We spoke to Petr Raba, Vice President, Global, US and Canada Meetings + Events with Marriott International and Stewart Young, VP, Strategic Accounts with Encore to garner their insights on understanding key cost drivers and budget considerations when planning hybrid events.
Over the past 6+ months hybrid events have become the norm in the meetings industry and for the foreseeable future, meeting planners are faced with the need to plan and budget for hybrid meetings. From a hotelier perspective, how have you seen hybrid events evolve over the past 6 months?
"As hybrid meetings are a balance between in-person and virtual, that balance has been steadily shifting from primarily virtual back to predominantly in-person. As it does, virtual and hybrid components are finding their place as a tool to expand the reach and effectiveness of in-person meetings rather than as a substitute. Familiarity and experience with hybrid event format solutions is creating greater comfort with stakeholders across the hospitality and events industries."
How has the evolution of hybrid meetings affected major cost drivers and meeting budgets?
"While there can be additional costs with including a virtual audience, these costs are often incidental in an event that already includes technical elements. They are frequently offset by a reduction in travel, lodging and on-site costs, and when calculating the enhanced ROI of the expanded reach of the virtual audience, hybrid events can be very cost effective. Larger events with more complex levels of engagement between the live and remote audience are more expensive although they allow for a significantly expanded audience for current and future events and new opportunities to monetize participation and content."
How are hoteliers and meeting planners collaborating to plan for and manage costs associated with hybrid meetings? (i.e. how to plan for accurate numbers for spacing requirements and F&B, when changes in how attendees feel about travel shifts your numbers to 20% less a week before your event?)
"We have identified and partnered with hybrid platform providers including Encore’s Chime, and other providers to offer an array of products, many with special pricing for our customers with a goal of providing the right solution for each group. Encore has had success with including a flat rate for internet needed to take out the guesswork when budgeting for an event. In addition, we conducted tests in an actual meeting setting to ensure we knew the bandwidth demands of each platform to direct you and our hotels appropriately.
Our WIFI Simplified methodology of providing straight forward per person pricing for smaller groups while providing dedicated bandwidth solutions for larger needs is still relevant. We are in the process of updating the program, ensuring recommended bandwidth is relevant and expanding the program to all of our brands.
Heightened communication and details throughout the sales and planning process are a must, ensuring total alignment between us and our customers. Lastly, we have adjusted our process to offer flexible terms and simplified contracts to instill confidence throughout the life cycle of events."
Are there any potential shifts you see in the meetings landscape for 2022 that meeting planners should be considering as they look to roll out their meetings for 2022?
"Encore, our event technology and production partner, recently completed its Fall ‘Planner Pulse Insights Survey,’ which indicated that meeting planners are steadily increasing the number of hybrid events that they are planning, indicating that hybrid meetings are on pace to be a factor in 45% of events going into 2022 with a growing trend toward in person attendance."
Bridging the gap between your virtual audience experience and in-person audience experience so that all attendees can have a meaningful experience is now a standard goal for meeting planners, what are key factors to achieve this in terms of technology, AV and staffing support and what are the costs to execute effectively?
"A successful hybrid event considers both the in-person audience and the virtual audience. Their experiences vary significantly, and it is important to produce an event that is both meaningful and experiential for both groups. Our preferred event technology partner is Encore who provides end-to end-solutions for both the on-site and hybrid components of meetings. We encourage early dialogue to help you design the most cost-effective solutions that achieve your meeting goals.
The complexity of hybrid events can vary significantly depending on the size of the live and virtual audience and the desired outcome and level of engagement. In smaller meetings, simply adding a few remote participants to the meeting can be straightforward with a Zoom/Teams type connection and some audio and video interfaces. For larger events, the solution set becomes more robust with audio visual and engagement platforms. Working with an end-to-end solution provider like Encore, that understands both the live production as well as virtual platforms, is the best way to identify the most effective solution."
Are there trade-offs regarding technology platforms, staffing, equipment, etc… that meeting planners can consider to manage costs and still execute an effective hybrid event where all attendees have a meaningful experience?
"There are countless hybrid engagement solutions available to meeting planners with varying features and costs. Meeting planners should partner with a technology provider such as Encore that offers a range of options ensuring that the most appropriate solution is available to meet the budget and outcome needs."
Are there significant cost savings to working with one provider that can support both your in-person and virtual attendees? What are the potential pros and cons of using the same provider?
"As Marriott’s preferred technology and production provider, the Encore capabilities include all elements of in-person production, creative pre and postproduction, as well as a variety of virtual options. The synergy and cohesion that comes from working with a single provider is beneficial from a planning and execution perspective."
Are there any potential shifts on the technology side that may impact hybrid event execution and costs in 2022?
"Meeting planners, hoteliers, technology providers and attendees have all experienced enduring changes in the ways that we communicate. 2022 promises to be a transformative year in which the meetings and events landscape settles into a more conventional and predictable planning and execution process that incorporates the best features of these learnings. Marriott and Encore’s goal is to continue the quest for the latest solutions in technology that fits our customer’s needs. Marriott is currently identifying technology solutions for smaller hotels with limited meeting space which will positively impact execution and cost in 2022."