The Palm hotel in Dubai

19 Event Trends That Will Shake Up Meetings & Group Business in 2019

What does it mean to be a part of the events industry in 2019? Well for starters, don’t blink. Meetings are growing and evolving rapidly, and each is an experiment in applying new methods to find a perfect formula.

Easier said than done in a science that has zero constants.

To succeed, you have to be dynamic, you have to be flexible, and, above all, you have to be in tune with attendee desires. For venues and planners, that means looking into the crystal ball to get ahead of event trends and expectations.

Here, we cover the top 19 trends which promise to shake up event planning and hospitality in 2019 and beyond.

  1. Industry Performance Trends
  2. Attendee Experience Trends
  3. Meeting Destination Trends
  4. Event Technology Trends
  5. Meeting Design Trends

Industry Performance Trends

1. Demand will continue to outpace supply.

The unprecedented rise in demand for meetings and events will continue this year, with CWT Meetings & Travel predicting a robust 5-10% growth in demand.

Meanwhile, late in 2018, CBRE forecasted that hotel supply would peak at 2% gain, stabilizing to 1.9 percent over the next two years.

With the development pipeline slowing and event demand growing, it promises a rise in group hotel rates.  Respondents to the AMEX Meetings & Events Forecast predict that rise will equal about 2.41% in North America, while CWT expects an even higher hike of 3.7%.

Key Takeaway for Planners

Planners should adjust budgets to anticipate higher rates and book event space as early as possible.

If there’s a mantra for this year, it might just be “book now!” The longer you wait, the more you’re going to pay. Or even worse, the more you wait, the more you risk not finding a viable space for your dates.

Plus, when it comes to budget growth, signals are mixed. A majority of event planners report that their budgets increased year over year in 2018, but higher rates could negate some if not all of it. And in general, industry leaders like Skift agree that planner budgets are merely creeping up with the increase of costs.

Knowing this, planners should proactively use rate forecasts in conversations with key stakeholders to make the case for a bigger event budget.

“Demand continues to outpace supply of meetings-eligible hotels. The demand for meetings, which includes accommodation, is going to be significantly challenged by a lack of inventory. Continuing industry consolidation means fewer options for buyers and that will push prices up.”

-Nathan Brooks, Senior Director and Global Lead, Supplier Management, CWT Meetings & Events

Key Takeaway for Properties

Group demand will be strong throughout the year. How will you score and respond to the influx of leads to capitalize?

With increased demand and the promise of higher group rates, planners will inevitably look to book further out. This leaves hotels and venues in a pickle, as taking these bookings could mean missing out on higher-value events later.

To avoid missing out on revenue, hotels and venues need to segment business intelligently and avoid falling into some of the pitfalls of traditional lead-scoring biases that hurt RFP management.

For hotels, capitalizing on group demand could also offset the impact of potentially disappointing ADR growth by driving up midweek rates for transient business.

Predictions for hotel performance from CBRE
Source: CBRE Hotels’ Americas Research

2. Face-to-face time will be coveted. (So will live events.)

A huge piece of the expected 5-10% increase in meetings and events demand is the escalating willingness of brands to invest in events as a marketing channel. In fact, in a recent event marketing survey, 52% of survey respondents said that event marketing drove more business value than other marketing channels. (To put that majority into perspective, only 8% said it drove less.)

But what’s driving the effectiveness of event marketing, and really, meetings demand as a whole? It’s the fact that the time we spend in front of a screen is growing by the year. As that time increases, face-to-face time takes a hit, making it a more treasured commodity in our modern world.

Hours spent with digital media slide taken from Mary Meeker's internet trends report.

Key Takeaway for Event Planners

Create ample opportunities for networking and spaces for scheduled face-to-face meetings.

As screen time increases, the desire for face-to-face networking will in tandem. Today, networking is the second biggest motivator for event attendees, behind only content. However, it’s not just scheduled face-to-face meetings they’re craving. It’s also the spontaneous conversations that come with serendipitous networking.

Jesse States of MPI perhaps said it best in the 2018 Meeting Room of the Future Report: “Meeting attendees have long extolled the virtues of the ‘hallway conversation,’ many saying that one connection was the most valuable part of the experience. Meeting professionals are now seeking to design for, multiply and ultimately quantify that conversation.”

As such, the goal for planners should be to not only create an amplitude of private meeting spaces but also “collision spaces.” Some leading events are achieving this by going so far as to provide less chairs than attendees. With less empty seats, they’re encouraging movement and interaction.

Key Takeaway for Venues

Create spaces that promote spontaneous interaction and highlight them in your offering.

Many venues that accommodate weddings and social events have large, minimalist spaces with easily accessible bars — the perfect recipe for a networking event. Venues like this can use the networking angle to promote event space to corporate clients. Especially in an age where the lack of a room block isn’t a deal-breaker for transient groups thanks to Airbnb.

Hotels, meanwhile, should try to leverage lobbies, rooftops, and other communal areas that are better-suited for networking events. If new hotel supply is being designed with group business in mind, these types of areas should be a focal point. While any ballroom can be set up as a networking area, the closed-off nature can feel more stifling and less natural, making interaction feel less organic.

