What to Watch: Hilton Exec Predicts Top Meeting Trends of 2019

Frank Passanante, Hilton's senior vice president of sales, Americas, says gatherings will thrive on versatile spaces, sustainability, wellness and breakouts that give back.

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The global meetings industry has experienced four consecutive years of growth, according to American Express Meetings & Events' "2019 Global Meetings and Events Forecast." Against this backdrop, hoteliers like Hilton Worldwide are collaborating closely with meeting and event planners to maintain the industry's momentum. To find out what it will take to keep the industry on top, Successful Meetings asked veteran Hilton senior vice president of sales for the Americas region, Frank Passanante, what trends he foresees in the year ahead.

Instead of making a U-turn toward untested ideas, Passanante's predictions suggest that meeting planners should stay the course by continuing to embrace three things that have already been proven to fuel meetings excellence: meeting spaces and design experiences, wellness and sustainability, and rewarding breakouts. Here's what Passanante told us, just as Hilton is poised to celebrate its 100th anniversary in this new year. 

You've identified several trends for meetings and events. The first is in the area of "Meeting Spaces & Design Experiences." What should planners expect in this realm in 2019?

Today's meeting planners and business travelers are looking for features that set a space apart from the mundane, but that remain functional. We are seeing an increasing desire for open and communal workspaces, where people can work independently yet still feel connected to energy of others around them.

Some Hilton properties are already leading this trend. For example, last year we opened DoubleTree by Hilton Vail (Colo.), which leverages a partnership with Proximity.Space to allow guests to work, play and relax -- all in the lounge area -- and is also the first coworking space in Vail. This pilot is a new kind of partnership built on the idea of Lifestyle Coworking -- making it easy for people to pivot between work and play so that they no longer need to choose between the two. DoubleTree by Hilton Vail guests can access high-speed Internet, comfortable workspace, conference rooms and free coffee from our in-house restaurant and bar Pivot62. 

In 2019 we will also see a renewed focus on ways to incorporate natural elements authentic to the destination, as well as tactful design strategies that bring the outdoors in. At some properties, multifunctional spaces with glass walls can accomplish this by allowing guests to close off a space or to easily open it up to the outdoors to create an extended, open space. 

I like to say that "Cleveland comes to life" in the Hilton Cleveland Downtown, with floor-to-ceiling windows in all guest rooms and nearly all meeting spaces, featuring unparalleled views of the city scape and Lake Erie. The lobby is ensconced in steel structures representative of the steel industry and $1.5 million worth of artwork, 95 percent of which is from local artists. 

At properties where a combined outdoor/indoor space isn't an option, we see hotels including elements like natural light or live and preserved greenery through green walls, creating an engaging visual and connection to nature for our guests.

The second trend you've identified is in the area of "Wellness & Sustainability." These concepts have been shaping hospitality and group travel for some time now. What will be new or different in 2019 compared to past years?

The focus on sustainable and healthy events has been around for some time, but we see a renewed interest in this area as Millennials now make up the largest part of the workforce. To address this growing desire, we have introduced enterprisewide offerings that make it easier for guests to incorporate wellness into their daily schedules, even when they are in meetings for the majority of their time. Meet with Purpose, for example, helps meeting professionals address the growing desire among attendees to incorporate wellness and sustainability in the meetings and events space. 

One of Meet with Purpose's offerings, Yoga and Yogurt, allows attendees a chance to participate in an expertly led yoga class and then visit a gourmet yogurt parfait bar for a healthy, balanced breakfast, all before their morning meetings begin. 

Five Feet to Fitness, Hilton's revolutionary in-room wellness concept, brings 11 different fitness equipment and accessory options into the hotel room. The rooms make it more convenient than ever for road warriors, exercise enthusiasts and those who prefer to work out in private to maintain their routines while staying with Hilton.

On the heels of this trend, in 2019 we expect to see more and more hotels applying their own unique spin on sustainability and wellness. Take, for example, the Hilton Sedona Resort at Bell Rock, which has everything guests need to train, like a Wellness Warrior in its outdoor red sand Warrior Pit. The outdoor boot camp playground is complete with tires, ropes, sledgehammers and anchors. The Pit hosts weekly classes led by a seasoned cross-training instructor, or guests can exercise when they choose. The resort's Wellness Warrior package includes a private training session in the Pit and unlimited fitness classes at the Sedona Athletic Club, such as Aqua Yoga, Tai Chi and Qi Gong.

The Hilton Cape Rey Carlsbad introduced the BE WELL program, a new whole-body wellness program that makes it easy to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Highlights of the Be Well program include a wellness menu, an on-property personalized nutrition coach, personal and executive training sessions in the resort gym or outdoors, group fitness classes and custom wellness activities for larger groups, ranging from Surf 'Board Meetings' to mini melt-down group spa treatments. 

I encourage meeting planners to work with our hotel team members to ensure their events are fully customized to meet attendees' needs every step of the way. Wellness and sustainability can be incorporated in many different ways, and we love working with planners to surprise and delight attendees. 

The third and final trend you've identified is in the area of "Rewarding Breakouts." What will be new or different this year?

Across the industry, we're beginning to see an uptick in smaller, more intimate team meetings being booked. What's great about these smaller meetings is the flexibility they allow meeting professionals to partner with our hotel teams to create one-of-a-kind breakouts that not only energize, but reward, attendees. 

Hilton's Meet with Purpose program is ideal for these group settings. It provides an opportunity for attendees to step away from the traditional meeting space to individually recharge, engage with other attendees and connect with the local community. 

The program was launched in 2015 with a handful of breakouts -- the most popular being Puppies & Ice Cream, a playful meeting break for attendees to enjoy ice cream and play time with local dogs available for adoption, and Blooms & Cheer, a chance to allow guests to create their own unique flower agreement to take home or donate to a local organization.  

Today, we continue to evolve the program with new activities that help attendees give back to the communities and causes they care about. One of the great things about Meet with Purpose is that it is entirely adaptable to your event and message. Our team members can work with planners to create and conceptualize unique and wow-worthy experiences. In 2019, you can expect us to offer more individualized and purpose-based initiatives at our properties. 

What else are you seeing in terms of trends that will shape the business in 2019? Are there any other observations you'd like to share?

Long gone are the days where meeting and events attendees are satisfied with a one-size-fits-all meeting experience. Attendees crave unique, rewarding and impactful experiences. To this end, we foresee health and wellness, sustainability, and space and design as the key trends that will shape the business in 2019.