For some planners, a large and well-known hotel chain will be always be their first choice of venue for an event. However, Cvent’s 2018 Global Planner Sourcing Report revealed that the gap between independent venues and large hotel chains has narrowed considerably.
Expect to see that gap narrow further in 2019 as many planners are looking at a wider variety of venues to host their events - a venue that will make their event stand out and help them deliver an even more memorable and distinct experience for their attendees.
• Minimalist design and unique spaces
Most hotels accept that to move with the sign of the times, they must update interior and exterior design, yet mass renovations can be costly and not always necessary. Expect to see more minimalist and natural design in hotel rooms and meeting spaces in 2019. The back-to-basics approach also reduces distraction and puts a focus on what matters most – the overall experience and service.
In addition, event organisers are seeking venues which can offer new space distributions and designs within the same room – or what can be called “flexible” meeting space.
• Bleisure booms
Bleisure – the fusion of business and leisure travel - will continue as meetings and event attendees combine a spate of business meeting and networking with an extended holiday in one trip. In 2019, hotels and resorts will look for more ways to accommodate these extended holidays through their amenities, offerings, and booking capabilities. More hotels will utilise group room booking software that gives the traveller the power to extend their stay during a conference with just a few clicks. They could upgrade their room and add additional guests without having to call or coordinate directly with the event organiser. More and more, the travel programs for companies are offering the flexibility of booking via a system that will allow them to turn a business trip into a bleisure one.
• The Local /cultural experience
The local and culturally immersive experience is already a trend and will continue to be so in 2019. With less focus on the major popular attractions of the location, more guests are driven by the desire to have a memorable experience in their locale. Offering excursions for attendees that are more off the beaten path, or unexpected will be a primary goal for organisers and venues. Additionally, the level of personal attention to helping organisers deliver these experiences will be a focus in the year ahead. We have seen more hotels that offer community experts, who know the destination inside and out, who play the role of host for the guests to help them get a true local’s perspective.
• The Foodie focus continues
While food has been a focus for quite some time, the last few years have been about the accommodation of dietary restrictions and special requests. Food options will go beyond that in 2019 as more hotels focus on food quality, diversity, which includes sourcing from local and/or organic producers and offering food demonstrations/classes in a bid to create a more memorable and interactive experience for their guests.
• Resort fees become common place
No one wants to hear about extra charges, but hotels need to survive and thrive too. In 2019, in the United States specifically, we are likely to see all hotels, not just resorts, charging mandatory additional fees, often labelled as resort fees. These charges can include a wide range of items and perks – from internet access, parking, fitness centres, airport shuttle service etc. The services and amenities included in these fees can vary drastically from property to property, which is why it’s so important to have complete transparency and clear communication about any potential hidden charges when negotiating your booking. While this practice may not be standardised in Europe right now, it will be interesting to see how European properties look to address these additional expenses without raising their room rates.
• Joining forces with disruptors
One thing is for certain - hospitality disruptors such as Airbnb and other home-sharing brands have shown that the industry is ripe for innovation and disruption. The hospitality industry has had to realise they need to adjust to the changing times. In 2019 and beyond, expect to see hoteliers working together with the likes of Airbnb and other disrupters to provide better flexibility and use home-sharing as an overflow strategy to satisfy group demand.
• Technology reigns supreme
Hotels and other venues realise that to meet group booking requirements, one of the non-negotiables is the provision of high-speed internet access, 24/7 onsite support and multiple device connectivity. Being able to offer this at scale comes down to having the proper technology to support it - so expect more venues to upgrade their technology services and offer more ways for guests to connect their personal devices to hotel services. Additional offerings including chatbots that use artificial intelligence to provide real-time support, or facial recognition to improve security are not far behind. What was once perceived as science fiction will become a reality for many hotels in 2019 and beyond.
• Hotels will raise their game on reward programmes
More hotels than ever, including independent and boutique hotels, are offering guests reward programmes to drive repeat business and loyalty. However, rather than simply using reward points for future stays, hoteliers are looking at different ways to make these programmes more of a draw for their guests including cash-back loyalty, complimentary car-hire, or unique enhancements offered only to loyal guests. Hotels are also looking to offer loyalty programmes that are more integrated and flexible – where rewards can be spent at the hotel or with third party partners like vouchers in retail shops. Partnerships are on the rise and even online travel agencies have loyalty programmes where guests can book different hotel brands for free.
• Hotel rates will become leaner and more restricted
Third-party sites and online travel agencies continue to attract customers with their discounted rates. In an effort to entice direct-book business in 2019, we will see more hotels offer the same rates as OTAs, but with fewer supplemental offerings. The rates may not include breakfast or complimentary WiFi or may come with certain restrictions including pre-payment or strict cancellation policies – so it is important to confirm with the property what the rates include. Booking direct means guests and groups can more easily customise their stay – making their experience much more enjoyable.