Hotel Group Meetings: Demand vs. Supply


Virtual Meetings & Events: A Trend Born Before COVID-19 But Now Thrust into Adulthood

By Justin Taillon Department Head Hospitality & Tourism Management, Highline College | August 30, 2020

There was a trend toward online meetings and events even before COVID-19. For example, ZOOM had 10 million registered users, Microsoft Teams was being marketed as a top-notch solution to existing industry problems, and emerging tech savvy organizations were developing software for exhibition halls, webinars, and basic meetings. The emergence of COVID-19 sped up an already influx meeting and event environment.

In fact, it is safe to say that nearly every single meeting and event has been cancelled or moved entirely online in 2020. Some astounding figures evidence this movement:

  • ZOOM grew from 10 million daily meeting participants in December 2019 to 300 million in April 2020 (CNBC, 2020)
  • More than one billion people globally have participated in an online meeting since COVID-19 shutdowns began (Events Council, 2020)
  • 31% of event planners refuse to travel themselves in 2020, let alone attendees (PCMA, 2020)
  • 55% of meeting and event suppliers believe the meetings and events will never return to pre-COVID-19 levels. They believe smaller, more regional (i.e. rather than global or national), hybrid (i.e. online mixed with some face-to-face), and entirely online meetings and events are permanent responses to COVID-19 (Convene Editors, 2020)

When viewing the emerging research data, speaking with industry decision-makers, and surveying consumers it seems obvious that we, as an industry, need to prepare for a long-term move to online meetings and events. This does not mean that all events will move online; it does mean that we need to prepare for the future or else risk becoming obsolete.

We are acclimating to an online environment. Our customer base is also adapting. The hospitality customer base has quickly adjusted to new realities surrounding meetings and events. They have downloaded and become acclimated with ZOOM, Blue Jeans, Facetime, Google Meet, Skype, Microsoft Teams, and more. Many of those in our customer base have even held their own meetings and webinars on these platforms. Research shows that our consumers consider themselves tech savvy and capable of moving events online with limited assistance.

The movement of our customer base to an online environment before we are prepared is problematic for multiple reasons. One recent study I conducted included interviews with consumers. I identified some worrisome signs for our professional meeting planners:

  • Professionally designed meetings and events are more than opening a ZOOM link. Yet, at the moment our customer base does not realize this.
  • In the 1970s and 1980s, as meeting and event planning was hitting its stride as a profession, a major barrier was a lack of respect for the soft skills meeting planners have. The industry is having dejà vu. Professional meeting and event planners are not having their skill sets respected in an online format.
  • Meeting and event planners need to prove their worth through software platforms as well as their previously established hard skills in planning. The shift to being tech savvy is a barrier though. Kim Myhre, CEO and managing partner at Experienced Designed, explained it this way, "Up to this point, we've been lazy. We've had live events and we haven't really had to learn these new skills and invest in these new technologies. As organizers and associations play catch-up, attendees are willing to forgive missteps. But that won't last forever". (Wagner, 2020, para. 5).

I am personally experiencing the aforementioned barriers, and more, in my professional life. As Chair of the Hospitality Industry Technology Exposition & Conference (HITEC), I am a part of planning for this type of movement to an online environment. HITEC has attracted many thousands of attendees each year for decades. This year the entire conference, including our showroom floor, will be moving online. I am learning to respect the emerging barriers to success in this new reality. The movement to an online meeting and event space would not be possible without professional meeting and event planners.

This article examines the barriers I am currently experiencing as Chair of HITEC. There are also interviews with meeting and event professionals that lead me to realize I am not alone in experiencing these barriers. In fact, while interviewing the seven professional planners this article is based on I realized that we are nearly all facing the same barriers, whether nonprofit associations, professional associations, or businesses. The redundancy in feedback from planners is palpable.

Barriers to Successful Online Meetings & Events

I conducted interviews with seven professional meeting and event planners. These planners were from disparate areas of hospitality: two worked in the nonprofit sector, two worked as professional association planners, one worked at a hotel (i.e. a large urban independent property), one worked for a DMO (Destination Management Organization), and one works in hospitality data.

Furthermore, as HITEC Chair I had access to extensive participant observation opportunities. Although the seven interviewed individuals and approximately 25 individuals I worked with personally while planning HITEC are from contrasting segments of the meeting and events space, it was telling that the barriers to moving from face-to-face to online platforms due to COVID-19 were consistent between nearly everyone.

These are the primary barriers to moving meetings and events to an online format according to my data collection. This is not intended as an exhaustive list, but rather an assessment of some primary issues we all shared:

  • Money: Pricing to Profit while Investing in the Future
  • Hardware, Software, Devices, and Operating Systems
  • Branding and Messaging
  • Time
  • Hybridity and Engagement

Money: Pricing to Profit while Investing in the Future

Event planners need to make a profit. It is literally their livelihood. Yet, attendees believe online meetings and events should cost less than live events according to the interviews. One interviewee said of attendee thinking, "In a lot of people's minds, virtual equals no expenses. They say to themselves, "Why would I pay for a ticket?" The entire budgeting process is different for planners".

