There's never been a more dynamic time for the Northwest meetings industry. Seattle is the fastestgrowing large city in the country, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, while Idaho’s Department of Labor projects that Boise and Southwest Idaho will grow by a colossal 20 percent over the next decade. Vancouver, British Columbia, leads Canada in economic impact, notes a report by the Conference Board of Canada, and Scientifi c American describes Portland, Oregon, as one of the world’s most sustainable cities.
Rapid growth has led to widespread expansion and renovation throughout the region, and technology continues to transform the industry with the promise of artificial intelligence and greater connectivity still to come. And as more and more people are on a first-name basis with Siri and Alexa, the need and desire for face-to-face human contact—such as that provided by live meetings and events—has increased.
We spoke with a number of industry experts across our region. Here’s what they say are the latest trends in the Northwest.
The Biggest Trend in the Northwest? The Northwest Itself.
Northwest planners are keenly aware of their greatest asset: a unique environment that guests can’t wait to discover. Local pride, grassroots integration and intense interest from visitors mean that attendees are no longer content to hang out in the hotel lobby bar. Groups want to get out and integrate with the local community.
Trevor Bondarchuk, director of group sales: events for The Nines hotel in Portland, says the region has never been better at promoting its unique charms. “Visitors to the Northwest want that earthy feeling; they want to vibe, not only with the community, but with nature. When people come here, they want to be among the trees, with the waterfalls, and see what the outdoors offers. They want to be involved with the makers, do what the locals are doing, whether that’s handcrafted beer or visiting the local markets where nearly everything is handmade,” he says.
Carrie Westergard, executive director of the Boise Convention and Visitors Bureau, has noticed that more and more of her guests are intrigued by her green, walkable town. “Some of our groups schedule a two-hour lunch because they want to spread out and see the city … they want to explore.”
Mike Armstrong is the event director for ReedPOP, which produces Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle, among other events. “Local is so important,” he says, “because it’s a vacation for a lot of people. They want to experience the city organically.”
Cynay Smith, director of association sales at Suncadia Resort in Washington’s Cascade Mountains, sees a similar trend. Meetinggoers are so keen to experience the Northwest that they turn their stay into a “bleisure” (business plus leisure) trip. “Lately our team has noticed that groups are bringing their families and involving them in the schedule of events,” she says. “So we offer amenities that cater to both business and family travelers.”
Ask a planner or a venue representative what they’re seeing these days in terms of personal technology, and one answer rises to the top: multiple devices from every attendee, all needing to be charged and connected, quickly and seamlessly.
Mary-Michael Rodgers, communications director for the Boise Centre, says the proliferation of devices has changed the basic conference setup. “People want flat, desk-like spaces in front of them now instead of just chairs. They need to work, and they need a place for their devices.” She also notes that speakers often require more than high-speed Wi-Fi. Some are asking for dedicated wireless or hardwired bandwidth on private networks.
Industry expert Claire Smith, vice president of sales and marketing for the Vancouver Convention Centre, notes that industrywide trends often arrive from the consumer sector and then seep into association and trade shows. This means new technology—on everything from wristbands to lanyards—that offers data mining, location-based marketing and granular reporting. Valuable data sets for organizers and sponsors alike include where attendees stand in the exhibit halls and for how long, and even where they venture off-site.
Jeff Blosser, president of the Washington State Convention Center in Seattle, concurs. “The use of beacons or RFID tracking allows the convention badge to gather that information as attendees walk around the shows. Exhibitors and management can see where they spend the most time. I see that continuing. Shows want to report back to sponsors and exhibitors about traffic and how to sell the floor to the next group.”
Relax and Stay Awhile
Organizers are becoming more aware that people still need to get work done back at their offices, even midsession. “We used to see people out on the street with their earbuds in, on a conference call,” says Smith. “That’s counterproductive. Now we’re saying, let’s create some quiet spaces where people can have those calls. They can even hold meetings within the meeting if they want.”
Smith theorizes that shopping malls were the first venues to use time-out spaces and comfortable, living room–style settings to provide a calm environment. “In the last year we updated all our furniture to mirror that mindset of people wanting to be in a casual, relaxed place, to interact with the content in a way that’s meaningful for them,” she says.
Fifty Shades of Green
Sustainability is a large part of the Northwest lifestyle, so for the meetings industry in our region, green isn’t a fad, it’s a way of doing business. Blosser puts it succinctly: “‘Environmental’ isn’t a trend anymore; it’s expected. Clients want to know what their footprint is so they can reduce it.”
The trend, however, is in fine-tuning your environmental efforts to achieve a zero carbon footprint. To do this, softwareenabled solutions, either by storing energy or maximizing heating and cooling efficiency, are big now. The brand-new Boise Centre East built two stories of curtain wall with nine layers of 21st-century windows, wired to a server on the roof. By accessing the latest National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) weather data that factors in temperature, humidity and brightness, the panels can lighten and darken to minimize heat transfer and drastically reduce heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) costs.
Green transit is another buzzword in the sustainable Northwest. The Nines hotel in Portland encourages guests to use local bikeshare or car-sharing services to navigate the city. And the Boise River Greenbelt has become a year-round commuter thoroughfare, which conference delegates routinely utilize for organized 5K runs or informal, invigorating hikes.
Increasingly, meeting venues in our region are producing their own food on-site. Even facilities in highly urbanized environments maintain herb and vegetable gardens, apiaries to produce honey, and home-brewing and distilling programs. In Vancouver, the Fairmont Waterfront maintains a 2,100-square-foot rooftop garden, as well as an apiary on the third-floor rooftop. The hotel hosts daily summer bee and garden tours, as well as occasional meals on the garden terrace. This enhances guests’ experiences and educates them on the plausibility of being sustainable in a bustling city. Fairmont Waterfront’s executive chef, Karan Suri, believes the garden and bee space “is not just a place to grow food, but is also a place to connect with food.”
Less Is More
Until recently, catering trends were all over the map, from vegan to paleo to gluten-free. Those have been replaced by one simple concept: choice. Labeling is key. Conventiongoers want to know exactly what they’re eating, and they want as much, or as little, of it as possible. “Most people don’t want to commit to a full portion or a full glass of wine or beer,” says Smith. “They want bites and flights.” Special meals are no longer for medical reasons alone; participants want full control over everything they consume. “Sometimes people want to be vegetarian for the day,” she notes, “because they’d rather have what the [vegetarian] sitting next to them is having.”
The biggest takeaway from the trends roundup is the desire for authenticity, the fascination with local community and the need for human connection. Outreach efforts veer away from monetary contributions and building projects, toward awareness building and shared expertise. Groups give back to the local community by holding free public seminars or communitywide events. From light-speed tech to out-of-the-box human interactions, from micro-environments that provide both coffee and calm, to bleisure trips that create lasting memories, Northwest meeting trends shine a light for others to follow.