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by Allen J. Sheinman | January 17, 2018

Allen J. Sheinman, managing editor of Meetings & Conventions magazineGlobal hospitality-management company Benchmark has just announced its Top Meeting Trends for 2018 as observed at the 70 hotels, resorts and conference centers within its Benchmark Resorts & Hotels and Gemstone Collection brands in locations coast-to-coast, off-shore and internationally.

Trend 1: Entering 2018 cautiously optimistic
The meetings marketplace is cautious nationwide for 2018, but optimistic in major markets like Boston and Los Angeles where demand is strong. The American business environment and consumer sentiment is encouraging, and the pending tax implications are expected to create a positive effect for meetings throughout the year.

Trend 2: The new normal - Apple TV, dedicated WiFi, personalized apps at meetings, streaming live!
Technology is revolutionizing meetings in 2018. Properties are being asked to create apps for a specific meeting on demand during the meeting; to launch live streaming of sessions to remote points so team members outside the conference can participate; to send updedicated WiFi signals for specific meetings or sessions within a meeting, and to provide Apple TV on demand.

Trend 3: Locavore team building
Despite all the unique team-building programs out there that have moved well beyond the ropes courses, culinary initiatives originating out of the hotel's kitchen remain, by far, the most popular, the most requested by meeting planners and the most approachable for meeting groups. What's on the horizon? Bar Wars, where a team creates its signature cocktail and then samples the recipe. Cheers!

Trend 4: Fab food
What are top priorities with meeting planners going into 2018? Superb, creative, participatory and healthy food options sourced locally and that may include food trucks on-property, Iron Chef competitions, customized dining experiences and highly creative refreshment breaks.

Trend 5: What's shaking in your hood?
What's happening in a property's neighborhood - what the locals recommend as the quirky, under-the-radar highlights of their destination - is big this year. Many groups like to get off-property for a couple of hours or for an afternoon, and explore the unique aspects of the locale where they are gathering. For example, at the Hotel Contessa in San Antonio, attendees immerse themselves in Texas history at the legendary Alamo a few blocks away. Afterward, they return to the meeting refreshed and invigorated.

Trend 6: Free on-property experiences
Complimentary on-site and state-of-the-art recreational amenities providing tangible unique experiences for meeting attendees are another of the top requirements requested by meeting professionals in 2018. Though this may seem obvious, in today's fitness-crazed world, recreational facilities are expected to include state-of-the-art and challenging fitness options, which are complimentary and readily available to groups around the property - and able to be experienced at guests' leisure, increasingly over a full 24 hours.

Trend 7: "I'm really busy; just email me"
Professional meeting planners are busier than ever, with more on their plates and fewer team members to deliver expected results. Though they love personal visits when schedules permit, severe time constraints dictate email communications as their preferred method to stay in touch and learn of opportunities and special promotions.

Trend 8: Meetings packages pack value
No matter how hot the economy, value is always in vogue. How best for properties to meet this challenge? Sell value-packed meeting packages, as planners love these for components covering all the basic needs of a meeting, whether a modified package or full-on CMPs.

Trend 9: Demand holding on for 2018. Group size is static. Two days and out.
Meeting demand is healthy nationwide, with select markets looking to exceed last year's numbers and select mature markets falling a bit behind. The expectation, though, is for demand growth in 2018. Group size is steady from last year, with some planners discussing considerable larger group sizes for meetings later in the year. At the same time, meeting lengths are tightening up, and the average meeting for 2018 is projected to last just two days. Off-shore or remote meetings are longer, given transportation logistics getting to islands or more distant resorts. A lot needs to be accomplished this year in a shorter period of time, making every meeting minute important, including off-property and culinary experiences.

Trend 10: Meetings that matter - making it personal
Planners are looking to hotels and resorts to create meeting environments that empower attendees to be introspective, inspire engagement, openness, honesty, transparency and epiphanies that are mutually beneficial to the attendee and their organization. Those properties stepping up let loose with a little whimsy that stimulates joy, spontaneity, appreciation and fun during the meeting experience.

Bonus trend: Pharma/health tops business segments for 2018
Actually, major pharma is taking a bit of a step back in 2018 as a significant contributing industry to meetings, though when combined with health care, the joint segment will still dominate demand for the year. Education is a close second, followed by financial services, associations and technology. This represents a bit of a change-up from previous years' contributing industry segments, so we'll see what the balance of 2018 brings.

Source: Benchmark