The Ultimate Group Sales Playbook

Attendee Experience Trends

3. “Bleisure” travel isn’t going anywhere. (Well, in a manner of speaking.)

Based on new research from the Experience Institute, a whopping 71% of all generations report the destination as a factor in the decision to attend a meeting. 20-30% name it as the deciding factor.

Additionally, if attendees like the destination, 79% will generally return for leisure. These attendees who are boldly blending the worlds of business and leisure, have given rise to a new multi-generational segment driving destination decisions.

[See: our Hotel Market Segmentation Guide.]

They are the “bleisure class,” who Insight Event Strategy founder Kelly Peacy says, are making a “holistic decision as to how to spend time in conjunction with events.”

Source: IAEE Decision to Attend Study

Key Takeaway for Planners

Planners must balance the need for affordable destinations with attendee desires for vacation-esque business getaways.

The fusion of these two world means that everything the planner does must serve a double purpose. In other words, planners are not just meeting coordinators, they are now ad-hoc travel agents. Cultural interactions, local dining, experiential travel, and team-building activities are all in the mix.

Perhaps just as importantly, an unappealing destination ranked as the fifth highest barrier to attendance in the same Experience Institute study — making it the highest of any factor that was in an attendee’s control (i.e. not cost-, time-, or conflict-related).

The bottom line? Choosing a destination is more important than you might think. Pick the wrong one and ticket sales could take a hit.

Key Takeaway for Properties

A great attendee experience might result in transient business later on.

Attendees are looking at events as mini-vacations, which means hotels are effectively auditioning for repeat business at the transient level. So what can your hotel do to make each attendee’s stay feel more like a vacation?

Smart concessions when it comes to amenities like spa days could be the ticket to bringing attendees back. Helping them explore and experience the city outside of event hours is also a huge value-add. This is something that leading chains are racing to build into their offerings, including Hilton, who just released their Explore app to better connect guests with their host cities.  

Learn More About Event Sales Solution

4. Personalization will move beyond personas.

As of 2016, millennials are officially the largest workforce in the U.S. labor market — which means they’re now also the majority of event attendees. And if there’s one thing millennials want, it’s more control over the event agenda.

This push is a large part of the reason that 96% of the Social Tables audience believe events are expected to be more personalized than ever. Leading events are hearing that call and setting the bar extremely high, making it more difficult for events that simply don’t have the same level of resources.

Perhaps the best example of personalization in action came at this year’s C2 event in Montréal, where attendees were offered 11 different ways to spend every hour of the three days. (You read that right.)

And while today personalization is achieved oftentimes by creating personas based on high-level attendee data, data collection is becoming more sophisticated. In 2019 and beyond, more robust data and engagement tools will allow events to begin moving away from personas to true personalization.  

Attendees engage in experiential learning at C2 Montréal.

Key Takeaway for Event Planners

Put elements of the agenda in the hands of attendees.

How are you personalizing events? While you don’t need to offer 11 agenda choices for every hour to see success, it’s more important than ever that attendees feel empowered to mold the event to meet their individual needs. You need to deliver a an experience that resonates at both the individual and collective levels. (Holy moly.)

As with many elements of the event, event technology trends are making it easier to bring personalization to life. Here are a few of the tools planners are using to make it happen:

Silent conferences – Multiple speakers are able to present in the same space, while attendees wear special headphones that allow them to toggle between/choose a speaker.

Live polling – Live polling apps are allowing events to source feedback in real-time and even crowdsource the agenda as it unfolds.

Better guest management – Strides in seating and guest management technology as of late are allowing planners to map out truly personalized experiences for VIPs and other guests.

Key Takeaway for Venues

Use personalization as a means of attracting events and creating value.

From the proposal through setup, personalization needs to be at the heart of how you communicate, negotiate, and create a meetings product. At the proposal level, venues can personalize by showcasing different event-specific variations. This adds value for the planner by helping them better meet their event objectives, while adding value for the hotel or venue as an upselling technique.

At the level of the space and setup, properties need to be flexible enough to accommodate for more personalized event experiences. This could mean investing more in portable walls, diversifying furniture offered onsite, and for hotels, getting more creative about which spaces are bookable.

percentage of venues offering flexible furniture and layouts for events
Source: IACC 2018 Meeting Room of the Future Report

5. Meetings will become music festivals.

In 2019, we’ll move further on the spectrum toward full-blown festivalization. Essentially, the line between consumer festivals and corporate events will continue to blur, as elements of the former become a means of engagement for the latter.

This trend, as with most all of our 2019 event trends, is trickling in from larger society as a whole. According to Billboard, there over 800 annual music festivals in the U.S. that see over 32 million attendees in total. 14 million of those attendees are (surprise, surprise) millennials.

We already mentioned C2, whose hidden speakeasies, performance artists, and ninjas in bushes, make it the stuff of adult carnival dreams. But Forbes’ Under 30 Summit — a gathering of 7,000 30-and-under entrepreneurs — goes so far as to host an actual music festival in Boston as part of the event. Attendees can trade in business for boogie time, while enjoying artists like Marshmello and Wiz Khalifa.