Attendees believe online events should be cheap, or even free. Yet, expenses are more in some cases for online events. This makes identifying the correct pricing strategy integral to an event's success. Event planners normally base pricing on historical data in revenue management models. This is not possible at the moment though, as there is no historical data for what our industry is facing. One event planner said the following of pricing, "Something interesting, we looked at a lot of other events. Their pitch is you are saving so much money without the travel, hotels, dinners, per diem, however else, that they are charging the same amount online as face-to-face events".  It should be noted that this planner's events have been discounted approximately 70%-85% from 2019's face-to-face events. Perhaps this interviewee said it most succinctly: "Pricing is confusing".

To compound pricing issues is the cost of moving content online. There are two primary forms of cost that do not necessarily exist at face-to-face events. First, there is new hardware. Secondly, there is new software. The event planner needs to choose which products to purchase and which to outsource. This is the difference between short-term investment and long-term investment in online meetings and events.

One interview summarized the costs of moving online with software well, "This stuff isn't cheap. We started out looking. We learned that Blue Jeans is the Porsche of virtual meeting space. But it was $10,000 events, with the nonprofit discount. That isn't the point of anything we do. Microsoft's Teams is free, which is a big bonus, and there are features. From a personal stand-point, there are issues with Teams that makes me as an attendee crazy though…Blue Jeans has customer support. Teams really doesn't…then there is ZOOM. It can be brought into a platform called Hoova. It gives an enhanced exhibitor experience. Attendees can come in and speak to each other, talk to sponsors. They can click to another part when the presentation goes live. They won't realize the ZOOM integration".

Listening to event planners speak so well to emerging online technologies provided solid evidence of how far the industry has come in a short period of time. It also provided insight to how crowded and complicated the online meeting and event marketplace is at the moment.

Hardware, Software, Devices, and Operating Systems

One interviewee who is still wrapping his head around the new requirements of his position said the following, "There is a lot of html stuff…Software data will need to integrate with outsourced organizations. The platforms are different… Exhibitor sales and sponsorships are a third system. Exhibitor registration will be done through our existing systems…Virtual event platforms require onboarding. Training is extensive. This is a first for everyone outside of ZOOM. The platforms are new and different."

If you are thinking that the above quote does not make complete sense, then you are not alone. The professional event planner did not understand all of the logistics either. He knew the complications of moving his event online but not the logistics. He is an event planner, not an IT manager. Elements of this were consistent amongst the interviews. They had a basic comprehension of hardware needs, enough to know they needed assistance from outsourced A/V companies. They had all learned a lot about software in the past few months; all of their knowledge was new in this area though.

The interviewees knew that their events needed to be available on desktops, laptops, and tablets while also working on Android, Windows, and iOS. Organizations such as HFTP, with technology literally being a part of the acronym, are well-versed in the movement to an online environment. Their existing industry partners are literally the organizations needed to move online effectively. Not all organizations I interviewed were this prepared. One event planner admitted she knew little and had entirely turned her operation to one individual she believed was tech savvy. She could not even say whether the price she was paying was good or bad:

"We were very fortunate. We found a guy who does this (A/V) and has his own company. He does large-scale meetings. He had all his equipment…He charged us a little bit more, but he gave us a really sweet discount. He knew what he was doing…We were fortunate."

Branding and Messaging

The hospitality industry has become savvy in branding and messaging. Effective marketing campaigns were becoming second nature. Perhaps we were getting too comfortable because COVID-19 has upended our approach. We are attempting to brand and market our events, sponsorships, silent auctions, and more without historical data or tried and true methods to guide us.

Messaging refers to how an organization forwards its mission, vision, and values to those inside and outside of the organization. Messaging is a particular issue in the movement to online, as one misstep can harm a brand. For example, a messaging barrier to success is deciding when to move an event from face-to-face to online. One event planner chose to wait until the last moment, in hopes of maximizing attendance: "We shared news with our top fundraisers but there were still some people that were hopeful. We knew it was a no-brainer (to move the event online) but we did not let everyone know (that the event would be moving online)…It all happened in basically one week. We gave a three-day notice".

HITEC was moved from face-to-face in June to online in October. We made this decision early in the process. We believed that announcing an online event pro-actively was positive for the brand. It is true that it meant we could not back out and move to face-to-face if the pandemic subsided, but the benefits of maintaining our trustworthiness as a brand is integral to the long-term success of the HITEC brand. Still, it was not clear until quite recently that we made the right decision. In early May it could not have been known what the pandemic would have in store for us in October.

How to message and brand effectively moving forward remains a primary barrier to the success of moving events online. My advice: commit to online pro-actively and focus your efforts on the best possible online event. Your time and the quality of your brand are each too valuable to play games with.


Your time is valuable. The time of your attendees, co-workers, sponsors, and all other delegates is also valuable. Yet, minimizing time when moving meetings and events to online platforms is difficult. One interviewee best described the situation many organizations are facing right now: "Time is the other barrier. Our staff got cut from 12 to 5. We are doing things we did not do before. That is the case for a lot of organizations right now. You have more stuff to do in less time and you have not been trained for it. And you're navigating working from home".

