The Year Ahead: Outlook for 2019
With the holiday season officially in the rear-view mirror, resolutions made (some already broken), and calendars having flipped to January, once again it is time to look into the proverbial crystal ball and see what hospitality industry experts are predicting with regard to trends worth watching for 2019 and beyond.
Providing insight from a variety of perspectives, each of these venue/destination representatives and service providers draws on his or her own unique experiences that have helped shape their view of where the industry currently stands, as well as where it soon might be headed.
Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau
Pocono Mountains, PA
David M. Jackson, CMP, vice president of sales for the Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau, says he expects the meetings industry to continue to be a sellers’ market through 2019.
He also expects that planners will be more interested in knowing what security measures and programs are being utilized by lodging and event facilities. This will result in more formal security plans being drawn out during the sales process and later passed along to both delegates and guests.
“Successes will come from second and third tier cities in the form of increased demand and revenues,” predicts Jackson. “Planners will be looking at new destinations that fall into the ‘road less traveled’ mold. Reasons include affordability, farm-to-table ideas, change of pace for their delegates, as well as flexibility. In other words, the little guys are going to look even better to planners and will offer a safe haven for their meetings and events.”
As for the Pocono Mountains CVB’s goals for 2019, Jackson expects to continue to grow the medical and pharmaceutical markets in the area. He also hopes to attract larger conventions (500-plus delegates), increase international guest travel, and to continue to build the region’s reputation as a clean and green destination for meetings and group events.
Visit Bucks County
Bucks County, PA
Jenna Worrell, business development and events manager for Visit Bucks County, says that no matter which sector of the hospitality industry she observes, she sees a broad experience being in the mix of top trends. “Visitors and event goers both are looking for a well-rounded and full range of experiences to integrate into their plans, including: adventure, culinary, culture, history, hands-on experiential and more.”
Worrell also foresees an emphasis on catering more to the “new-gen sector,” which is a softer term she prefers to use for the Millennial generation. “With it being the largest generation in the nation, the growing demand to meet the needs of the new-gen is essential for the success of the meetings and events industry. In doing so, I think an approach to “bleisure” marketing (a blending of business and leisure), work-life balance, enhancing the overall meeting and event ‘experience,’ and incorporating health and wellness are all attractive to the new-gen.”
Worrell adds that she also believes the tourism events industry is all about becoming a “one stop shop” with everything the client needs in one convenient location. “Whether the client is traveling for leisure or business, I think spaces that provide the best on-site amenities, which are pertinent as part of site and destination selection, will be the most successful.”
She notes that Visit Bucks County focuses on being innovative with regard to education, events/scheduled initiatives, as well as marketing. “We strive to stay on top of trends to keep Bucks County top-of-mind for tourism, off-site meetings, corporate events, leisure travel, groups, retreats, team building, weddings and more.”
Worrell says that the bureau’s staff members take part in educational opportunities pertaining to tourism, meeting/event groups, and marketing. “We partner with leading industry members and incorporate top trends in our scheduled events. As for marketing, we are putting an emphasis on video production to market the Bucks County region.
Spooky Nook Sports
“People now, more so than ever, want to feel like they’re a part of something larger than themselves - even when they go to work each day,” explains Jonathan Snavely, director of sales and marketing for Spooky Nook Sports. “Whether that’s a day of team building or planning a large banquet, companies will need to find new and exciting ways to invest in their employees and to show that they care.”
As a whole, too, he says, consumers want less friction in their buying process. “We look for transactions that provide as little back-and-forth as possible. To that end, venues have to make it as simple as possible - or, at least, seemingly so - to do business with every type of customer and request.”
Right now, Spooky Nook is keeping a close eye on the eSports industry, Snavely explains. “With its revenue expected to exceed one billion dollars in 2019, we are exploring how we can customize our space and offerings to host their events.”
