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Corporate meeting market heats up as companies increase event spending

Officials at local meeting venues report corporate bookings running at least 15% ahead of last year, and say companies are increasingly looking for nontraditional settings.

Crest Hollow Country Club in Woodbury says corporate

Crest Hollow Country Club in Woodbury says corporate bookings are up 5 percent from last year. In April, the venue hosted SUNY Old Westbury's executive leadership forum. Photo Credit: Barry Sloan

The corporate meeting market’s heating up, experts say.

A survey by Denver-based Two Roads Hospitality found that 37 percent of survey respondents said they will plan more meetings for 2018, up from 30 percent in 2017, and nearly 45 percent of respondents say they have more money to spend in 2018.

Locally the outlook appears to be similar, with some lodging and meeting places reporting increased corporate bookings.

“Our corporate meeting business is up over 15 percent over last year,” says Dede Gotthelf, owner of the 90-room Southampton Inn.

She attributes this, in part, to the economy.

“We’re seeing optimism among the people in charge of booking,” says Gotthelf, noting she’s seeing a trend in people looking to utilize creative and more nontraditional spaces, such as having meetings in the inn’s European-style courtyard and breaks or lunch poolside.

The inn has also set up excursions for meeting participants, such as attending the Pianofest in the Hamptons concerts, she says.

This is in line with the Two Roads survey, which found that more than 74 percent of those surveyed rated flexible meeting space as an 8, 9, or 10 in importance when organizing a meeting or event. Nontraditional elements, such as an informal living-room concept or a comfortable, lounge-style seating area, and unexpected spaces like urban rooftops, are becoming commonplace.

“I think we as a society…have just evolved in what we want in our meetings,” says Peter Gamez, senior vice president of global sales at Two Roads, a hotel management firm.

It reflects the changing business environment,  where some companies provide “experiences" in their offices, like Ping-Pong and meditation classes, he says.

You have to keep your audience engaged, says Ellen Barrett, director of human resources at Great River-based Lessing’s Hospitality Group, which owns and operates nine restaurants and 17 wedding venues.

Later this month Lessing's will hold its own management rally for managers and key employees featuring illusionist Craig Karges and the theme “Anything is Possible.” Karges will tie his performance into that theme while providing lessons to attendees on improving the customer experience, says Barrett.

In the past the company has had a hospitality consultant give a presentation on how to improve hospitality and employee engagement, says director of marketing Jennifer Cantin.

The addition of an illusionist “is definitely more engaging,” says Barrett, noting attendees are "likely to enjoy it more and get something out of it if it’s presented in a nontraditional way.”

The company also encourages employees to think outside the box, which this reinforces, says Cantin.

At Lessing's own facilities, 2018 is already looking like a stronger year, with corporate booking sales up at least 20 percent, Barrett says. Companies in general are spending much more now than they did two or three years ago, upgrading menus with items like raw bars, she says.

The Crest Hollow Country Club in Woodbury is also seeing an uptick in corporate meeting bookings of over 15 percent from last year at this time, says Janine Dion, senior vice president of sales and marketing.

She’s also finding that meeting planners are interested in “unique spaces,” noting they “love being outdoors.” That includes incorporating activities that utilize the 24-acre venue’s tennis courts, English garden or man-made white-sand beach.

“They want an experience, versus classroom-style events,” says Dion. “They are saying we need to keep our people interested and entertained.”

She says safety is also a top concern, and the Crest Hollow invests in top security, which is in line with the Two Roads survey that found planners are working closely with venues to ensure the safety of their guests.

Beyond that, when planning a meeting it’s important to gauge your goals and the expectations of attendees.

“You really need to look at what is the purpose of your meeting and what you’re trying to get out of it,” says Gamez; that will help dictate the kind of event you hold.

Don’t skimp on the eats

Food and beverage was ranked the third-most important factor in site-selection decisions, behind only location and rate, with the importance rating on a scale of 1-10 increasing from 8.60 in 2016 to 8.74 in 2017.

Source: Two Roads Hospitality survey

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