The annual conversation with our editorial advisory board, made up of industry pros from around the state, is always thought-provoking, candid and a back-and-forth about challenges and opportunities being faced by planners and suppliers. Topics such as the impacts of the U.S. travel ban and the increasing value of the dollar compared to European currency were on the table at the March discussion.
Year in Review
Crazy, hard-to-find space and busy with everyone wanting the same dates are some of the descriptors used by meeting and event planners serving on the advisory board.
Colorado Ski Country USA books meeting dates about 12-18 months out, and their meeting planner Deb Brannon, owner of Altitude Events in Arvada, is finding that many hotels are already booked and are charging higher prices. “I’ve been shocked at the higher room rates,” she says. “Colorado Ski Country doesn’t need a lot of guest rooms because many attendees are local, but they need a fair amount of meeting space.”
Dean Savoca, M.Ed., CSP, president, Savoca Performance Group, observes that with “millennials traveling more, hotels are booking up with individual travelers.”
Deana Mitchell, CMP, DMCP, CCSE and owner/operator of Realize Colorado, a destination management company with offices in Winter Park and Denver, concurs, noting that as mountain properties are experiencing more volume it is hard to secure a buyout. “They are saying, ‘We have the business so why do a group and turn guests away?”
The best time to find availability in the mountains is in the shoulder seasons, which are shrinking. “Spring is still off-season until the snow melts, but fall is becoming less and less with fall leaves packages. There is hardly any downtime anymore,” says Mitchell, who started her business in Telluride.
Brannon suggests that “mid-October to mid-November is still a good time to book in the mountains.”
The party with the power has flip-flopped since the economic recovery. “The purchaser isn’t driving the business, the supplier is. We can choose what is going into the hotel and restaurants,” says Wendy Klein, CMP, FMP, director of sales and catering for Rialto Café/Concept Restaurants. “We used to take, take and take business; now we have to step back and see what offers are on the table. In Denver, we haven’t been in that position for a while. Once the new hotels open, it will be different as they all will have rooms and restaurant space.”
Working in the association sector and with a group that has only September or October as options for holding conferences, Hugo Hellberg finds himself shopping for rooms and meeting space three years ahead as director of events and business services for the Colorado Association of REALTORS.
“Supply should help start alleviating the problem,” says Andrew Heidt, director of group sales and marketing for the Boulder Convention and Visitors Bureau, noting that 25 percent more lodging rooms are entering the Boulder marketplace in 2017. Yet, 60-70 percent of business bookings are still happening within a six-month window, he adds.
The Denver hotel boom, as covered in the Summer 2017 issue of Colorado Meetings + Events, is being noticed. “There are a lot of hotels opening downtown; people are flocking to the urban feeling,” says Danny Findley, senior sales manager for Destination Services Corporation (DSC). “Denver has become a tier-one city. Fifteen years ago, it was hard to find a neat venue; we had hotel ballrooms. Now we have many more options with places like Union Station and LoDo. I am excited to promote Denver and be part of this.”
Crafting of Meetings & Events
Across all industries, gatherings are being personalized, observes Barb Taylor Carpender, CMM, CHSC, chief alliance officer of Taylored Alliances and managing director for Global Marketing Services LLC. “People want it to be that crafted experience and a sharing of ideas,” Findley agrees. “They want a VIP experience that not everyone can have and to go home and say, ‘Remember this?’”
As director of events and member benefits for Inspirato by American Express, Claire Repass, CMP, plans gatherings for a member base that is affluent. “Getting them to one of our events is a huge ask,” she says, sharing that surveys indicated that people wished they would have met another Inspirato member at events. “So we started to do influencer dinners. … We were doing huge experiential events, and what they really want is to network.”
Savoca wonders if focusing so much on the experience impacts the education side of business meetings. “How do we create events where there is huge added value to being there, instead of searching out the information on your own and watching it later?” he wonders. “When is there a loss of the education and the objectives being achieved?”
Tiffany Carson, CMP, acknowledges that it’s one of a meeting planner’s biggest challenges. “People can get education so many places. We have to create a crafted event, so they want to get their education from us. It can be hard to merge these things to give them both,” says Carson, who serves as CPE operations manager for the Colorado Society of CPAs and current president of MPI Rocky Mountain Chapter.
From a speaker’s standpoint, it’s also about how an experience is being created in the room and facilitating peer-to-peer learning. “You can’t just have your content; you have to customize on the spot using technology and polls and figuring out who is in the room and what they want to talk about. Facilitation skills are needed; you aren’t the only expert in the room,” Savoca says.
In some cases, Savoca recommends zero content and pure facilitation. “For example, ask people what keeps them up at night and have a process where you capture the topics.” He says, “I have seen amazing things come from 20 minutes of dialogue—building relationships that go beyond the meeting.”
Carpender, who also facilitates meetings, has noticed that “sessions with highest ratings are those that self-direct. Attendees want even smaller groups and a longer time to do this.”
What Planners & Attendees Want
“One thing we started at the Colorado Governor’s Tourism Conference is that people could come in a few hours earlier and discuss topics like small rural communities, meetings and events, etc. in an open discussion. On surveys people loved it, and we’re doing it again this year,” says Brannon, who also plans events for the Colorado Tourism Office. “It’s the one chance that people in the industry get to see each other in the year and talk about what is trending for hotels, ski areas and more.”
Angela Coleman, manager of events and meetings for KPMG LLP, emphasizes that she doesn’t want to work with venues that keep sending the same banquet menus. “I want to partner with people who have new ideas.”
Golden-based Biscuits & Berries Catering continues to find success with stations, anything that is interactive and healthy, pressed juices and smoothies, says Director of Sales Robin Berhost. “It’s about what’s on the table and bringing people into the event on the food and beverage side.”
Klein sees groups of young, hipster millennials using daytime hours for activities and working from 6 p.m. through the night. She observes, “They are going out to get experiences and come back collectively.”
The meetings and events industry in Colorado is alive and well, with 2017 propelling forward with planners and suppliers experiencing new norms and delivering creative approaches for attendees.