He adds that Spooky Nook will be investing more in its current customers in 2019, as well. “Our current customers are our greatest asset, and we will see growth from their repeat business and referrals.”
Advanced Staging Productions
Headquarters: West Chester, PA
Jason Showers has been with Advanced Staging Productions for over 16 years. As a member of the executive leadership team and in his role as vice president of production, he oversees all of the company’s technical production elements, including production design and processes, creative vision, technical engineering, safety training and documentation. Showers also is involved in business development and the strategic positioning of Advanced Staging in the marketplace, and he is an ETCP certified rigger (arena) and entertainment electrician.
“We are in the event technology management business, merging our knowledge of equipment, processes and people to bring creative visions to life,” Showers explains. “In this segment of the industry we are seeing a trend toward brighter, faster and better tech in every area… between all departments and more stable and reliable delivery systems available year upon year. Our expertise in choosing the right equipment is becoming an all the more critical factor to the success of the project.”
He adds that, with so much impressive technology available at price points lower than ever, there’s increased competition in the industry, too, “so leveraging your relationships with other vendor partners is going to be more of a factor in success than in years past, especially for other companies in our segment of the industry. We have been developing national partnerships for the last two decades and we have seen this effort pay great dividends in 2017-2018, and we are planning for this to be a key factor to our success in 2019 and beyond.”
Showers also says that Advanced Staging is thankful to say that they are now seeing a major increase in focus on the topic of event safety. “We have been corporate sponsors of the Event Safety Alliance (eventsafetyalliance.org) for the last five years, and over this time we have seen this non-profit association grow exponentially. The growth is due to the spread of interest within our industry in promoting safe working conditions, official training and certifications, mental health awareness, and finally getting up to the level of other industries when it comes to safe work practices. We have taken this and applied it to our own organization and really worked toward creating a safety culture, starting at the individual level.”
There are several programs available for other companies who are looking to continue this trend both internally and externally, Showers advises. Whether this is documenting safe work practices, wearing PPE when appropriate, attending a safety conference such as the Event Safety Summit, providing OSHA 10/30 training to one’s workforce, offering more specialized safety training such as the ESAT Core training program, encouraging the technical staff to become ETCP Certified technicians, or simply subscribing to a complimentary publication like Event Safety Insights.
“Everyone has a way they can participate in event safety,” he continues. “Our approach has been to do every one of the items on that list, and we think this approach will be a trend with other companies, as well - or we hope so, at least.”
Showers says Advanced Staging also is hoping to see greater collaboration between other in-house providers, their clients and vendors such as themselves. “As companies grow and spread their reach to market regions outside of the local area, collaborative partnerships will be a key factor in everyone being successful. As a vendor providing top flight event technology management for events all over the Mid-Atlantic region, as well as on a national level, our ability to ‘play well with others’ is a big part of our success story, and we expect this to continue in 2019. A major factor in this successful collaboration is having everyone connected early on in the planning process, especially during the budgeting and design phases.”
Among Advanced Staging’s goals and objectives for 2019 - in addition to the standard business objectives of supporting all of their clients in achieving their creative dreams while maintaining a great working environment for their staff and technicians - “We are planning to strengthen our national partnerships, add to our ever-increasing inventory of LED video products, and continue to nourish our culture of event safety from the individual, managerial and leadership level,” explains Showers.
“We will be providing several additional members of our staff with time and resources to become ETCP certified technicians in 2019,” he continues. “Our goal, as an organization, is to have nearly 75 percent of our technical staff maintain ETCP certifications by the end of 2019. For a company in our segment of the industry, this is a ratio that is very rare.”
Tropicana Atlantic City
Atlantic City, NJ
“2018 was a strong year for meetings and conventions at Tropicana Atlantic City, and with the business contracted for 2019 so far, we anticipate another successful year,” observes Jim Ziereis, vice president of hotel sales for Tropicana. “The word is spreading about our $200 million in renovations and expansions over the last two years, including the addition of the Chelsea Tower. In 2018, Tropicana introduced four new amenities in the tower: Chelsea Five Gastropub; Cabana Five Bar and Pool Deck’ Oasis Pool; and Whiskey Five Bar. We are successfully winning bids to host groups as a result of these improvements.”