Key Takeaway for Event Planners

Performances and other festival-esque entertainment elements can boost engagement, but require buyouts and complex logistics.

At smaller levels, adding performances to the agenda can go a long way in engaging attendees. However, for larger events, truly creating a festival atmosphere requires access to a variety of spaces within the venue and the assurance that the space is exclusive to one group.

As a result, many of these events aren’t happening at hotels, but rather at resorts, convention centers, and even outdoor spaces created specifically for events (i.e. city-block pop-ups). And at the end of the day, achieving that festival feeling usually merits a buyout of these venues, adding further complexity to sourcing and timelines.

Adding performances also greatly complicates onsite logistics — including everything from loading and docking to mapping out the event. Spatial logistics are especially important, making an event diagramming tool immensely important for planning.

trending event diagramming technology
A screenshot of Social Tables’ event diagramming software.

Key Takeaway for Venues

Resorts, golf courses, and similar venues should offer buyouts in shoulder seasons to accommodate these events and drive revenue.

When leisure demand is low, it could be the perfect time for your venue to offer a buyout and bring in some extra revenue you weren’t expecting.

Once in the planning process, get to the bottom of what the event needs and specific performances are, then proactively offer up solutions for how these can be brought to life. Your unique and thorough understanding of the property is bound to surface viable ideas that paint you as a valuable partner in navigating the complexities of such a large-scale event.

6. Attendees want to “veg out” when it comes to event F&B trends.

In May 2016, the Vegan Society commissioned a poll of 10,000 UK residents to learn more about their dietary habits. The results showed that Britain’s vegan population had grown from 150,000 to 542,000 in just a decade. (Check out the Google Trends graph below for “Veganism” to get a sense of interest worldwide.

Meanwhile, a separate study by the Imperial College of London directly links the trend to increased health, reporting that 7.8 million premature deaths could be avoided worldwide every year if individuals upped their fruit and vegetable intake to 10 portions a day.

As the health trend makes its way onto the list of longstanding event trends, both event planners and properties will need to adjust their menus to stay relevant and ensure attendee satisfaction. Plant-based diets will rise hand-in-hand with an increased focus on wellness, revolutionizing F&B and replacing beef with the proverbial brussel sprout.

Key Takeaway for Planners

The way to millennials hearts is through their stomachs, which now expect more veggies at events.

Perhaps even more important for event planners than the rise of vegetarianism and veganism is the demographics of those following the diet. The portion of U.S. consumers under 49 who consider themselves vegans or vegetarians is more than double that of consumers over 50.

With the younger demographic being a majority of the modern attendee base, planners need to pay attention. That means working with venues and caterers who can put innovative vegetarian F&B on the plate.

However, this doesn’t mean that meat at events is going away — a majority of the population still eats animal-based products. What it does mean is that F&B minimums will go up as the necessity for menu variety increases.

Key Takeaway for Venues

For full-service hotels and venues that can adapt, F&B revenue will climb higher.

Does your venue’s preferred caterer have a flair for vegan-friendly dishes? Is your hotel sourcing local produce for vegetarian fair? These are the questions suppliers should be asking themselves in the face of a new plant-forward F&B paradigm.

The need for vegetarian and vegan options promises to drive up F&B totals for booked events, as long as your venue can adapt. For those who don’t put enough emphasis on the vegetarian trend, it could be the differentiator that causes a planner to go elsewhere.

Many hotels, especially those in major cities, are moving toward from-scratch, vegan-friendly menus. Some are even going so far as to grow some of their produce on site, capitalizing on the local and plant-based-food movements in one fell swoop.

The Biggest Food Trends Impacting Events

7. Wellness initiatives will see some healthy growth.

Attendee concerns become planner concerns, which in turn become concerns for hotels and venues. Such is the nature of health and wellness, which through its prominence in our larger society, became a main focus of “purposeful meetings” and now a main focus of properties looking to capitalize on hospitality trends in 2019.

This modern concept of wellness goes beyond just physical health, placing an emphasis on mental health as well. As a result, wellness influences a large portion of the event and venue offering alike — from group F&B to agendas, lighting, breakout room setups, and beyond.

Source: IACC 2017 Meeting Room of the Future Report

Key Takeaway for Planners

Happier, healthier attendees are more engaged attendees.

Today, most planners agree that the more attendees are able to take care of themselves, the more they will want to meaningfully engage with events. That’s why leading events like Salesforce’s Dreamforce and Hubspot’s Inbound dedicate resources to attendee wellbeing.

Mindfulness areas and places to “unplug” have become the new norm, giving attendees a much-needed chance to escape from the abundant stimulation of tech-driven events. Meditation is guided, massages are given, tech-free zones are created — the list goes on.

Physical wellness is equally center stage, with planners incorporating 5Ks, yoga sessions, and beyond into event agendas. F&B is a huge part of that with a majority of event planners agreeing that there is a direct connection between the F&B that is served and attendee energy levels throughout the day.

Key Takeaway for Venues

Capitalize on wellness as a key piece of your groups and meetings offering.

Ten years ago catering to wellness might have been considered a cherry on top for planners. Today it is a determining factor in venue selection. Planners are looking for established wellness programs at hotels, or looking to venues that can accommodate a need for wellness-focused breakout spaces.

