What Makes a Millennial Meeting Venue?
To court young attendees, meeting planners should start with the perfect venue - Read to find out how Long Beach is attracting Millennial meeting planners.
By Matt Alderton
Millennials have a bad rap. Painted with a broad brush, they're routinely accused of being lazy, entitled, and narcissistic. They live at home, prefer technology to humanity, and expect rewards just for showing up. At least, that's how society portrays them. Millennial stereotypes are just that, however: stereotypes. And shallow ones, at that. Sure, they have a penchant for selfies and texting, but let's be honest: So do their parents, now that they've got the hang of it. What comes off as narcissism, therefore, could just as easily be understood as individualism. What's construed as "lazy" could just as easily be interpreted as "balanced." And what appears to be entitlement might actually be ambition. It's all a matter of perception.
What isn't is Millennials' influence and importance, according to Erica Morris, digital communication specialist at the Long Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau in Long Beach, CA. "Millennials are now the largest generation in America, comprising more than one-third of the current workforce," she says, adding that by 2020, Millennials will total more than $1.4 trillion in spending power. "So it's not only good business sense to be Millennial-minded … it's essential."
That's true not only for destinations that host meetings, like Long Beach, but also for the meeting professionals who plan them. In order to make future events successful, they must avoid dismissing Millennials because of their perceived shortcomings and instead embrace them because of their potential assets. Doing so will infuse their meetings with new attendees and new ideas alike.
Step one is choosing a Millennial-minded meeting venue. In particular, planners should look for the following attributes, which will attract young attendees not by exploiting Millennial stereotypes, but rather by appealing to Millennial sensibilities:
For Millennials, work is life and life is work. The blurred lines between them means that meetings -- and meeting venues -- should be fun, according to Juan Luca Merino, director of sales at Radisson RED Minneapolis, which opened in November 2016 with the promise of adopting an "ageless Millennial mindset."
"Meetings shouldn't be dull," argues Merino, whose 164-room hotel hosts meetings in its 1,000-square-foot "Events & Games Studio," which includes beanbag seating, a Ping-Pong table, a Sony PlayStation, and board games.
San Francisco's Hotel Zephyr (pictured above) has similar offerings that it uses to lure Millennials from nearby Silicon Valley: The Yard, an 8,000-square-foot outdoor event space that includes a full-sized shuffleboard court, a life-sized Jenga game, and a giant Connect Four board, and the Game Room, a 1,610-square-foot indoor event space that features a pool table and Ping-Pong.
"Our games … have been the most popular amenity we offer to group meetings," says Jill Plemons, director of sales and marketing at Hotel Zephyr.
The activities that take place inside them should be as fun as the meeting spaces, according to Alex Spektor, general manager at INNSIDE New York, which has a "Creative Meeting Room" that includes a fully stocked mini bar with beverages and snacks, as well as various toys like Rubik's cubes, a ukulele, miniature basketball games, and yo-yos. "We recently hosted a tech company for a three-day session," he says. "On the last day of the session we wanted to offer the group something fun to end their meeting with, so we installed a selfie booth that the attendees could use to take photos with their colleagues. It was the perfect conclusion to their conference."
And if your venue isn't fun, your destination should be. "[Millennials] are more likely to take advantage of a great situation than put out the monies to create one -- so the destination and everything that entails better be great," insists Morris, who says it's important to choose a venue that's located near notable attractions, nightlife, and restaurants, all of which add to a meeting's fun factor.
Finally, there's food. That has to be fun, too, according to Morris. "Believe it or not, boring food sets an overall boring tone for the entire event," she continues. "We've addressed this concern by bringing in elite chefs from some of the most prestigious restaurants from around the country. Chefs Adam Crisafulli, James Miller, and William Minard are dedicated to serving restaurant-style food at the Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center. They've reworked and revamped the catering menus to offer locally sourced, sustainable options that appeal to the Millennial crowds."
Millennials don't work less than older generations. They do, however, work differently. Flexible meeting spaces are therefore near the top of their wish list.
