Customizable, “white-box” venues instead of hotel ballrooms, virtual tour offerings instead of site visits, and service over space. These are among the latest trends for those planning a meeting or event, according to a recent survey of corporate and social event planners conducted by Convene.
Corporate planners, which made up a whopping 82% of our survey audience, are typically in charge of internal employee trainings, town halls, product launches, executive retreats, trade shows, brainstorming sessions and conferences, and social planners, which made up 18% of our survey audience, are responsible for weddings, happy hours, celebratory events, benefits, tour groups, media events and roundtable discussions.
Despite the differences in event types, the data found common trends are shared by both. For example, many planners expressed an interest in going on a virtual tour of prospective spaces, so that they could save time while still getting an immerse, “real-world” experience with the venue. Planners also said they preferred to receive a curated list of recommended vendors and outside venues from the event space. However, the biggest commonality was the lack of excitement about the current event offerings that spaces provide.
After crunching the data, we gained insights from both corporate and social event planners on what they are clamoring for, and how venues can best give them what they need.
Let’s take a look.
When asked where they typically host meetings or events, 100% of our respondents plan in New York City. Washington, D.C. came in second, with San Francisco and Chicago tied for third. London was represented as well, with 24% of respondents hosting a number of events there. Rounding out the list were the major cities of Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Boston.
Our survey revealed two main types of event planners—those who want to do everything themselves, and those who want everything sorted before they have to step in.
The highest percentage of event organizers, 34%, think that “bespoke is best.” In other words, they prefer to work with “white-box,” general-purpose venues that let them customize the event and bring in their own vendors.
What are they looking to have control over? Space, for one thing. According to one respondent, one of the primary deciders when it came to choosing these venues were how easy it was to find floor plans and capacity charts online. For others, it was inclusion of snacks and beverages in rental fees. “With tightening budgets, something like [free food and drink] is always a bonus and can make a venue stand out from similar competition,” says Sarah Bondar, a senior account executive at The Charles Group.
Aseneth Quiñones, an event specialist at Unilever, had a different suggestion for how white-box spaces can draw in planners. “More spaces should include pictures of their best events, and put them in a slideshow on their site. If they add in the right music, a short video clip, and highlight how much fun people are having, their venue will really pop,” adds Quiñones.
At the other end of the spectrum of respondents, 31% of the organizers prefer specialized venues that prepackage almost everything. That way, hosts can focus on engaging with the attendees.
The data shows the largest shift in the decline in preference for hotel settings. Once the gold standard for meeting planners, hotels were preferred by less than 20% of respondents, which came as a surprise to our folks internally.
As working styles evolve, planners are thinking about their needs in terms of service rather than space. Planners are seeking out venues that leave the door open for high-end service, and they’re also looking to venues for help in sourcing service providers.
Take networking events. Of all the social events our respondents hosted, networking receptions and happy hours topped the list as most popular. Even among corporate events, networking and holiday parties were only second to conferences and summits, with client meetings in third. Despite their popularity, however, many respondents indicated that they struggled to find venues that could provide unique mixers. “Unfortunately I haven’t actually been to any happy hour events where anything was elevated,” says Bondar. “I would suggest that venues include something like karaoke, especially if prizes are involved. That could make a happy hour really memorable.”
Some of our respondents had other suggestions. “You must have a wonderful location and great entertainment to elevate a happy hour,”Quiñones said. “I would recommend unique specialty drinks. It’s important to present cocktails in ways that are outside the box.”
Where else are planners looking for help? Nearly 11% want event spaces to provide lists of preferred local venues, like bars for happy hours and restaurants for attendee networking; 12.5% of respondents want a list of preferred vendors – florists, printers, facilitators, planners, etc.
Adequate and available staff—whether a point of contact for VIPs, a local marketer, volunteers, drivers or caterers—is a major bugaboo for planners; 17% of respondents indicated that venues typically don’t provide enough staff to support their events.
Additionally, a significant number of respondents said virtual tours of event spaces were absent from their meeting planning process. “I’d love virtual venue tours to become commonplace,” adds Bondar. “It’s great to have access to venues from the comfort of my desk as often as needed, without incurring flight costs or having to take the time away from my busy schedule for travel!”
While adjusting to some of the new needs of meeting planners might seem like a bigger investment in time and resources, it’s one worth making! After all, it’s becoming clearer that the bar is being raised, and 2017 will be a big year of innovation in the events industry. “People will likely make some expensive mistakes by experimenting more this year,” says Convene’s Raymond Cheng. “But at the same time, these meeting scientists will also be able to engineer amazing outcomes by challenging themselves and add more desserts to that cookie cutter event.”