Hotel chains are answering the call by putting these elements front and center, wooing groups with the promise of fresh-pressed juices, state-of-the-art gyms, and locally-sourced, organic menus.

In fact, wellness is becoming a key piece of hotel marketing to groups. You can see it in Hilton’s “Meet With Purpose” campaign or the ad from a 2018 Westin email below. Hotels realize they can offer groups more holistically in terms of wellness than nontraditional venues, and will emphasize it moving into 2019.

a Westin email that uses a wellness angle to market to meeting planners

Meeting Destination Trends

8. Say goodbye to typical venues.

If you remember this from last year’s event trends roundup, you’re not wrong! But in our roundup of 2019 event statistics, 92.3% of planners and property professionals alike said they believe events are more likely to be booked outside of a hotel than they were five years ago.

Events are popping up in the most unorthodox of places, and that’s only going to become more commonplace. Last year, the Global Meetings Forecast predicted a 3.8% increase in use of non-traditional venues. In 2019, the race is on to see who can think the furthest outside of the traditional ballroom box to create more enticing, millennial-friendly experiences.

eBook: Where You Meet Matters

Key Takeaway for Planners

Planners need to turn to new solutions that can help them source nontraditional venues without the drain on time and resources.

Acknowledging the rising preference of nontraditional venues is one thing. Putting it into action is another. Planners are more crunched for time and resources than ever, and sourcing out-of-the-box venues takes research time, effort, and of course, money.

Smaller events (<100 attendees) are poised to capitalize on trendy, boutique spaces, but larger events ultimately have to get more creative to secure similar atmospheres.

As one planner put it in their survey response to AMEX, “It’s very difficult to manage a shifting organizational culture with a younger millennial attendee who isn’t satisfied with a ‘typical’ venue or hotel. There is a rising preference for independent, quirky, unique venues that often don’t offer commission and will not negotiate T&Cs.”

Luckily, new venue sourcing platforms are making it easier to find fresh event spaces and independent venues that were once difficult to discover.

The Cvent venue sourcing platform

Key Takeaway for Properties

Hotels need to evolve event spaces or risk losing business to nontraditional venues.

Hotels find themselves in a pickle, wedged between the call for nontraditional event spaces and the technological innovations (ride-sharing, venue sourcing engines) that are making these settings more attainable by the day.

To keep potential business from leaving for other venues, hotels need to think about how they can use their own nontraditional spaces to attract planners. This means working rooftops, outdoor spaces, and partnerships with other venues into the mix and using them in event proposals.

For instance, STR reports that Chicago hotels utilizing their rooftop space for restaurants & bars see a $13.22 increase in summer RevPAS compared to those who don’t.

“It is a major issue to find interesting facilities in big cities. You have to look for meeting facilities which are not associated with hotels… The hospitality industry is missing a lot of business they could win by offering more compelling meeting spaces.”

-Rolf Schmidt, CEO, TOPHOTELPROJECTS

9. Midsize cities will continue to make moves.

Traditionally, midsize cities like Minneapolis, Portland, and Cleveland were considered less desirable for events than first-tier cities (aka the NYCs and Chicagos of the world). As a result, they’re often lesser-known in terms of message and expertise.

You might have even heard these cities referred to as “second-tier cities,” which is completely unfair in terms of what they have to offer incoming groups. In fact, some of these cities are investing in new infrastructure and marketing assets that are stealing events away from larger cities.

They’re now competing on the world stage thanks to more than just a lower price point:

Culture & authenticity – According to London & Partners, 93% of international event planners say that a destination’s culture highlights are an important piece of the decision. (Looking at you Austin.)

Knowledge economies – Midsize cities specialize in certain areas, catering to specific industries via expert speakers, startups, and other knowledge assets. (Don’t sleep on San Jose’s tech scene!)

Ease of transportation – Many of these midsize destinations offer walkable downtowns that make it easy for attendees to interact with the city. (Hey Denver.)

Key Takeaway for Planners

Work with CVBs in midsize cities to execute truly remarkable events in unique locales.

When choosing a destination, reach out to CVBs in midsize cities to see what their cities can offer.  They’re eager to grow the reputations of their respective destinations, and as a result, they’re also eager to work with planners to create truly unique experiences. (Just check out the incredible documentary below, financed by Nashville’s CVB as a promotional asset.)

Don’t be quick to spring to a first-tier choice. You could be leaving money — and, in some cases, a more memorable attendee experience — on the table. Perhaps even more importantly, by missing out on a city that better matches your event objectives and purpose, you could miss out on a chance to create a truly holistic event.

Key Takeaway for Properties

Align yourself with the elements of your city that attract groups and meetings.

Whether your venue is in a midsize city, a larger city, or somewhere else altogether, part of your mission should be to champion your destination. That could be by incorporating local specialties on menus, using local flowers in decorative elements, or connecting with authentic local attractions to offer guests and groups special deals.

And don’t forget: A CVB can be just as important for you as it is for a planner. Since CVBs are nonprofits funded by occupancy taxes, their main goal is to help find venues options that are well-tailored to the specific objectives of a given event. In turn, that means group leads coming from a CVB are likely to be more qualified.  

