Seeking Some Meetings Innovation? Ask Attendees.

How associations can take cues from what one hotel brand recently did to encourage new ideas and innovations from guests and apply them to their meetings.

Earlier this year Marriott International unveiled two new initiatives with a dual purpose: to attract more millennial and tech-savvy guests to their properties and to increase guest satisfaction.

The design concepts conceived and perfected will make the future of travel a reality, sooner.

The first is an Innovation Lab at its Bethesda, Maryland, headquarters. This 10,000-square-foot underground lab is dedicated to promoting collaboration and innovation. It is essentially a blank canvas for architects, designers, employees, and even customers to use to test new ideas and concepts. For example, the Marriott design team can try out new guestroom and meeting space layouts. Then visitors can be brought down to the space to give on-the-spot feedback with it comes to these innovations. The space also has bird’s-eye view cameras that allow staffers to record reactions and share them immediately.

“When we decided to transform this expansive unused space hidden beneath headquarters, we blasted through walls and left the old ideas of a ‘design space’ behind. We tapped into the best technology to create an ever-changing lab for innovation, experiencing ideas, exploring concepts, and receiving instant feedback from guests,” said Paul Cahill, senior vice president, brand management for Marriott Hotels, in a press release. “The design concepts conceived and perfected will make the future of travel a reality, sooner.”

The second initiative is its Travel Brilliantly campaign’s online portal, which is a place for the brand—an ASAE Alliance Partner—to crowdsource ideas and solicit guest feedback. Visitors to the site can share their ideas to improve the travel experience across design, culinary, wellness, and technology. Ideas submitted through the end of this month will be entered into a Co-Creation contest, where three judges will identify top ideas. Fifteen first-prize winners will be chosen, and the judges will then choose the creator of the best overall idea, who will have the opportunity to travel with and design future innovations alongside Marriott experts. Two examples submitted so far include a Social Concierge app that highlights local events based on guests’ personal interests and a program that allows guests to choose how they’d like their room to smell each evening.

These two things got me thinking about how it could apply to associations and their meetings: What if you could not only solicit ideas from meeting attendees on what they’d like to see at upcoming events and receive on-the-spot feedback on some internal ideas but also help bring them to life? Imagine how much more engagement you may create around future events.

While Marriott has a lot more space and budget to do this than almost all associations, here are three ways I thought organizations could apply something similar to their meetings and events:

1. Create a Meetings Test Kitchen. Wondering what attendees would think of a different breakout session setup or tradeshow floor layout? Set aside an extra meeting room at your conference or even use part of the tradeshow floor to give attendees the opportunity to take a look at what these new spaces would look like. Or even just put some tables and chairs in the space, and give them free rein to design their “perfect learning environment.” If you don’t have the space to use actual tables and chairs, consider small-scale models or give attendees large sheets of paper and markers to sketch them out.

2.  Hold a Meetings Innovation Contest. Create a place on your website or use your association’s private social-networking tool or social media accounts, and ask members to submit their best meeting idea. Once the ideas are submitted, let members and attendees vote to select the best one. The prize for the winner could be free registration as well as recognition when the idea is implemented at a meeting.

3. Organize a Frequent Attendee Forum. Considering overhauling one of your meetings? Take a look at your attendee lists from the last few years, and invite those who have attended most often to a one-day forum. It could be part focus group, part open idea exchange, but in the end, your association should have plenty of ideas to create a conference that generates greater engagement and higher attendee satisfaction.

How else do you think associations can solicit ideas from their meeting attendees? Or what new things have you introduced at your meetings or events that came directly from attendee feedback? Please share in the comments.


Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editor-in-chief of Associations Now. MORE

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