"The feedback I get the most from Millennials is that they don't want to feel enclosed by four walls. They like a clean slate and a blank canvas to get their minds going," Merino says. "Our Events & Games Studio has windows facing a downtown street. For privacy, our soundproof windows cancel the noise from outside. For added privacy, electric shades are available. The room is painted white, with a dry erase wall that doubles as a screen. The carpets are a clean dark grey and the tables and chairs are bond paper white. The best part is that the room is fully customizable; it can be set up in classroom style using tables, or groups can take the soft seating and configure the room into rounds or clusters if they'd like."
Adds Morris, "Overwhelmingly themed properties tend to be a turnoff because they limit the creative liberties of the group. [Millennials] want to have the ability to transform the space. They're looking to make it their own."
Flexibility should extend to the venue's business model, too, according to Plemons. "Hotel Zephyr is unique in the fact that we allow outside catering -- one of very few hotels that will allow this," she says. "This offers a wider variety of options and price points for every type of event."
As a rule, Millennials prefer engagement to instruction. Interactive elements are therefore critical.
Technology is one way that venues make meetings interactive. "Millennials … are constantly connected, and in order to cater to that need it's important for our hotel to offer technologically-savvy services and amenities," says INNSIDE New York's Spektor. "For example, our meeting rooms feature smart boards, whereby guests can transfer any notes that are written on the board directly to their smartphones."
Activities are another opportunity for interactivity, according to John Branciforte, director of group sales at the 400-key Wyndham Grand Orlando Resort Bonnet Creek, where group activities often revolve around food -- and the chefs who prepare it. "Today's chef is highly engaging, personable, exciting, and creative," says Branciforte, who often calls on his chefs to participate in interactive sessions with groups. Past activities he's orchestrated, for example, include a cooking class where the chef demonstrated how to fillet a 60-pound halibut in a restaurant kitchen, a roll-your-own-sushi event, and -- at a Texas property where he previously worked -- a brisket cook-off where attendees created their own barbecue rubs that were subsequently used and served by the chef.
Finally, Millennials want to interact with each other. "Renovations at the Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center include enhanced lobbies, meeting rooms, and hallway areas with new furniture, carpets, plants, and artwork to create mini meeting spots and networking pods for sitting, talking, and socializing," Morris says. "As Millennials are often new to their career, they're always looking for more ways to connect and network with each other. Thus we've found that these mini meeting spots and group-style furnishings are popular among young professionals."
Echoes Branciforte, "Millennials look for areas where they can continue their discussions and gather more knowledge, so we have lots of what I call 'nooks and crannies' with unconventional seating -- high-end residential furniture instead of the industrial furniture you'd expect -- where five or six people can have an impromptu meeting."
Because they value individuality and self-expression in themselves, Millennials crave the same in their meeting venues. Seating isn't the only thing they want to be unconventional, therefore; they also crave unconventional aesthetics, activities, and amenities.
"Millennials don't like anything that's cookie-cutter; we like to do things differently," explains Anna DeLeo, director of marketing and communications at the Aloft Boston Seaport.
In pursuit of the unique attributes that Millennials seek, meeting planners should look for venues with "Instagram-worthy" aesthetics and experiences, DeLeo says. "When you walk into [Aloft Boston Seaport], there is a large grand staircase that has a large art installation from a local artist at the top," she continues. "Millennials want to meet in spaces that have personality."
Hotel Zephyr oozes personality for exactly that reason, according to Plemons. "Our ownership group, Pebblebrook Hotel Trust, has enlisted the design services of Dawson Design Associates, which has a known track record of pushing the limits of innovation," she says. "Notable design aspects include: The Yard's use of recycled shipping crates that serve as oversized, inventive planters and three-dimensional walls; a 'living wall-art' utilizing buoys and guests' own bicycles; and curated art in the lobby and Game Room. Our partner, Daylighted, changes the rotating screen art once a month to feature curated collections."
Instagram-worthy food is also a draw. At Aloft Boston Seaport, for example, the chef offers a donut wall that can hold up to 200 donuts in unique flavors like maple-bacon. And at Hotel Zephyr, there is a new offering called "The Camper."
"The Camper … [is] an 18-foot Shasta sleeper that has been refashioned as a food truck where guests can grab a healthful, locally-sourced bite," Plemons says. "This unique food offering is perfect for Millennials, as they are looking for new and trendy options as opposed to traditional seated restaurants."
