Three Disruptions Affecting Meetings and Contracts

New technology, changing attendee behavior, and alternative lodging options are a few elements disrupting association meetings. At a Learning Lab during the ASAE Annual Meeting & Expo earlier this week, presenters discussed their impact.

As the Bob Dylan song goes, “Times they are a-changin’.”

And these changing times will affect associations on a number of fronts, including membership, marketing, and meetings.

If you are caught off guard, you’ll take a big wallop to your bottom line and negotiating power.

It was the latter that was the topic of the “Disruptive Developments: A Candid Conversation About Future Meeting Contracts” Learning Lab earlier this week at the  2015 ASAE Annual Meeting & Exposition.

Presenters MaryAnne Bobrow, CMP, CMM, CHE, CAE, president of Bobrow Associates, Inc., and Jonathan Howe, JD, senior and founding partner/president-CEO of Howe & Hutton, Ltd., discussed how addressing these disruptions now will allow you to avoid financial disaster in the future, especially when it come comes to negotiating contracts.

After all, associations often sign meetings contracts years in advance. If they don’t give some consideration to elements disrupting the industry, it will likely hit their bottom line. “After all, what you’re doing today you may not be doing six months from now,” Bobrow said. “So imagine how much different the meetings landscape may look for a meeting in 2020 that you’re currently contracting.”

Here are three things disrupting the industry that Bobrow and Howe suggest organizations consider now as they begin planning and contracting future meetings.

Technology advancements. Associations must think about webcasts and other free streaming education that is directly competing with them. “They are really going to begin to affect an association’s bottom line—if they haven’t already,” Bobrow said. “You need to consider how you are going to be more nimble and compete.”

The same goes with hybrid meetings. As they grow and your members become more comfortable attending a meeting both face to face and online, what does that mean to your in-person attendance numbers in the future? “This is something associations need to think about now,” said Howe. “If you can’t guarantee the same level of attendance to hotels and venues, then you need to consider monetizing your online events.”

The next big question mark always is what comes next in technology. “And the scary part is nobody knows,” said Bobrow. “But you need to account for it in your contracts.”

Alternative and next-generation lodging. Last week I blogged about the rise of the sharing economy, the likes of Airbnb and so forth, and how they may affect your official housing block and negotiating power.

Bobrow and Howe agree that these type of lodging options are having an impact. “If people want to have these sorts of options and are booking them already, how do you take them into account when you’re looking at contracts for meetings three, five, or 10 years out?”  Bobrow said.

She and Howe recommend that meeting planners ask a destination about the other types of lodging available beyond the usual headquarters hotels. Howe said it is projected that an additional 30-plus hotel brands will enter the marketplace in the next five years. “Know your demographics and the type of situations you will face with attendees,” Howe said. “This will help you determine the housing options to consider in your future contracts. Using your current data will pay off for you in terms of your bottom line in the future.”

After all, Howe said hotel contracts are based on “heads in the beds.” He suggested that associations think about what their group needs and wants. “Because if you can’t make those numbers, you’re not going to be successful in negotiating a very good contract,” he said.

Bobrow also suggested that meeting contracts in the future may not include hotel rooms, given people’s increasing allegiances to certain hotel brands. Instead, contracts may only cover meeting spaces and venues.

Attendee behavior. “This area is changing dramatically,” Bobrow said. “How many of you are noticing that attendees are no longer staying at your closing event?”

Bobrow shared the anecdote of a fellow planner who had 15,000 registered meeting attendees. “Guess how many stayed for the closing party?” she asked. Only 500.

“Think about your food and beverage allocated for that,” she said. “What’s that going to do for your numbers? It’s going to be bad financially, and it’s going to look bad.” Attendees in the audience shared similar stories, with one sharing that only 75 out of 600 stayed for the closing party of her recent conference.

Howe said that attendees are beginning to prioritize flying home over spending that last night at a party. “They want to minimize the time they’re away from home and their families and their companies,” he said. “In other words, you have to give people a good reason to stay.”

“We need to start having conversations about all of these things now,” she said. “Because you don’t want to be in the position where you’re surprised to discover less than half of your attendees are staying in your room block or only 15 percent are staying for the closing party. If you are caught off guard, you’ll take a big wallop to your bottom line and negotiating power.”

What other disruptive developments do you think are out there and affecting association meetings and related contracts? 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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