While groups expect upscale accommodations, value is still important to their bottom line, Ziereis explains. “We are fortunate to have a large inventory of over 2,200 rooms, which allows us to meet many groups’ targeted rate when they are looking for midweek patterns that are less highly in demand than weekend nights. We are seeing a trend toward team building from the corporate segment, and our Escape AC amenity is a great option with four separate rooms that encourage team work and collaboration to successfully ‘escape’ the rooms in under an hour.”
Ziereis adds that repeat business is an important measurement for Tropicana, because it speaks to the property’s service levels in addition to its amenities. “We always look to turn a smaller departmental corporate meeting into a larger one that the company may hold in the future. In the same light, we thrive on word of mouth where a group has a successful event and we will receive another meeting as a direct result of the planner becoming an extension of our sales team.”
Atlantic City, being geographically located within close proximity of major populated Northeastern U.S. cities, makes the destination a very appealing one, he notes. “While we have a strong association, union, and social group representation, the corporate market segment has been on a steady increase year after year. If the economy continues to be strong, we anticipate the corporate meetings and conferences to continue to flourish in 2019.”
La Belle Helene
(Constellation Culinary Group)
Michael Rouleau, Executive Chef for La Belle Helene predicts that vegetables will be taking center stage in the year ahead and beyond. "A trend I’m most looking forward to in 2019 is the expansion of vegetables from the side of the dish to the main attraction. As our culture becomes increasingly more health-conscious, people are starting to realize how versatile vegetables can be. Veggie-centric alternatives for starches and even meats have grown significantly, from cauliflower mash and celery root puree replacing traditional potato dishes to the many different vegetables you can serve as an alternative for pasta, the veggie revolution is welcome in my book. I love surprising and delighting the most devout carnivores with substantial, flavorful veggie dishes."
Kalahari Resorts and Conventions, Pocono Mountains
Pocono Manor, PA
According to Tifani Jones, corporate director of sales for Kalahari Resorts and Conventions, “Due to overall demand on meeting space in the marketplace, we are starting to see a spike in multi-year agreement requests. We anticipate this trend will continue in 2019. Additionally, we continue to see a high demand for connectivity. Meeting professionals want to ensure available technology is adaptable to their changing needs.”
Another trend that seems to cross all demographics is wellness, she says. “Meeting professionals are seeking healthier menu options that support learning. Educational sessions are including mini-breaks and walking meetings to keep participants engaged.”
Jones notes that the demand to capture and keep the attention of attendees is a difficult task for meeting professionals. She says that events that help to transition the audience from attendees to participants are set for success in 2019. Soliciting content from participants and adjusting the program in the moment are ways to encourage engagement in today’s meeting environment, she explains.
“Meeting and event professionals need strong partnerships to deliver on programs that provide great experiences for their participants. Kalahari Resorts and Conventions is focused on increasing our collaboration to deliver those experiences,” Jones asserts.
Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority
“In 2019, I believe the meetings and convention industry will see an increased focus on evaluating and utilizing data in a way that allows venues and meeting planners to create a highly personalized attendee experience,” predicts John J. McNichol, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority. “This trend plays to one of our strengths at the Pennsylvania Convention Center (PCC). We have a strong ability to customize meetings and conventions given the broad range of flexible event and meeting space at our facility. The convention services team for the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau, which works with our PCC team, is adept at curating the environment clients want to create for their customers, both from a visual and experiential perspective.”
At the Pennsylvania Convention Center, McNichol says the staff works closely with facility manager SMG to gain insight from customers in advance of their events. This includes gaining a strong understanding of the demographics of a customer’s attendees, the pace and schedule of events, and what the meeting planner, attendees, and exhibitors are looking to achieve.
