With a new year comes new trends, but staying in the loop can be exhausting. Things leave as fast as they come in. Just as soon as you grow accustomed to something, it goes out of style and you’re left in the dust.
The easiest way to stay in the know? Talk with industry experts. And you can’t get more expert than Mark Cooper, CEO of IACC. He, along with Daniel Briones, vice president and general manager, Chubb Hotel & Conference Center in Lafayette Hill, divulge all of the details you need to know for 2017.
An Apple a Day …
First and foremost in 2017 trends? Health and well-being!
This focus, Cooper says, began during the second half of 2016 but will only get stronger as the year goes on. This isn’t just about food; it also means looking at the spaces and venues in which events take place—think getting outside instead of being cooped up indoors all day
“People are really looking at delegates’ wellbeing from a perspective of the spaces we put people in and the food that they are eating,” says Cooper. “The responsibility we feel is starting to fall more on the shoulders of a meeting planner.”
Along with health, nutrition is top of mind. While not entirely new, people are definitely looking more into the types of food they are serving, especially for days-long meetings and events.
“Options prepared by the venue are becoming a lot more balanced,” says Cooper. “Planners are making sure there is a good balance of what people feel comfortable eating.”
Food trends are moving away from fried foods and placing healthy foods front and center—literally. Many times, the healthy station with fruits, vegetables and other such snacks is relegated to the back of the room. That’s not the case anymore. Tables full of healthy food are taking center stage.
“Those tables are becoming bigger and more accessible,” says Cooper. “The food is more presentable and more interesting. It’s almost pushing the less healthy eating options to the back.”
Farm-to-table food is still as huge as ever, but it’s being taken to a whole new level. What’s becoming increasingly popular is serving food from the specific region where the event is taking place—travelers want to experience the cuisine of the area.
Food also needs to start breaking boundaries. Guests don’t want the standard chicken and vegetables—they want to be surprised.
“Guests are more knowledgeable about food,” says Briones. “Providing clever and healthy meal options for refreshment breaks and group meals keeps guest focused and interested in the meeting.”
Picking a venue is a process in and of itself, but now planners need to look at what is outside of the space as well for areas that can be used for innovative networking areas.
“The meeting room is now secondary,” says Cooper. “The importance of the spaces outside of the meeting rooms for networking and for collaboration has risen.”
The most popular options are rooms that are dynamic and visually appealing. These spaces feature art, bright colors, light and good acoustics. A creative space makes for more creative discussion.
“The best analogy I’ve had thrown at me was by a meeting planner who said, ‘We want our venue to look and feel more like an art gallery than we do a venue,’” says Cooper. “People want to be inspired.”
Many people are using the term “outside space” literally—seeking out outdoor spaces for their networking sessions, coffee breaks and team-building exercises. Cooper has even seen classrooms built in the woods.
Briones echoes that, noting public areas and collaborative furnishings are being used to change up attendee interaction and inject a new vibe to the event.
The Chubb Hotel & Conference Center completed renovations to do that very thing— incorporate collaborative areas within their meeting and event spaces. In most spaces, guests can even arrange furniture in whatever way they desire.
Venues as a whole also need to start thinking outside of the box; traditional hotel spaces are being used differently than may have been intended. “Meeting spaces should allow delegates to hear and interact freely, which is absolutely pivotal,” says Cooper. “Interesting architecture gives people things to talk about.”
Meeting technology is becoming slimmer and more streamlined. For example, Cooper notes the use of Microsoft Surface devices—personal touchscreen computers with interactive whiteboards. The device, he says, helps integrate presentations and allows facilities to function better, making sure people get more out of meetings.
The necessity of an on-site IT specialist is something that’s becoming more popular. With someone easily at the ready, planners have support for malfunctions, errors and everything else that comes with using technology—we’ve all had unpredictable moments.
“Venues have to be more and more prepared,” says Cooper. “Skills of the staff are really important.”
A less exciting, but extremely important, technology-related item is broadband. Planners more and more are looking at high quality, fast Internet.
“It doesn’t matter if the venue is the most beautiful and in the most accessible location with great rates,” says Cooper. “People won’t even consider venues without [high-speed Internet].”
Virtual reality is on the horizon, but won’t be here for some time, Cooper says. Currently, he’s only seeing it used at smaller events to give people a remote experience.
It’s Been Real
For Briones, there are two main trends we can say goodbye to now.
First: Traditional sit-down dinners and award banquets are shifting towards styles that allow for more movement rather than being planted in one spot. Cocktail receptionstyle events are more in style. As far as awards go, many organizations are going so far as to simply announce winners by email.
The second is long educational sessions. Standard presentations usually last between 45 minutes to an hour, but that’s changing. Attendees can look forward to brief 20–30-minute classes so they can be up and about, networking and conversing.
Cooper adds on to the idea of changing educational sessions. Content-driven presentations with a speaker having a one-way discussion will soon be a thing of the past. Things will be more interactive. Attendees will be given information ahead of an event to encourage more discussion.
Becoming an Expert
Trends are constantly changing—staying relevant can be an uphill battle. Briones recommends attending as many conference events as possible, according to the topic, location and your budget.
“Whether attending a local industry event or attending an industry conference, you would experience a unique conference venue and network with other meeting professionals who are already adapting newer trends,” says Briones.
And Coming Up Next …
As far as trends Cooper is looking forward to, he mentions the generational switch of millennials becoming more prevalent in the workforce. With their influence, everything will shift to something unique and yet to be seen.
“At the moment, the environment is in a very traditional way as opposed to being turned on its head,” says Cooper. “I’m looking forward to big, traditional methods looking different in the next few years. What that will be, I don’t know, but I’m certain it will look very different.”