If we require another sign that the recession is behind us, Delaware’s popular business-meeting venues can offer it: Reservations are up.
Advanced technology capabilities, flexible meeting sites, “feel-good” activities, and gluten-free menu options are just a few of the trends that may characterize 2015, and general managers and sales directors said they’re booking conference rooms into 2017, eager to accommodate the return of the off-site business meeting.
According to Bill Sullivan, managing director of the Courtyard Newark at the University of Delaware, the 2008 recession was a blow to the hotel industry, which saw conference rooms empty and hotel-industry projects simply stall or disappear.
But people are spending money on meetings again, even taking advantage of smaller booking windows—sometimes fewer than 30 days—to pull their teams off-site for meetings or training. “The meetings that were canceled and downsized appear to be coming back to where they were before,” said Sullivan. “It’s back to normal business spending.”
The Courtyard Marriott offers 2,000 square feet of meeting space and an additional 44,000 square feet of space at UD’s adjacent Clayton Hall.
Most businesses are not planning the lavish conferences or meetings that defined the prerecession era, Sullivan said, but the hotel industry is offering a collective sigh of relief as businesses reach out once again.
While off-site business meetings slowed, technology raced ahead, and Sullivan said that if there’s any pizzazz at today’s meetings, it’s in the technology. Demands like high-speed Internet are standard for most meetings, and then there’s full-motion video for sophisticated presentations.
At the Chase Center on the Riverfront, advanced audiovisual services are also in demand from companies.
“It used to be a projector or a flip chart and markers, and they were happy,” said general manager Kevin Willis. “Teleconferences, streaming video, broadcasting, different kinds of lighting needs—there are some people who even want to do shareholder online voting.”
Another change is the move to flexible meeting sites, according to Willis. Where classroom-style presentations were the norm, today’s clients want the option to transition from the traditional lecture style to clusters or small groups.
With the addition of the Westin Hotel now attached to the Chase Center, there is more than 100,000 square feet of available conference space and the option for overnight accommodations. Willis calls the Chase Center a one-stop shop for banquet and meeting needs, and he’s hopeful it will increase the center’s regional draw.
More people means varied tastes, and Willis said their own chef has been tweaking the menu to offer vegan, gluten-free and vegetarian options for customers.
Atlantic Sands Hotel & Conference Center in Rehoboth, which boasts 10,000 square feet of conference space, has also experienced an uptick in business since the recession ended, accelerating their every-other-year meetings or events to annual functions.
“More businesses booked in 2014 than in the previous two years, and, as both small and large businesses are able to hire more employees and grow, they are able to plan more events and conferences,” said Barbara Brewer, sales and marketing director. “From all recent indications, it certainly appears to be trending upward, but I suspect 2015 may be the bellwether. If 2015 results are also strong, we’ll have more reason to believe the uptick is truly a developing trend based on a rebounding economy and growth in business revenues across all industries.”
Brewer said their location doesn’t hurt, either; it’s the only conference center located on the boardwalk. The Oceanside venue offers a fun menu for a work-and-play environment, even team-building activities like scavenger hunts across the city of Rehoboth and beach cleanups in conjunction with the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.
“One of the things that we’re seeing with smaller meetings is a lot of ‘feel-good’ things—employee-recognition events,” said Brewer. “And attendees want to be active participants.”
According to Brewer, dynamic and interactive speakers are replacing lead facilitators. And despite the advantages of a highly digital age, top executives realize that face-to-face communications and conferences still play a significant role in developing strategies, communicating company goals and values, team building, networking, improving morale, and customer service, she said.
“Bringing people together physically adds a dimension sometimes lost in a strictly digital, online approach,” Brewer said. “These executives realize the value of interpersonal business relationships and, as a result, the value of off-site meetings and conferences that bring both people and ideas to the table outside the confines of their offices. Any number of creative ideas and valuable business connections are generated at off-site events that combine business with pleasure.”