“The information we receive from our customers during the planning stage helps our team to guide meeting planners through the process with advice, innovative service options, and, hopefully, a keener sense of intuition to stay ahead of customer expectations,” explains McNichol. “After a meeting concludes, we like to conduct follow up surveys and discussions with meeting planners to understand what worked best for them, as well as identify opportunities for improvement or future innovations that we can implement, which will benefit new customers.”
“We recently worked with students from Temple University in reviewing market and social trends that affect our center,” he adds. “One of the key takeaways, at least from my perspective, is that millennials are moving deeper into the role of meeting professionals. Priorities of those millennial meeting planners include the features of meeting facilities, staff friendliness, the quality and diversity of food and beverage options, and of course, profitability.”
“We also see a trend toward using more visual social media, such as pictures of farm-to-table menus and other amenities as ways to open communication and to convey information,” he adds. “We are seeing more creative design at convention centers and other meeting facilities. Standard room sets (like classroom-style seating) are less appealing to attendees. There is an increased interest in utilizing breakout areas for patrons to socialize, conduct business, and network.”
In addition, social media is driving organic interactions outside of traditional program constraints. Spontaneous subject “meet-ups” are gaining popularity, especially among millennials. Owning this digital space is becoming more of a priority for meeting planners. McNichol says that venues need to recognize this trend and work with meeting planners to help facilitate and accommodate this new approach.
“In Philadelphia, we anticipate that 2019 will be one of our strongest convention calendars since the early 2000s,” McNichol asserts. “There are a few different things that are driving that success. First, we made a commitment to listen to our customers, understand their priorities, and adjust the way we operate. It was a cultural and organizational change that we consciously undertook. Our commitment to innovation and creative design is always on the minds of our leadership and team members. Customers appreciate that their voices are being heard and that changes are being made based on their feedback. The meeting and event industry is very closely knit, so that type of genuine focus on understanding customer needs and then following through on it quickly spreads by word of mouth.”
“Second,” he continues, “at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, we are fortunate to have one of the most versatile buildings in the country with more than one million square feet of saleable space. That provides a solid foundation for our sales efforts that puts us in the running to win business. But what we are finding really sets us apart from many competitors is our location in the heart of Center City Philadelphia. As a result, we have an incredible inventory of nearby hotels at a variety of price points that appeal to many meeting planners.”
In addition, McNichol notes that attendees and exhibitors also have the benefit of a range of experiences within walking distance of the convention center. This includes historical attractions, museums and other cultural venues, restaurants and cafes, nightlife, and more. “In the years ahead, I believe meeting planners who recognize the value of these outside, add-on experiences - and use them as a selling point - will see greater success in driving increased attendance and exhibitor participation in their event.”
In addition, the center’s marketing partner, the PHLCVB, continues to strengthen its marketing efforts in Europe, China, India, Australia and other overseas markets. The city’s success in hosting major events in recent years, such as the World Meeting of Families and the 2016 Democratic National Convention, has helped to keep Philadelphia front of mind for meeting planners in the region, across the U.S., and also internationally.
“Overall, I am very happy with the direction we are headed,” reflects McNichol. “In the coming years, I intend to focus heavily on identifying new, innovative ways to reach our customers. For example, we will host a meetup interaction focused around a unique farm-to-table culinary experience for our customers during the 2019 Philadelphia Flower Show. We are planning to host additional customer interactions with a similar focus - delivering an experience for our customers while showcasing our facility and amenities - throughout the year. And… we want to continue to play the role of ‘connector,’ where we help meeting planners to lay out a holistic experience for their attendees.”
There is much to look forward to with the start of a brand-new year. The hospitality industry is buzzing with excitement over the new opportunities that 2019 will bring. The insight offered by each of these industry experts provides perhaps a glimpse into the future of meetings and events throughout the Mid-Atlantic region.