Business has not been "as usual" for several years, nor will it be in the year ahead. To overcome challenges and strengthen as an industry, we need to reframe our thinking and work collaboratively. That concept was the theme of Northstar Meetings Group’s annual Leadership Forum, held at The Resort at Pelican Hill in Newport Beach, Calif., this week.
A "Strategic Review and Outlook for the Meetings Industry," the event's opening session, set the stage for the continuing conversation among the forum’s 96 VIP participants during the 2 1/2-day program. The session consisted of a series of moderated discussions, featuring Geoff Freeman, CEO of the U.S. Travel Association; Chris Overholt, CEO of OverActive Media; Gerilyn Horan, vice president of group sales and strategic accounts for Hilton; and Allison Kinsley, founder of Kinsley Meetings.
How Can We Take the Hassle Out of Travel?
Just a few months into his leadership role at U.S. Travel, Geoff Freeman is seeking ways to drive growth in all segments of travel, including inbound international visitors, domestic business and leisure, and meetings and events. Some problems — such as years-long waits for visa applications, long delays at customs and immigration, and a shortage of air-traffic controllers — will require public policy changes.
But we also can make improvements without government involvement, said Freeman. The "alphabet soup of associations" in travel, meetings and hospitality need to work together to drive improvements and foster growth.
For a more efficient airport experience, perhaps the various trusted-traveler programs could work together, he suggested, and biometrics will soon expedite the general screening process, Freeman added.
Seizing the Opportunity of Esports
One growth strategy is to tap into fast-growing markets such as esports. While the action itself takes place in an imaginary world, fans are packing giant stadiums to see their favorite gamers and witness their talents on screens. For destinations with large venues to fill, this niche represents a huge opportunity, pointed out Chris Overholt of OverActive Media. By 2024, the esports audience is expected to grow to 1.6 billion globally.
A large portion of the younger generation thinks of esports as their sport of choice, said Overholt. "They are not inclined, like I am, to sit and watch three-plus hours of football or basketball." They watch esports and follow their favorite streamers or influencers — often simultaneously on multiple screens.
"By 2040, the Gen Z audience will represent more than $150 billion in consumer purchasing power," he added, "and yet they’re the hardest cohort to reach in the history of consumers." Any event strategy should identify ways to attract that audience.
A Compassionate Approach to Hotel Negotiations
As revealed in the Northstar/Cvent Meetings Industry PULSE Survey, tensions are running high between meeting planners and their hotel partners. Among sticking points are rates, contract terms, slow RFP response times and insufficient hotel staffing.
These are problems for both buyers and suppliers, stressed Hilton’s Gerilyn Horan and planner Allison Kinsley, and transparency is important. Understanding and empathy are wise negotiating strategies, the presenters agreed.
Hilton has trained sales teams to discuss the reasons for higher rates and other terms so the planner understands and can relay that information clearly to stakeholders. "We can at least help you explain the 'why,' so that it doesn't look like you're wearing it," said Horan. In an open conversation about the planner’s priorities, the property can help find some efficiencies.
Planners need to be asking some new questions, noted Kinsley. In particular, she has learned to ask for A/V pricing before signing a contract with a hotel. In one recent instance, the A/V quote was so high that it would have been less expensive for the client to pay a cancellation fee and move to another property than to pay the quoted price.
Relationships are essential, she added. "You don't try to form a relationship over the negotiating table. That's not a relationship; it’s a transaction. The relationship comes before that. And that's why we come to events like this — to form those relationships."
Success Through Selflessness
For guest speaker Jerome Avery, a three-time medalist guide runner with U.S. Paralympics Track & Field, selflessness fuels success. Competitive running with a blind teammate requires constant communication and absolute trust. In guiding record-holder David Brown, Avery learned that focusing his effort entirely on his partner’s performance was a gold-medal formula.
Avery told the audience: "As a leader, sometimes it’s important — when you have partners and people you work with — to take a step back and allow your partner to win."