Critical priorities for hotels in the meetings sector for the next decade

AMID a struggling global economy and continuously changing technology influencing it, the global meetings industry is in a state of flux. Meeting venues will need to adapt to a new set of rules in order to remain successful, particularly in the highly-competitive hotel meetings sector.

“The industry is undergoing a transformation that will see it change dramatically over the next decade. If you’re operating a hotel that services the meetings market, you will have to adapt to a new set of rules or risk irrelevance,” said Rick Taylor, group marketing executive of the Petousis Group of hotels in Cape Town, which counts in its portfolio the Vineyard Hotel & Spa, the Townhouse Hotel & Conference Centre, and the historical Oude Werf.

While many hotels have some form of meetings space, Mr Taylor believes most do not make full use of its potential to grow the business. “For hotels to really make the most of their offering they need to dedicate time and effort to matching the changing needs of a market that is, by definition, always on the move. In this regard, there are several key trends that cannot be ignored.”

Mr Taylor outlines four critical priorities for hotels in the meetings sector that will impact the way they do business over the next ten years – and how to capitalise on the opportunities of each:

Priority #1 – Technology
Technology will change the hotel, meetings and conference space completely over the next ten years, Mr Taylor said. “As audiences migrate to digital platforms, meeting planners and venues will have to adapt to a new environment where virtual meetings and hybrid events rule the roost. It is also important that key elements of the ‘experience economy’, which has been a driving force of the tourism industry for the past few years, are translated to the online space for a richer digital and social media engagement.”

Key to driving the growth of the virtual meetings space is the rising cost of travel and the economic slowdown that has resulted in budgets being reduced or cut completely. “Any hotel that wants to play successfully in this space needs to have very robust broadband capabilities, as the new technology is quite resource-intensive from a connectivity point of view,” Mr Taylor explained.

“We’ve recently upgraded the broadband at our inner-city property and have already seen the benefits from a customer satisfaction point of view.”

Priority #2 – Creativity
Widely touted as the most important business skill of the modern age, creativity is the key to ensuring a competitive edge in today’s business environment. “Creativity is at the core of innovation. In an economic environment where budgets for meetings are small and stagnant, creativity is the only way you can consistently deliver a world class experience for delegates.”

“Hotels should prepare by employing talented young professionals that can bring new ideas to the table and find innovative ways to make limited budgets go a long way,” Mr Taylor said.

“We have a full agency-styled creative department that focuses on generating exciting ideas around special offerings and campaigns for the three hotels, and then developing copy, design, e-marketing collateral, ads and PR to support these campaigns. Increasingly, we are seeing other departments coming to us for ideas around things that would normally fall outside our traditional scope of work, and we expect to see more of these requests as clients seek cost-saving solutions that still deliver great value.”

Priority #3 – Responsibility
Acting as a responsible member of the community in which you operate is now a non-negotiable element to business success. “From CSI initiatives to sustainability drives to the way staff are managed, hotels are being held to a much higher standard by the customers that choose to support them than ever before,” Mr Taylor explained.

He has seen the benefits this brings to hotels in the meetings space – the Vineyard Hotel & Spa has a class-leading Responsible Tourism programme that drives all the hotel’s activities. From special ‘green power’ certificates purchased from a local wind farm powering its conference centre to a full-time environmental manager and horticulturist driving the group’s sustainability initiatives, as well as a dedicated charity organisation looking after vulnerable children in the surrounding community, the business places huge importance on acting responsibly.

“In future we would like an even more hands-on approach with our guests – for example, we have recently launched a voluntourism programme that takes guests out to underprivileged areas to do real work that has a lasting impact on the lives of the local communities.”

Priority #4 – Relevance
With changes in the industry come changes to the roles of those involved in it. “In the next few years we will see a radical shift in the role of the professional conference organiser (PCO). While they have traditionally played a leadership role in planning and implementing the meetings and conference experience, the arrival of hybrid events and the virtual meetings market will necessitate a radical shift in the role of the PCO for them to remain relevant,” Mr Taylor said.

According to him, hotels will also need to start playing a leadership role in regional and international industry bodies. “We play in a global market and compete for a global audience. A hotel sitting at the southern tip of Africa needs to be as relevant to the international market as one in London or Paris. We need to join and actively participate in organisations such as SITE and MPI to remain abreast of key trends that could influence our business.”

“It is a priority for our group to play a leading role in the meetings space in South Africa, and we can only do that if we adapt to the new challenges posed by a shifting market whilst being active participants in our industry bodies, both locally and abroad. In ten years’ time we will be faced by an entirely new set of challenges, but if you don’t take heed of today’s challenges you might not have the opportunity to see them,” Mr Taylor concluded.