10. It’s time to leave your legacy.

Large-scale events leave a long-standing impact — on society, on the environment, on local economies, and beyond. But events are just now beginning to question what that legacy is on a widespread scale.

The last iteration of IMEX America brought this into focus, popularizing it as one of their thematic pillars for the event. CEO Carina Bauer summarized the theme by saying, “There is a growing consciousness of the long-term impact we all make on the world that is running throughout our industry, society and among individuals. Our talking point gives that consciousness due recognition.”

Both events and venues should indulge in the meta and take a look in the legacy mirror, planning around the type of longstanding impact they hope to make on partners, patrons, and society.

The “Legacy Wall” on the IMEX America show floor.

Key Takeaway for Planners

In addition to your event purpose, plan events around the mark you want to leave on your community (whatever community might mean for your event).

It’s clear that large-scale, global events like the olympics leave a lasting legacy. But what about conferences, networking events, and beyond? Just look to the Alzheimer’s Association, who worked with London & Partners to light up the iconic London Eye ferris wheel in purple as a powerful symbol.

Events can send a message that extends beyond the perimeters of a venue and permeates the very fabric of a larger community. Sure, for your event that might not mean incorporating an iconic structure. Still, there are plenty of ways to send a message and spin a story. It all starts with the purpose of the event and how it can be woven into something greater than itself.

Key Takeaway for Properties

Focus on your own legacy as a way to woo events.

Red Rocks amphitheater,  Madison Square Garden, the Beverley Wilshire — these venues have enshrined their legacies by archiving the many incredible events they’ve hosted over the years. They’ve built their image based on the past and focused on the elements that they want to leverage for their future.

Hotels and venues need to ask themselves what makes them memorable — and just as importantly, what they offer that could make an event memorable. From there, it’s about bringing it to life in everything from customer service to marketing and beyond.

11. Improved transportation will make new destinations more viable.

While you probably won’t be hopping in a self-driving cab this year, ridesharing has already made it easier than ever for attendees to get around in cities that may have traditionally lacked efficient transportation. And it will only improve, with an industry forecast of 11% growth annually between 2019 and 2023.

However, ridesharing aside, many midsize cities are also making significant investments in public transportation infrastructure. Amongst them is Denver, who is building a system that will whisk riders around the metro area and nearby cities at 200 mph. The system will also be followed by a true hyperloop system, which will transport riders across the state at over 600 mph.

And don’t forget the surge of electric scooters and bikes flooding cities from companies like Lyft and Lime. They’re making “micro transportation” cheaper, more sustainable, and more of an experience.

Key Takeaway for Planners

Capitalize on improved transportation by moving farther away from airports into authentic city experiences and venues.

As authentic experiences increase in importance, attendees are willing to sacrifice some when it comes to transportation. Luckily, many won’t even have to with the types of improvements we listed above. Couple all of this with the luxury of being able to find Airbnbs right next to new venues, and it’s an equation for more flexibility and creativity.

With events moving farther away from transportation hubs and into the areas that give cities their unique cultures, planners will need to find new ways to keep attendees mobile. Leading rideshare companies like Lyft are making that easier by teaming up with major events as sponsors and offering rides at reduced prices.

Key Takeaway for Venues

Do your part to help attendees travel and enjoy the city.

It’s time to gauge what your venue can do to keep everyone mobile. For venues in desirable or authentic parts of the city, that means helping attendees from the airport to the venue. In this sense, offering a private shuttle service back and forth from the airport could be the differentiator that helps you win out over a nearby competitor.

Meanwhile, for airport hotels that are farther away from city centers, it’s becoming more and more imperative to make sure attendees can travel to and from attractions. This is where smart partnerships can come in handy in addition to a shuttle service. Just as events can partner with rideshare apps, so too can venues on a long-term basis.

Event Technology Trends

12. Venue sourcing will become more sophisticated.

According to Cvent’s latest Global Planner Sourcing Report, only 16% of planners say they are extremely certain of their venue when they begin the sourcing process. Luckily, when asked what the most difficult sourcing stage was, the number of respondents who said “researching venues” was down 4% from 2016 results.  

In large part, this decrease is due to the more sophisticated venue search engines that have entered the market in recent years. Planners are more able to get details on venues, get a sense of viability, and submit multiple RFPs — all without ever having to get on the phone or visit multiple sites.

These sourcing destinations will become more prevalent and more sophisticated in 2019,  as developers find ways to better match planners with venues based on event purpose. We may even begin to see other types of suppliers entering these networks, giving planners an opportunity for more of “one-stop shopping” experience.

Source: Cvent 2018 Global Planner Sourcing Report

Key Takeaway for Event Planners

Use sourcing engines to save time and discover new venues.

Venue sourcing is one of the most difficult and time-consuming stages of the event planning process. As we mentioned, there’s also more on the line than ever, with attendees desiring new and nontraditional venues that elevate their experiences.

With time becoming more and more of a finite commodity for event planners, these online resources for event space present an opportunity to make sourcing more manageable.

Key Takeaway for Venues

Use sourcing engines to increase visibility and strong profiles to increase conversion.