Radisson RED Minneapolis and the Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center also use food as a differentiator. The former has a unique food cart that is wheeled into meetings for self-served food -- "a couple drawers in the cart are hot boxes and others are refrigerated," Merino says -- while the latter embraces food theater.
"At the Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center, recent events have featured ice cream stations where the scoops are made to order using liquid nitrogen … Young professionals crowded around trying to capture Boomerangs and snaps as the cloud of liquid nitrogen instantly froze their dessert," Morris says. "For young meeting attendees, it's all about those shareable features of an event."
Activities also should be "shareable." "An overwhelming trend in the meetings industry today is nontraditional networking activities. Millennials are driving this trend because they want to see and experience the meeting destination, not just the four walls of the venue," Morris continues. "Nontraditional networking activities could entail an early morning 5k, mid-day yoga session, mixology class or champagne tasting/pairing to replace the typical cocktail hour, group excursions, or concerts. One group that recently met in Long Beach brought in Vanilla Ice for a closing concert; the theme of the meeting was 'Fire and Ice.'"
Millennials also want venues that are environmentally and socially responsible. The professional chefs at the Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center, for example, utilize sustainable ingredients that are locally sourced. INNSIDE New York, meanwhile, emphasizes its technology offerings -- like the aforementioned smart boards -- as paper-saving measures. And Wyndham Grand Orlando Resort Bonnet Creek connects groups with community service projects.
"We do 'build a bike' events a lot, where attendees build bikes for underprivileged children in Central Florida," Branciforte says. "We've also had companies paint houses and participate in Clean the World, which takes hotel soaps that are going to be thrown away and recycles them into usable bars of soap that are shipped to people in need."
Because Millennials grew up in an era of instant messaging, online ordering, and streaming music, they're used to having everything they want and need at their fingertips. The perfect venue for them, therefore, is one that makes life -- and meetings -- easy.
That starts with location, according to Morris. "Millennial meeting attendees most likely aren't renting a car for this trip, so it helps if the destination is walkable and easy to navigate," she says. "Public transportation helps and bike share programs rock, but nothing beats the convenience of walking."
Of course, in this day and age, convenience is impossible without connectivity. Free Wi-Fi and built-in A/V are therefore critical. "Millennial meeting attendees expect to have to ability to stay connected at all times," Morris continues. "The Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center recently upgraded to providing free Wi-Fi in all public areas. The City of Long Beach has also just recently unveiled free public Wi-Fi in some areas of the city. Additionally, the convention center offers a charging lounge, where attendees can gather to plug in and charge their devices while on break. Other stations throughout the center offer portable charging devices to meeting attendees."
The more A/V that's built in, the better. "Young professionals are looking for technology that makes their life easier. It's much more appealing when a venue has built in A/V capabilities rather than having to rent everything," explains Morris, who says the Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center has five new turnkey spaces that each have pre-rigged, pre-wired LED lighting.
Millennial-minded venues ensure that connectivity and convenience extend beyond meeting spaces, according to Plemons. At Hotel Zephyr, for example, meeting planners and attendees can book meeting spaces via the mobile app Bizly; when they return to their room at the end of the day, they can use the same smartphone they used to book their meeting room to stream movies or music to their television, as each hotel guest room has G-LINK connectivity that allows them to access content from their devices in their room.
At both Radisson RED Minneapolis and Aloft Boston Seaport, guests can bypass the front desk by checking into the hotel on their smartphone and using it as a mobile key to access their guest room. The latter is even testing voice-activated guest rooms.
"We have collaborated with Apple on 10 rooms where you can ask Siri to turn on the lights, change the temperature, and set up your favorites on the TV," DeLeo says. "That increased convenience and always-on connectivity is what Millennials really want."
The final piece of the Millennial puzzle? Authenticity, according to Merino, who says hotels with strict uniforms, customer service scripts, and other corporate accouterments are a turn-off.
"Millennials can sense when you are trying too hard," he concludes. "The goal … [should be] to create authentic and genuine connections. We encourage our guests and our teams to 'come as you are.' We don't subscribe to scripts, and we want everyone to bring their authentic self to the party."
This article originally appeared on Successful Meetings.