Meeting Spotlight sat down with John Paladino, owner and founder of Milestone Meetings, to discuss what business has been like during the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic and how it will change going forward. Based in Scottsdale, AZ, Milestone Meetings is a full-service meeting planning agency that provides a full service solution for meeting planners throughout the world.
How has your segment of the industry changed since March?
As imagined, several of the meetings operating throughout out 2020 were moved to Q3 and Q4 of 2021. Normally, I receive five to six requests each month that are solely focused on incentive travel, but I have not had any new requests for future incentive travel at this point. Many large annual programs are now moving to regional settings and adding a hybrid component to help accommodate attendees that do not feel comfortable with traveling.
What are some trends you have seen in recent months? Do you think these trends will last? How are you adjusting to those trends?
The top three trends I am personally seeing pertain to terms and conditions, rooms-to-space ratio, and reformatting existing annual meetings.
With all of the unknown, we are seeing a lot of adaptation to the traditional terms and conditions contained in hotel agreements, which I foresee sticking around until we start to have an idea on when this pandemic will end. As for rooms-to-space ration, groups are looking for three-times the amount of square footage that they once needed—once again, this will go back to normal once the general population feels comfortable. Lastly, the reformatting of annual meetings could stick around for quite some time. The programs are compressed and give the clients several more options since the meetings are a fraction of the size and can fit in many more properties. This, in turn, allows more options, which allows for several different rate structures. Also, we are seeing that a hybrid approach can be successful but I have a feeling that might fall off in the next year and a half as people like to have that personal interaction that cannot be replicated over a screen.
How has your businesses adapted to the new normals?
Somewhat. When meetings started to come to a halt, we decided it would be best to just actively listen to what our clients and the industry were saying. After weeks of gathering information, you could clearly tell that the root of the problem was feeling uncomfortable as there was so much unknown. To help try to alleviate that, our marketing efforts focused on a variety of firsthand experiences. We showcased Milestone Meetings visiting airports, conducting in person site inspections and attending live in-person meetings.
Have you used this time to develop new strategies for the future? If so, what have you developed?
Honestly, not more than I would in a healthy market. From our standpoint, the hospitality industry has always faced a lot of variables—granted, this might be the largest one we ever face but we are resilient on a daily level. No meeting is ever the same, no incentive is ever the same, so in short, we are always adapting our strategies to better fit our client’s needs.
How are you structuring your meeting strategy moving forward in terms of virtual events vs. in person events?
When it comes to meeting strategy, we take a very high-level look at the client’s end goal and try to identify what will be the best footprint to obtain the maximum result. This is no different than how we have done things in the past but, now, we certainly have a few other services to possibly consider such as a virtual component. From our feedback, hybrid meetings can be successful, but it just depends on the audience. So, in short, we try to qualify if the additional spend will generate an actual return. In the past, it has always been so crucial to understand how executive’s vision their programs but more than ever, we are really taking the time to better understand how to engage the attendee base.