If planners can’t see you, they can’t book your space. In this light, sourcing engines are one of the strongest tactics for improving discoverability and driving group business. Venues should strive to create profiles in these new channels, but should be wary of the many different cost structures and varying efficacies of different platforms. (Do your research!)

Once the platforms are narrowed down, it’s time to help planners visualize your space. Profiles that don’t allow for high-quality image galleries and floor plans do little to help planners and lead to poor conversion. Make your profile as visual as possible, make sure to highlight nearby attractions, and if you can, add video. (60% of planners say video is the most helpful inclusion.)

Some venues and hotel chains may even be in a position to use white-label distribution platforms to create direct booking channels for their entire portfolios — much like IHG did last year when they launched ihg.com/meetings.

13. RFID will unlock new forms of attendee data.

Traditionally, the event itself has presented a somewhat ironic vacuum of information sandwiched between the data collected pre- and post-event. But what if event teams could get the same level of info about attendees at events as marketers do about users on a webpage?

As RFID technology gets smarter, physical and digital data will begin to come together. Event marketers and event stakeholders will be able to see which presentations, activities, and meetings someone attended — more effectively measuring attendee engagement.

“This convergence of physical and digital footprints … will become a mainstay. It’s going to integrate with your Salesforce, because now you’re going to say that, for example, that if Fred, let’s just say, or Mary is a customer, now you know where they walked and where their interest is by the different sessions they went to or where they spent time at exhibits they went to.”

– Reggie Aggarwal, CEO Cvent

Key Takeaway for Event Planners

RFID technology will allow planners to create more personalized experiences, while giving marketers and stakeholders a better sense of ROI.

With information on where and how attendees are spending their time at events, event planners will be able to better gauge attendee interests. This information will enable teams to adjust or better highlight elements on the fly — essentially fine-tuning events as they happen. Meanwhile, future iterations will improve drastically because planners will know exactly what happened in the past.

Of all event trends for 2019, advanced RFID technology is probably the most exciting for marketers. Why? 79% of consumers say they are only likely to engage with an offer if it has been personalized to reflect previous interactions the consumer has had with the brand. With new data in hand, marketers will be able to craft and personalize more effective communications based on specific attendee interests or activities.

All the while, planners can look for patterns in this data to create more granular and tailored personas. Mapping content, food, activities, etc. down to these personas will allow planners to get as close as they can to personalizing events end-to-end on an individual level.

Plan Events Seamlessly

Key Takeaway for Venues

Smart RFID technology will allow hotels to better tailor their offering to groups and other guests.

RFID-enabled room keys allow hotels to track use of amenities such as gyms, spas, or business centers. Tracking the behavior of guests at your hotel promises to help make better-informed decisions about your offering.

Combining this with information from the booking, hotels can draw demographic conclusions about who is more likely to use specific products/amenities and why. In turn, all of this information can be used down the road with marketing, segmentation exercises, and beyond.

14. 5G won’t make a huge impact on events (yet).

Smartphone developer Ericsson predicts that 1.5 billion 5G subscriptions will be active by 2025. But for planners and venues, that should matter now.

5G won’t be commonplace anywhere by the end of 2019, but it will make it’s introduction. And while it’s not going to make waves, this technology breakthrough will have a huge impact on other event trends in the years ahead.

Why? Well, take the speed of your current 4G LTE smartphone internet and multiply it by 1,000. (Think: putting the Millenium Falcon into hyperdrive.) That kind of speed promises to not only make event apps run faster and smoother, but also allow developers to push the bounds of what’s possible via the internet.

That could mean the use of AI and AR will drastically increase at events. Or, more importantly, that planners won’t have to worry about venue WiFi anymore.

Source: Visual Capitalist

Key Takeaway for Event Planners

Fast, reliable WiFi will soon become the norm, opening up new engagement opportunities and nontraditional venues for events.

The prospect of reliable WiFi and connectivity issues not being a concern has some exciting implications when it comes to the sourcing process. High-speed internet will be readily available in the pockets of attendees, which will allow planners to worry less about infrastructure and source more imaginative, unorthodox venues. With expectations for these types of venues steadily increasing (see trend #8), it’s just in the nick of time.

When it comes to the actual event, content and engagement should see some exciting leaps and bounds as well. Planners will finally have the bandwidth needed to incorporate 3D technology, augmented reality, and virtual reality into events, effectively ushering in a new era of experience design for the meetings industry.  


Key Takeaway for Event Planners

5G may initially stunt group booking growth in midsize cities.

As 5G is released, it will likely hit major metropolitan areas long before other, smaller cities. For planners who want to take advantage of 5G, that could make midsize and smaller cities less viable options, resulting in a somewhat uneven playing field for a period of time.

Still, no matter the destination, venues and hoteliers can’t afford to sleep on 5G in its fledgling stages. With the trend becoming a mainstream metropolitan luxury in the next three to five years, properties need to ask themselves whether the investments that they’re making today will still be relevant in a 5G world.

Vanessa Ogle, CEO of hotel technology provider Enseo warned hotels much the same in a recent Skift article, saying, “I think many hoteliers will be unhappy with the significant investments they are making now into cabling that will become obsolete just as soon as 5G launches.”

