Meetings & Events planning: What makes meetings work?

In a Q&A, BCD M&E’s Jenna Baker explores key trends, challenges, and innovations shaping the future of meetings and events, including AI advancements, sustainability efforts, and the rise of in-person and hybrid events. She explains how creative strategies and new technologies are driving success in 2024 and beyond.

Midway through 2024, the MICE industry continues its upward trend, despite some challenges from the last few years remaining in place. Rising costs, budgets, hybrid events and sustainability concerns remain on the watchlist, but Jenna Baker, vice president for BCD Meetings & Events and BCD’s Life Sciences Center of Excellence, says the M&E outlook is bright. Here’s our Q&A with Jenna.

Jenna: The obstacles we face today are the similar to what we have been facing for a while now. They include inflation and rising costs and budgets that are “flat” on the client side. A flat budget means we have less money to work with from the previous year so we have amped up our creativity to negotiate the best rates for our customers. Creativity in terms of efficiency and negotiation has become a key pillar for BCD M&E. This also helps us combat the seller’s market in the hotel space.

Jenna: Everyone is talking about Artificial Intelligence, but not everyone is using it. BCD M&E has been using robotic process automation and machine learning for years. It seems like every day we come up with a new use case for bots – and that’s very exciting. Many corporations are hesitant to use Generative AI tools like Chat GPT because of security concerns. The desire to use these tools paired with the risk they pose has created a unique opportunity for us. BCD M&E has developed a new Generative AI tool called Assist which has the potential to significantly enhance our efficiency and effectiveness. The best part is that the tool prioritizes the security and privacy of any data entered into it and doesn’t have the same risks as a mass market tool.

Jenna Baker, Vice President, Account management at BCD Meetings & Events
Jenna Baker VP BCD

Jenna Baker, DES, is Vice President, BCD Meetings & Events and BCD’s Life Sciences Center of Excellence (LSCOE). In her role, she continuously find ways to improve processes, impact team members through training, and simply find better ways to get things done. Prior to joining BCD in 2015, Jenna worked for American Express Global Business Travel, McVeigh Associates, and in the entertainment industry as a producer. She draws on her experiences as a television producer and three-times published author to help her teams craft strategies that engage audiences and keep people interested.

Jenna: In-person meetings are definitely in the lead, with virtual accounting for about 20% of the volume. The networking, engagement, immersion, learning and social interactions we experience in person are unmatched. The break from routine that meetings provide often is the impetus that stimulates creativity, focus, and broader business opportunities.

Many in-person meetings include a hybrid component, whether they want to officially declare themselves hybrid or not. One thing I have noticed is that the requirement for employees to go back to the office has also shown up as a requirement to attend meetings in-person. This means more in-person meetings than we have seen in a long time.

In early spring, I went to the Travel and Meetings Society IGNITE conference (TAMS) in Atlanta. This was their first in-person industry event and they really took the opportunity seriously. TAMS featured immersive experiences and workshops that really couldn’t be experienced any way other than live. Moving around, talking with people and learning new things was a great way to get our minds working and our bodies moving. It was proof, too, that people find value in attending live conference and events.

Jenna: I’m excited that our latest Meetings & Events sustainability guide will be launching soon. When it comes to sustainability in meetings and events, planners should start with the basics. We have to be prepared because attendees have certain expectations when they attend a meeting. They don’t want to see single-use plastic anywhere. They don’t want to be handed a bunch of papers. And, they don’t like to see food waste. Recently during a meeting at the Hilton Americas Houston, the chef came out to explain that all the food not consumed by our group would be donated to a local food bank. They also talked to us about their laundry facility and how they recycle water for less water waste. These little things make a big difference and should be forefront in the conversation when choosing a venue and planning a meeting.

Jenna: Our future looks bright! We recently completed our Thinking Forward three-year plan at BCD M&E which includes a lot of exciting initiatives. Our priorities are keeping our employees engaged and empowered so they can better service our customers. We are focused on creativity both in the way we plan meetings and the solutions and efficiencies we can utilize to improve our service. And, lastly we are focused on growth. We aim to grow bigger and better in the next three years and I am looking forward to the journey.

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