There is something about the prospect of visiting a global destination that evokes wanderlust. Of course, international travel is expensive, so when it comes to corporate meetings, why do meeting planners continue to host meetings abroad, despite cost cutting and new advances in virtual meetings technology?
According to Cassie Brown, chief experience officer at Charlotte-based TCG Events, it’s a lot about the “wow” factor. “So many conferences and meetings are held in the same destinations so it is more difficult to stand out,” Brown said. “International destinations feel exotic and special. We are hearing a lot about Spain and Canada. The dollar is strong, and good value destinations abound with great culinary offerings.”
Brown adds that events are about creating a special guest experience. She says, for example, Jennifer Lawrence got married at a mansion in Rhode Island. Heidi Klum got married on a yacht. “When was the last celebrity wedding in a hotel ballroom? It just isn’t as common as it used to be,” she says.
She continues, “It isn’t entirely the ballroom’s fault. There are a lot more interesting spaces than there used to be. Breweries with 135 kinds of beer, funky co-working spaces, museums redesigned with events in mind, creative warehouse spaces with tall ceilings, restaurants with great views. Ninety percent of the time, a ballroom is a ballroom.”
Travel Trends 2020
According to Nicole Elzebroek, owner and managing director of Adevez—International Meeting Planners, Eastern European countries are rising in popularity since they are still relatively inexpensive and trying to attract meetings with building hotels and congress centers. “The larger hotel chains see the potential and are investing,” Elzebroek says. “These destinations are still a bit unknown, and previously perceived as scary from a Cold War perspective, but now people know they are as safe as any and unique.”
Elzebroek adds that in the past, companies relied heavily on agencies to make meetings work in European countries, where people spoke different languages and the countries had different currencies. Today, clients from all over the world are better informed, can look up suppliers and venues and scout destinations themselves through the internet.
“Companies know what they want and do not have to rely solely on the information fed to them by agencies,” she says. “In addition, while face-to-face meetings were the only option 10 years ago, we see webinars and webcasting taking off as an alternative way to reach more people for less money. Even broadcasting from live meetings to reach people on the other side of the world or offering this later as online material we are seeing more and more.”
Technology and interconnectivity is also a trend that Global DMC Partners President and CEO Catherine Chaulet says she sees for 2020. “Companies are growing and so are their conferences,” Chaulet says. “Meeting planners are starting to see the limits of some international destinations where hotel and meeting space does not accommodate the demand. Secondary international destinations are gaining momentum and are competing with popular capitals around the world. This is especially true when airlines open routes to these destinations, allowing easier access to them.”
In the October 2019 Global DMC ranking, Paris was named the No. 1 global destination for meetings and conferences. Chaulet explains the main reason is historical. “Paris is the city of lights and lovers and will always keep this attractiveness,” she explains. “However, other reasons contribute to this: the exchange rate of the dollar, the yen, and a few other currencies have been beneficial for tourism in France and Paris, in particular making it more affordable to tourists.”
Travelers also are seizing the day and prioritizing travel, prompted by the belief that customized experiences are a worthwhile investment, according to the latest Virtuoso® Luxe Report. The Luxe Report surveys its industry-leading travel agency members and their advisor sales force across 50 countries to predict trends for the coming year.
One of the trends highlighted in the report’s forecast for 2020 is an interest by luxury travelers to avoid crowded, more well-known locales and instead visit remote, unspoiled destinations such as Borneo, Greenland, and Oman. The top five emerging destinations are Croatia, Antarctica, Iceland, Japan and Portugal, in that order.
The report also states that today’s traveler “is seeking more profound experiences leading to increased emotional intelligence. Pushing beyond their comfort zone, combined with genuine interaction among locals, provides travelers with a deeper appreciation for the people and cultures they encounter.” They also want accommodations that reflect the destination— inns with character, small neighborhood boutique hotels and even private homes.
Islands typically rank high for international meeting planners for the obvious reasons: sun, sand and serenity. It’s not just the larger islands getting attention in 2020. Anguilla, a small island in the British West Indies, recently had a record 55,916 stayover arrivals from January through June 2019, according to the local tourist board.
“We’ve noticed a recent trend of “bleisure” travel as more people consider the destination when deciding to attend a meeting,” says Frank Pierce, director of marketing and sales at Zemi Beach House Hotel & Spa in Anguilla. “Attendees want to blend the world of business and leisure, which is why they are journeying to destinations like Anguilla that can provide all the resources for business meetings and events and the perfect backdrop for a tropical vacation afterward to wind down and de-stress before heading back to the office.”
One popular meeting spot on the island is the Rhum Room at Zemi Beach House. According to Pierce, the Rhum Room is a refined and elegant rum tasting room and perfect meeting space with natural lighting, comfortable seating and access to the powdery white sand Shoal Bay Beach.
He adds, “Looking for team bonding? Head to the Zemi Thai House Spa for the ultimate relaxation experience or take kayaks out and explore the ocean’s vibrant waters. With 76 beachfront accommodations, four pools and two restaurants, Zemi Beach House is the perfect destination for inspiration, collaboration and celebration at a truly unique and special venue.”