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by Allen Sheinman | March 6, 2014

Benchmark Resorts & Hotels, a division of Benchmark Hospitality International, has revealed some major meeting trends for this young year based on observations at its 40 hotels, resorts and conference centers around the country. Here are a half-dozen:

1. Lightning speed is paramount. Free, fast and it better be reliable — highly effective Wi-Fi is the #1 issue for planning professionals and conferees. Typical Benchmark attendees often come with up to three wireless devices, so greater bandwidth is a necessity. Planners are expecting adequate bandwidth to keep meeting guests connected and engaged.

2. Demand trends are up. As the economy picks up momentum, so goes meeting demand. Short-term bookings remain prevalent, but the booking-demand window increasingly is stretching into 2015, 2016 and beyond. Not quite the good old days, but getting closer.

3. Unique experiences rule. Just as with consumer travel today, the demand for out-of-the-ordinary experiences is increasingly factoring into meeting-destination decisions. Those properties partnering with local assets, such as wineries, historic and natural wonders, intriguing adventure resources, and unique off-site reception and dinner venues, have a strategic advantage in the pursuit and the capturing of meeting demand.

4. Select social media has a place in meetings. Social media has minimal impact on securing corporate meetings business, with the possible exception of LinkedIn. During meetings, however, planners and attendees use Twitter and LinkedIn for communicating with each other, and also with moderators. On the horizon is the rise of meeting-specific property apps tailored to optimize communication during the planning and implementation phases -- and these may soon supersede the role of social media. Facebook rarely is utilized to bring in meetings business or communicate during a conference, as it's seen to be a personal communications tool for staying in touch with friends and family.

5. Budgets are up; ROI is driving planner demand. Meetings budgets are finally increasing following more than six years of anemia. This is especially true in the association market, with larger meetings growing in attendance. As corporate purse strings slowly loosen, meeting professionals are increasingly becoming more firm with demands of flexibility, including the negotiation of attrition clauses. The demand for value in their investment has never been higher. It all ties back to more accountability for meeting ROI.

6. Who's meeting in 2014? Across the country, the traditional industry segments are once again delivering business to meeting properties, including the financial, pharmaceutical, insurance, association and, increasingly, health-care industries. Silicon Valley and the High Tech Northwestern U.S. are on the rebound too, significantly benefiting properties in this market.

Source: Benchmark Hospitality International