15. Expect a growing appetite for branded apps.

Planners in North America anticipate a nearly 3% increase in mobile app use in 2019, putting it amongst the ranks of event technology trends for 2019. It makes sense: Apps have infiltrated our lives on a societal scale, with nearly every ecommerce website and SaaS product developing their own. Why should events be any different?

Leading events are creating apps to help with agendas, engagement, communication, and even surprise-and-delight inclusions. Meanwhile, venues (especially hotels) are creating apps that inform, personalize, and connect guests with local attractions and activities.

This year, we see branded apps moving beyond their usual role as resources as more and more events adopt them as an engagement tool.

Key Takeaway for Planners

Apps present an opportunity for personalization and engagement at each stage of the event lifecycle.

Sure, branded apps have their more obvious uses to help attendees look up schedules and find other information. But perhaps the most exciting opportunity in developing an app for events is in the opportunity to foster greater content engagement.

Apps and QR codes can be used in tandem to gamify the event, awarding points to attendees for visiting booths and beyond. This type of system could even be used to unlock extras or hidden areas, encouraging engagement via reward.

Branded apps can also incorporate polling and other features that help events personalize experiences and get to the bottom of attendee preferences. (Oh, and a friendly push notification here and there never hurts in the offseason.)

Key Takeaway for Venues

Use branded apps to personalize, inform, and connect guests to host destinations.

Hotels and venues are developing sophisticated apps that enhance the in-venue experience. Whether it’s Wembley Stadium’s virtual tour guide or Marriott’s sophisticated in-app chatbot functionality, branded apps are adding value in multiple ways:

Catering to event planners – Marriott’s Meeting Services App allows planners to manage their events without ever having to leave their seats.

Connecting attendees with destinations – Hilton’s Explore app connects guests with authentic, desirable experiences in their host cities.

Improving guest stays –  The World of Hyatt app allows guests to do everything from request more towels to catch an Uber.

Meeting Design Trends

16. Sustainability will be center stage at events.

Just as it is in many sectors of the consumer economy, sustainability is front and center when it comes to current trends in the event planning industry. And while small nods to sustainability (i.e. offering recycling at your event) help, we really need to approach events more holistically when it comes to reducing the carbon footprint.

From the miles of travel to the kilowatts of power and pounds of wasted food, each stage of the event lifecycle has its own impact and needs to be assessed by planners and venues alike.

Curious how carbon emissions break down for a given event? The infographic below was created using data from a recent University of British Columbia study.

Source: University of Columbia

Key Takeaway for Planners

For events — especially large-scale events — sustainable initiatives are now the expectation.

While sustainable event planning is slowly becoming a must for a majority of events, it’s now an imperative for large-scale events — especially those that set the tone for the industry.

IMEX lived up to that standard this year, reducing single-use plastics and paper cups drastically. The event asked everyone attending the show to bring reusable coffee cups. They crunched the numbers for attendees, letting them know that a reusable cup for just three days of morning coffee would prevent 37,000 cups from going to landfill.

Reusable cups and other similar ideas can make great SWAG while adding a layer of sustainability to your event. And who knows? Your sponsors may just want to cover the costs for you.

Key Takeaway for Properties

Sustainability initiatives are your chance to make a positive impact while painting your brand in an equally positive light.

By now, you’ve probably heard about the negative effects of plastic drinking straws on turtles and other marine life. Well Marriott made it a platform by announcing they would remove disposable plastics straws and stirrers across their portfolio of more than 6,500 properties. (That’s more than one billion discarded straws a year.)

While the move by Marriott is a great example of corporate responsibility in action, it’s also an example of powerful brand marketing. Why? Because today, 86% of consumers expect companies to act on social and environmental issues — and they’re more than ready to vote with their dollars.

So whether it’s drinking straws or an onsite produce garden, what is your hotel or venue doing to promote sustainability in events and beyond?

17. Experiences will define events. Creativity will define success.

Last year, 80% of event planners reported more experience creation in their jobs then just two to five years previous. This year, experience creation will continue to define events and the jobs of the planners behind them.

As the bar continually climbs higher for events, planners will have to create more immersive experiences in less time and without additional resources. Venues will need to partner more closely with planners to bring these experiences to life, adding value as creative collaborators in the face of sky-high event expectations.

Ultimately, these experiences will take the perfect mix of creativity, technology, and partnership to produce.

“With my work with PCMA, we all have the same mantra going through our heads: The expectation is high with experiences at events. It’s just not good enough to put your event in a hotel room or convention center with little regard as to the experience around it.”

-Kelly Peacy, Founder of Insight Event Strategy

Key Takeaway for Planners

Successful experiences will take a creative approach to each pillar of the event.

With “holistic” being the buzzword for purposeful experiences, planners need to approach each pillar of the event with the same level of creativity. In addition to personalization, which we’ve already talked about, planners must also prioritize the following three areas:

Content – The key to creative content is dreaming up new event concepts that forego deliver to attendees, instead fostering conversation and interaction.

Destination – The destination, venue, and space should offer opportunities for exploration and authentic interaction, while also serving as a fitting backdrop to the message or purpose.

