Meeting Mentor Magazine

December 2018

On Site at PCMA

The Big Buzz About Mergers

The big buzz at 2016 PCMA Convening Leaders in Vancouver wasn’t about the seller’s market or Wi-Fi and bandwidth. The Marriott-Starwood merger and what hotel consolidation means to meeting group negotiations (and loyalty rewards) took center stage — literally — at the opening keynote session with Arne Sorenson, Marriott International’s president and CEO. The merger “creates a new community that will take the best of both,” he claimed, and “many Starwood folks will land with us, since our own people can’t take on everything.” But he acknowledged concerns about maintaining quality across the brands: “We have to continue to deliver great value to loyal customers.”

A packed session on “Mergers and Their Effect on the Meetings Industry” showed the high level of concern among 3,826 meeting planners and suppliers on site and 1,373 virtual attendees. “With less competition, what will happen to pricing, the terms we’re used to having, the relationships, and the incredible cultures of the organizations [Marriott and Starwood]?” asked panelist Martin Balogh, associate executive director, meetings and travel group, American Bar Association. “When business changes and they’re out there hungry, hotels have a lot to protect and will do what it takes. But I think the terms — cancellation, deposit, commission policies — may be an issue.”

Brian King, global officer, Marriott signature brands and global sales, countered concerns about less competition among hotels for meeting business and less negotiating power for groups. “Large chains do not dictate pricing,” he said. “The general managers will react to local market conditions. Our job is to serve up what our hotels are asking for, and that won’t change.”

Behind the Scenes. Taking risks is part of the PCMA meeting’s DNA, as is transparency — to “explain and show everything,” said Professional Convention Management Association president and CEO Deborah Sexton.
• The opening keynote audience let out a communal gasp when “digital curtains” on a ho-hum set were whisked away, revealing a 32-foot high by 145-foot wide blended projection screen showing high-definition videos powered by six projectors. The screen, as well as other meeting components, were touted as scaleable, both in size and budget.
• To contain the meeting in Vancouver Convention Centre’s West Building, the general session room transformed into concurrent session spaces within an hour. It was filmed in time lapse photography and shared with attendees.
• Because all of the general session space was needed for seating, PCMA’s production and audiovisual partner Freeman set up a separate, glass-enclosed “Aquarium” as its command center. Attendees could watch the backstage action and listen in a designated spot to the real-time communication. Freeman’s second-screen technology enabled immediate feedback through live polling, enhanced content in sessions, and tracking attendee engagement and behavior.
• The West Building’s configuration allowed PCMA to spread out the Learning Lounge’s bite-sized education sessions, tech tutorials and alternate programming formats. MOSS walls and headphone sets helped with sound control, while movable furniture enabled reconfiguration.

5 Emerging Trends. PCMA collaborated with Marriott International on the hotel company’s “Meetings Imagined” initiative. Experts from diverse fields exchanged insights on how people will live, work, play and interact. Five key trends emerged that will both disrupt and innovate the meeting experience:
Sensory analytics. Physical sensors will not only take the pulse of the room and those in it, they will collect, analyze and share data about the experience. With immediate feedback, meeting adjustments can be made in real time.
Tribalization. This move is away from individualism to like-minded communities of people who can push each other to a higher level. Meetings will become less about content and speakers and more about the attendee list and smaller group connections.
Content safaris. Consumers want to forge personalized channels and customize their experience to be more dynamic and different. Meeting planners will need to restructure content or change setups in response to real-time feedback.
Living 360º. The increasing attention to wellness, longevity and wholeness will push meetings to raise the bar for attendees, and hotels to customize everything from lighting and airflow to healthier environments.
Immersive telepresence. Technology advancements will heighten the emotional and physical experience at meetings, as well as enable new formats and new ways of participating. — Maxine Golding

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ConferenceDirect is a global meetings solutions company offering site selection/contract negotiation, conference management, housing & registration services, mobile app technology and strategic meetings management solutions. It provides expertise to 2,500 corporations and associations through our 325 Associates globally. www.conferencedirect.com

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