it set records in terms of attendance and room nights.
In the Eugene, Oregon, area, prebookings for 2014 are 50 percent of total bookings last year and about 25 percent ahead of the same period last year. Janis Ross, vice president of convention marketing for Eugene, Cascades and Coast, believes that several factors are at play: “In talking to my colleagues at MPI and other events, there is a general sense that things must be improving. But also, our CVB has made a concerted effort in our outreach with social and digital media.”
At the Atlantis Casino Resort Spa Reno, the booking pace is indicating that 2014 will be as good if not better than 2013, according to Toni Koster, director of sales.
The planning window is opening for some but not for others.
“Starting in the last quarter of 2013, we were starting to see longer-term bookings again,” said Ross. “Before, inquiries might not have happened until the year of the meeting; now, we are getting inquiries for 2016 and 2017.”
By contrast, in Reno, Koster said groups of all sizes seem to be booking on shorter notice. “Last year, we started seeing a lot more short term. I think more groups are thinking that if they don’t book so far out, they might not have such a large attrition clause.”
Some segments are up as others drop off.
At the Ohio state park resorts Rom represents, there has been a steady drop in religious meetings and a steady climb in all other segments. “Some of the religious groups are opting to have their gatherings every other year,” she said. “I have watched this segment go down for the last three years.” Attendees pay their own way for religious conferences, and Rom believes the economy has caused many people to cut such trips from their budget.
The education sector is on the uptick in Eugene, home of the University of Oregon. “The education market is really robust for us,” said Ross, “and it is going to be a big part of conference business in the next few years.” The university is pursuing more large conferences and international meetings.
In Reno, the Atlantis, like many resorts, has seen a drop in government business. But there are indications, Koster said, “corporate America is coming back.”
Corporations bring back planners.
At Eagle Ridge Resort, which had eliminated meeting planning staff, a number of its corporate clients have brought the planning function back in-house. “We are seeing a resurgence of the meeting planner position within companies,” said Sanderson.
Vickie Mitchell is the former editor of Small Market Meetings. If you have ideas for future columns, contact her at email@example.com.