by Cheryl-Anne Sturken | September 15, 2014

I recently joined more than 100 senior meeting planners from various Fortune 500 companies and representatives from 24 properties run by Omni Hotels & Resorts for Omni's Be Collaborative 2014. Styled like the innovative TED talks, the one-day event, which was held at the 398-room Omni Berkshire Place in Manhattan, featured three key speakers and delved into hotel industry trends, where hotel technology is headed, an overview of Omni's growing portfolio and a talk by motivational speaker Simon T. Bailey, author of Shift Your Brilliance, on tapping your inner creativity.

Jan FreitagSounds like a lot, but the speakers kept their presentations brief and on point, and the crowd ate up the lively proceedings, which included the mandate that audience members and presenters had to do a dance while asking or responding to questions. Among the highlights were the interesting giveaways Omni orchestrated throughout the day, demonstrating how well the hotel chain knows the psyche of its clients when it comes to corporate responsibility and ongoing personal education.

For example, one lucky attendee had her name drawn to win a scholarship to attend Meeting Professional International's educational conference in San Francisco next year (including registration, airfare and housing), while another was thrilled to hear that the gorgeous table centerpieces were being donated to a local charity in her company's name. Competition was fierce for other prizes awarded in categories such as most tweets posted during the event, correctly naming the various categories of Omni hotels, identifying the 26 brands Omni is aligned with in its affiliation with the Global Hotel Alliance, and even the average amount of bandwidth provided by ballrooms.

On the hotel industry front, planners were not so thrilled to learn from Jan Frietag, senior vice president of Smith Travel Research, that they would be facing high demand and limited supply, which would translate into higher rates and a tougher time getting their foot in the door. "There is nothing on the horizon that would lead us to believe things will change," said Freitag. "It is a seller's market for the unforeseeable future." He pointed out that transit demand was so high in certain markets, it was limiting group availability. "From an industry perspective, transit business books in a much shorter window of time and pays 5 percent more in rates," he noted.

The technology update by David Smith, vice president, strategic accounts, for Encore Events, was another eye-opener. When it came to typical questions relating to technology posed during site inspections, attendees were astonished to learn they were asking all the wrong things. "Bandwidth is not going to be your problem," said Smith. "It's like paper money — you can print more. What you should be asking is how do you access it. That's what really matters, because it determines the speed of your connectivity." And when one planner asked if Wi-Fi would ever be offered free in meeting spaces, Smith offered this sobering reality: "Downstairs pays for you to go free upstairs. If it ever goes free downstairs, it won't be good quality, because we won't make any money." Smith said it costs one Omni hotel $400,000 for technology infrastructure with a shelf life of three years, which demands a huge amount of upkeep to keep it running smooth. "I need to make $500,000 to break even, or I am losing money on it," said Smith.

Participants also got an unveiling of Omni's Meetings University and became the lucky first to take the online test, which certified them as Omni Meeting Specialists and earned each one CMP hour. The Omni Be Collaborative 2014 series is on an eight-city tour that will wrap up Dec. 18 at the Omni Dallas Hotel. For more information, or to attend, go here.