Commissions, consolidation, data privacy, diversity, budgets… These were among the hot topics of discussion during the IMEX America trade show this month in Las Vegas. Following are 10 areas of concern that rose to the fore, as discussed with industry experts during the event.
1. Real engagement is still elusive.
The question everyone's asking is: "How do we get people to connect in new ways?," said Mike Dominguez, senior vice president and chief sales officer for MGM Resorts International. "We think of technology as a solution, instead of as a vehicle to enhance engagement. How can we use technology to help engagement? I don't think we've figured it out yet. Our industry talks about the light switch, and where the current goes through, and how the light turns on -- but why is important to have light? What is the why? What are we trying to solve for?"
Some of the large tech companies are very effective at using new technologies to enhance engagement, Dominguez added. But, "as a broader industry, I don't think we're moving fast enough."
2. We aren't letting the magic happen.
The most successful ideas are organic in nature, unplanned and unscripted, noted Dominguez. "Think of the Ice-Bucket Challenge," he said. "That started with a friend helping a friend. It was organic, and it can't be replicated. When I look at meetings, we have structured what 100 percent of the agenda looks like, and we don't leave a percentage of time to be real. I think meetings should be 80 percent planned and let 20 percent be organic -- let 20 percent be real. For days one and two, you can use technology to find out what people want to discuss that is not on the agenda. I think that's the piece that's missing with meetings. When you survey attendees after a meeting and find that they didn't like the content, often it's because it wasn't about what they wanted to talk about."
3. Diversity: We're not getting it yet.
"It's very important that we are focused on diversity -- and not just male/female," noted Lisa Messina, vice president of sales at Caesars Entertainment Corp. "I'm fortunate to work with people who understand that you can be part of the solution vs. being told about the solution. That commitment only translates to the meeting customers you serve if you're running your business that way."
Added Dominguez, "We need to focus on diversity of thought. It's impossible to get that without different backgrounds. We have to look at diversity differently."
4. Commission cuts are hitting home.
"Right now, the support we're getting from our third parties is through the roof," said Dominguez. In the weeks following Marriott's decision to reduce third-party commissions from 7 to 10 percent, Dominguez told M&C that MGM remained committed to its third-party relationships and saw no reason to change its commission structure. The feedback was swift from clients, including a large pharma company that said MGM had just moved to the top of its list of preferred hotel brands. Chains that reduced commissions might not have anticipated the direct effect on corporations, said Dominguez. "The unintended consequence is that commission cuts are hurting SMM programs," many of which rely on commissions to fund their departments.
Hotel companies that held the line on commissions already are reaping the rewards, but the full impact will be felt in force in 2019, as the meetings booked at the lower commission rate take place.
5. Responsibility for security is still up for grabs.
"I don't know what it is about this industry, but nobody wants to take ownership of the security parameters of their events," said Kevin Iwamoto, senior vice president at GoldSpring Consulting and author of M&C's "Industry Insights" blog. Meeting planners tend to assume this is someone else's area. Wrong!
"The fact is that you and your event could be liable for any damages and potential litigation that might ensue if you do not ensure that appropriate levels of insurance and other protocols/procedures are in place, that attendees and company staff are safe, that appropriate security measures are executed and duty of care, as well as duty to rescue, are implemented," Iwamoto detailed in a recent blog post on this topic.
6. Insurance coverage might not apply.
Lack of awareness regarding personal safety and insurance coverage is pervasive, too, according to Iwamoto. "It's things that we don't think about that are most concerning," he said. "Let's say you went to a conference in Budapest and decide to stay a few days extra for personal time. The moment you stop the clock on work and your time is personal, that's all on you. If something happens, you are not covered by your company. And what about a partner or spouse traveling with you? Again, assumptions are often wrong."
7. Consolidation is not a good thing.
"Fewer companies means less choice at higher prices," said Iwamoto. "They kind of go hand in hand." Sources agree consolidation will continue, as many chains are still actively pursuing acquisitions.
8. Our data is too vulnerable.
"Our industry still has a long way to go for data privacy," said Iwamoto. "Down to the event-planner level, what are some things you should be a looking to do, to be as safe as you could possibly be? That goes hand in hand with GDPR. All the phishing and hacking, especially from foreign countries, is a huge concern. We have very unfriendly countries basically targeting us and our infrastructure. In our industry, where we have access to all of someone's private data, including credit-card information, it's just a matter of time until some country or major hacker says, ‘Hey this is a goldmine.' This is easy pickings, and it's already started. Look at how many hotel companies have been hacked. It's just a matter of time before something even worse happens."
9. Jobs are ripe for disruption.
"Planners have a lot of fear and trepidation around technology," said Iwamoto. "A lot of people are not comfortable with it. They are afraid it's going to interfere with their jobs. But this industry is really just ripe for disruption. Some manpower and manual tasks -- the churn-and-burn stuff -- can be automated. Instead of a human body chasing people to book their hotel rooms, you can have a bot chasing you and giving you options to book. You can redeploy the human aspect into more strategic and tactical roles."
Iwamoto added, "Look at what happened in the automotive industry: People used to say only humans could build cars. Well, now a robot is building your car, and humans have moved on to quality control."
10. Budgets must allow for the unknown.
It's easy to budget based on history, but what about the surprises that lurk on the horizon? The unknowns foul up the best-laid plans. Iwamoto offers sage advice in "7 Ways to Budget for the Unpredictable in 2019."