Trends Watch: How Do Travel Megatrends Affect Association Meetings?

Skift magazine identified 12 key megatrends defining travel in 2015 that also play a role in the way association meetings are designed and executed. Here’s how.

No matter what industry you work in, it can be hard to stay on top of the latest and greatest trends, whether that’s due to financial constraints or something else. And then sometimes the reverse is true: You get so caught up in staying on trend that you lose sight of the bigger picture and fail to realize that some trends will have no impact on your customers, or in the case of meetings, your attendees.

But if you can suss out what trends—both large and small—are likely to affect your audience most, you’ll be able to design and execute meetings that leave your attendees happier and more satisfied.

Those were just some thoughts that came to mind as I was reading travel industry website Skift’s first ever-magazine, which identified 12 megatrends shaping travel this year and in the future.  While the list is interesting and worthy of a read, here are the three trends I think are most applicable to association conferences and meetings :

Hospitality is now driving innovation in travel. Writer Rafat Ali says, “For the first time since online bookings of travel became mainstream, hotels are being rewired and rethought from top to bottom, and every part of hospitality is being turned over, questioned, and retooled.”

He credits this to consumers becoming much more self-reliant and mobile-dependent. As a result, hotels are reconfiguring their lobbies, guest rooms, and restaurants, as well as striving to find the “the right mix of digital and human interactions to create guest experiences that are personalized enough while respecting privacy, as digitally empowered consumers demand a lot more.”

One hotel jumping on board with this is Hyatt, which last week announced a new hotel brand called Hyatt Centric. Among its features: The hotels will be located in city centers; artwork, furniture, food, and beverages will be customized to the destination; they’ll offer “knock and drop” room service; a space called “The Corner” will allow guests to socialize, work, and read a curated collection of local books and magazines; and the hotel will be staffed by a mix of in-room technologies and in-person associates.

Association conferences, like hotels, are seeing these same self-reliant, mobile-dependent attendees who want to customize their conference experiences. Associations may want to follow suit and make an effort to offer smaller, comfortable spaces for checking email and networking with fellow attendees, as well as offer technologies and onsite staff so that attendees can choose how much interaction they want.

The conference and event industry is going through a creative renaissance. Author Greg Oates credits conferences like SXSW and TED with shaking up the events industry and  causing many meeting planners to rework their own conferences.

“Event planners are building more interdisciplinary events by bringing new voices from new sectors into the experience to deliver more layered meaning and context,” Oates says.

For associations, this may mean bringing in speakers and keynoters from outside their industries who can show how larger-scale trends and other global forces are starting to—or will soon—affect the work attendees do.

Oates also says that major events will no longer take place during a specific time and place: “Instead, the event of the future is an integrated, open-source, knowledge-sharing ecosystem.”

While not every association will be able to compete with the likes of SXSW and TED, planners may want to consider how to make their meetings year-round events, whether that’s through offering virtual experiences or providing content pre- or post-meeting.

Downsizing on design and moving toward simplicity. “Bring-your-own-device means that travel providers with a solid WiFi network can radically rethink how they use space and what they offer guests,” says Dan Peltier. He cites smaller hotel desks and slimline seats on planes as examples.

“The best designs are the ones which don’t require the guest to do any problem solving,” he says. That means having plenty of outlets—in rooms and in public place like lobbies and meeting rooms—so that guests can find them where they want to use them. It also means having open, welcoming, and bright spaces where guests can socialize and relax.

How many meetings have you been to where attendees are sitting on the floor next to an outlet charging their devices when there are plenty of open seats at tables? While charging stations are a nice addition, associations also may want to consider tables with built-in chargers so that attendees don’t feel inconvenienced when they hit low battery levels. Also, build “white spaces” for attendees where they can relax, rejuvenate, network, and absorb what they learned, particularly during a days-long meeting

Other trends on Skift’s list that have started to affect association conferences: mobile pay, wearable tech, and alternative travel services like Airbnb and Uber.

How is your association thinking about broader travel trends when it comes to your conferences or events? Share your thoughts in the comments.


Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

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

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