ConventionSouth

JAN 2016

ConventionSouth magazine is the leading resource for meeting planners who book all types of events, conventions, conferences and group travel in the south.

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J A N U A R Y 2 0 1 6 ⎜ ConventionSouth ⎜ w w w . c o n v e n t i o n s o u t h . c o m 15 Sophistication with technology use is becoming the norm for successful association meetings. According to Molly Nelson, sales account manager for the Spartanburg Marriott, "every- one is wired," whether they are using iPhones, iPads, Androids or other elec- tronic devices. "This is great for the use of meeting apps, setting up areas for attendees to photograph each other and post their photos to social networking pages," she said, also pointing to increased use of new and innovative meeting presentation equipment such as smart boards, upgraded conferencing abil- ities that include video, and accent/ display pieces that transform meeting spaces into something modern and exciting. Randi Rosenbluth, manager of learn- ing and development at the Society of Women Engineers, emphasized that strong Wi-Fi is simply a baseline expectation of meeting venues in today's meeting climate. "Having a strong signal is important. Otherwise, people can't use the conference app effectively," she said, adding that lack of strong connections can also limit opportunities to engage participants of all ages. "New generations are quick to embrace technology. I love their will- ingness to try something new." Holbert noted that use of technol- ogy is increasingly reflected in associa- tion event budgets. "They are including line items for mobile app develop- ment, Wi-Fi and upgraded registration technology," she said. "For those asso- ciations that may not have the budget for meeting space Wi-Fi, they are using creative workarounds. Creative tech- nology-based sponsorships can often cover the cost of Internet." n Spotlight on TECHNOLOGY mobile app," she said. "They are using the mo- bile app as an engagement tool before, during and sometimes even after the conference has ended." Registration packets full of papers are becom- ing obsolete, Nelson added, as more association meeting planners embrace the concept of conference apps. These offerings also allow participants to engage in fun contests such as "best convention tweet" or "best Facebook post." "By doing this, attendees stay engaged and are encouraged to par- ticipate in the scheduled events," she noted. While use of technology is a hot trend for association meetings, Rosen- bluth pointed to ongoing challenges in balancing the needs of attendees, the limited budgets and staffs, and the desire to grow attendance. She pointed out that it can be difficult to find a des- tination that can accommodate 9,000 attendees, especially if there are other events occurring in the city. Not only must a destination offer enough hotel rooms and an ample conference fa- cility but also a range of prices to accommodate attendees of all ages and income levels. The des- tination must also have a track record for safety, as the majority of attendees are women. Holbert pointed out that associations face unique challenges in pulling off a successful meeting due to limited budgets and volun- teer-based committees that may not have adequate time to focus on event planning. For this reason, she said many rely on the expertise of third parties to balance limited resources with the heightened expectations of today's attendees. "Oppor- tunity exists everywhere and there is an association for everything," she said. "We find ourselves working with everyone from beekeepers to technology user groups. Along the way, you get to experience and enjoy a vari- ety of adventures." Nelson mentioned that hotels and venues face the same challenges as association planners, such as dwindling attendance and budgets, that keep hotels from securing association business. For this reason, she explained, it's critical that meeting planners understand the value propo- sition for every dollar they spend. "We work through these challenges by partnering with our planners to help with ideas to bring attendees in and by showing the value of spending a little more in different areas to help ensure an excel- lent conference," she said. n "We have a conference app now. Our mixed group includes a lot of younger people and they don't want a paper brochure." MARKET SEGMENT REPORT: ASSOCIATION MEETINGS The Society of Women Engineers is engaging a younger generation with conference apps.

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