Technology – How can technology help deliver the message in new ways that engage and awe the audience?

Source: Cvent 2018 Global Planner Sourcing Report

Key Takeaway for Venues

More than ever before, it’s on venues to be partners in experience creation.

93% of venues believe that it’s on them to be partners in creating experiences at least some of the time. This only promises to increase as group prices and expectations for events grow.

Venues who are true partners to planners are poised to see success in 2019 and beyond. When hotels have an active hand in helping events meet their objectives, it becomes the ultimate differentiator to gain repeat business, positive reviews, and word-of-mouth referrals.

18. Safety & event security will still be top of mind.

When we sent out our survey to a mix of 23,000 event planners and venue professionals, 90% of respondents stated that event security should still be a top priority for the industry.

Security is generally one of the larger factors that plays into destination selection, but today’s definition has evolved to encompass a broader scope that includes natural disasters and beyond. Especially following 2017, when two of the top five costliest hurricanes on record (Irma and Harvey) made landfall in the same year.

Despite some of the tragic happenings of the past decade, attendees and the industry at large have shown incredible resilience. Event planners and venues need to continue to work together to reward that resilience, developing effective safety plans and protocols.

However, both parties may ultimately find themselves preparing for a wider variety of concerns than in years past.

Tip Sheet: Event Security

Key Takeaway for Planners

Security should be top of mind at each stage of the planning process.

Whether it’s sourcing, seating, setup, or execution, the safety and security of attendees should ultimately dictate the planning and outcome. Event planners need to start by gauging security concerns when weighing destination options. That could mean avoiding coastal destinations during hurricane season or avoiding certain areas of city to ensure safety outside of event hours.

When mapping out the event, planners should know exactly where fire exits are and build strategies for various scenarios. Event diagramming software can help in this regard by allowing venues and planners to collaborate on a single source of truth. With a diagram in hand, it can easily be shared with everyone involved in the event for seamless setup and execution. (The fire marshall will thank you.)

Key Takeaway for Venues

Security is a significant value add and a key selling point in initial communications.

Event planners should always get the feeling that you’re taking security seriously from the get-go. That should start at a brand level trickle down to each individual property. Each venue should have a clearly-defined approach to security and preparation, including:

  1. Be clear on what is and isn’t permitted at the venue in terms of  capacity, resources, and staffing.
  2. Include in proposals whether you’re providing any personnel, such as security, custodians, and administrators.
  3. Have evacuation plan discussions. And, include the evacuation plans in proposals up front. Be sure to communicate the plan to all vendors.
  4. Create a step-by-step safety checklist for execution during on-site setup, and another safety checklist for the day of the event.

19. Minimalist event decor will have maximum appeal.

Whether it’s modern decor or the millennial lifestyle, less is more when it comes to the material. Minimalism is becoming a cultural tenant for younger generations who value experiences over possessions. (#vanlife anyone?)

This external societal push is also leaving its mark on event trends, setting the tone for decor — especially at weddings. Wedding Wire reports that couples are choosing “a bold, minimalistic look for a variety of aspects of their wedding day, from venues to invitations, wedding cakes, and more.”

Moving into 2019, event planners will increasingly look to venues with sprawling open space and industrial features (exposed HVAC, white-washed brick) as blank slates for minimalist design. It’s a movement that stands in direct opposition to the gaudy ballrooms of old.

minimalist decor and architecture at a wedding

Key Takeaway for Planners

Minimalist designs offer a chance to cut costs while boosting sophistication and keeping the focus on content.

A minimalist approach means less: less furniture, less seats, smaller portions, less irrelevant decor… you get the picture. All of this leads to more of the budget being freed up to improve content delivery and the overall attendee experience.

It also means that your venue search may start at nontraditional venues, many of which are better tailored to the industrial-chic, open floor plans that make minimalism a possibility. With the right venue in hand, it’s time to incorporate a few key guidelines:

Less drama – Look to classic combinations of whites and greys over the dramatic colors that once dominated palettes.

Less seating – Attendees want networking opportunities and less seats means more mingling.

Less clutter – Let the architecture speak for itself and keep the space clutter-free to promote a clean, open feel that keeps the focus on content.

Key Takeaway for Venues

Create event spaces that give planners the blank slate they need for minimalist design.

As mentioned, the gaudy, gold-lace ballrooms of old are on their way out. This bodes well for nontraditional venues, many of which have created spaces that emphasize architecture over additions.

Hotels, however, may find themselves scrambling to reinvent their event spaces in ways that have the same appeal. For hotel managers who may not have updated their ballrooms in years, it could be time to rethink these spaces — along with lobbies and other communal spaces that set the aesthetic tone for the hotel at large.

Larger chains should look to boutique hotels, who create visual identities that are often more closely aligned with the appeal that nontraditional venues offer.

Here’s to an eventful year.

In 2019, the evolution of technology and shifting attendee expectations will continue to redefine events. For event planners and venues, these 19 event and hospitality trends will be front and center. If you can capitalize, each presents its own unique opportunities to maximize revenue, engagement, and success in the year ahead.

Don’t forget to check out Social Table’s Event Management Solution!

Published December 27, 2018

19 Trends Shacking Up Events in 2019