Furthermore, learning the new technologies can be time-consuming. One interviewee explained how he is leading his team, "Virtual event platform requires onboarding. Training is extensive. The platforms are new and different…there are barriers (related to time): manual process work, operating processes, registration, qualified buyer processes as everyone needs to be vetted who gets registration…"

Hybridity and Engagement

Events are no longer taking place with the idea that when the speaker finishes then the event is done. There is the necessity of hybridity. For example, HITEC is taking place live from October 27-29. The sessions are subsequently available for approximately one month after the live event ends. One professional meeting planner explained, "We focused on the hybridity of it. This is a norm industry-wide".  The idea of hybridity was furthered by another interviewee. She said, "We have 3 days live and then 30 days of available education. We tried to bring the familiar into this new virtual platform. We kept the live (sessions) but are able to do new things. Things that we couldn't do before".

Another planner focused on networking as a central component of engagement: "…this allows them time to catch up with people in the networking lounges. Networking is so hard to replace, compared to a live event. Engagement in general is something we are going to work on operationally. Keep people signed in. Prizes? Scavenger hunt? How can we keep people engaged?"

Every single interviewee spoke about engagement. One of my final interviewees used a term that I believe many of the other interviewees were searching for: ambiance. Professional meeting and event planners are well-versed in creating an engaging world for attendees, one that leads to engagement. This is difficult in an online capacity though: "For me it's a fact that you can't control as much as you could have. Themes such as Transported to Alice in Wonderful are not possible anymore. With music, cocktails, you're getting to look at the auction items. Now it's, well, that's part of the reason you won't raise the same amount engagement…we are marketing a message though for online events. We work with restaurants to create an ambiance. You can pick up a meal, get wine. Ambiance!"

There are numerous existing barriers to event planners during COVID-19. We cannot just wait for COVID-19 lockdowns to end though. We need to overcome these barriers because our industry has moved online for longer than the COVID-19 shutdown. The expectations of attendees to be able to access online materials will stay with us long-term.

Attendees are expecting cheaper prices to access longer events. The events should be accessible not only in live formats, but also post-event. Their expectations are difficult to meet, especially with the hardware and software prices and learning curves. Yet, to ensure our messaging is consistent and our brands continue to stand for excellence, we need to spend the time and money necessary to learn and access these platforms. Now is not the time to piecemeal together an event; rather, we should invest our time and money into effective software that integrates registration, exhibitor showcases, education sessions, and more.

On my final note, HFTP's HITEC has invested the time, money, and energy into having a high-quality show. We have taken all the best practices we can identify and implemented them. We are confident the first Cyber HITEC will be a success! We could not do it without all of the knowledge we gained from our partners. Working together has never been more important in meeting and event planning.

I was proud when one commented, "That's something I've definitely noticed right now: comradery. We share knowledge, and we're being supportive".  Now is not the time to harbor secrets to our successes; we should be "community-centric because we're not competing for resources" as one interviewee stated.


- CNBC. (2020). ZOOM walks back claims it has 300 million daily active users. CNBC. July 20, 2020.

- Convene Editors. (2020). More planners than suppliers see hybrid events as most likely recovery scenario. PCMA.  July 31, 2020.

- Events Council. (2020). Economic impact research. Events Council. July 28, 2020.

- PCMA. (2020). COVID-19 recovery dashboard. PCMA. July 27, 2020.

- Wagner, C. (2020). Participants will pay for virtual events if the content is compelling enough. PCMA. July 30, 2020.

Mr. Taillon Justin Taillon high school guidance counsellor nailed his professional path when she called him a hospitality personality when handing him his diploma. Mr. Taillon subsequently spent a decade in hospitality operations including stints with Starwood, Marriott, and Hilton. In 8 years he opened 4 properties, in roles varying from intern in the housekeeping department to Assistant General Manager. In fact, his lodging career began in Food & Beverage operations while he was still in high school, he moved into hotel operations while earning his bachelor's degree from the University of Houston, and his applied lodging career culminated in an Assistant General Manager posting with Hilton. He then moved into academia, working toward higher education degrees from the University of Guelph (MBA) in Toronto and Texas A&M University (PhD). The dichotomy of applied and academic work remains integral to Mr. Taillon. Mr. Taillon can be contacted at 206-878-3710 or Please visit for more information. Extended Biography

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By contacting HotelExecutive and complaining of an alleged violation, you agree that the substance of your complaint shall constitute a representation made under the pains and penalties of perjury pursuant to the laws of the State of California. In addition, you agree, at your own expense, to defend and indemnify HotelExecutive and hold HotelExecutive harmless against all claims which may be asserted against HotelExecutive, and all losses incurred, as a result of your complaint and/or our response to it.

D. Waiver of Claims and Remedies

We expect all users of our Site to take responsibility for their own actions and cannot and do not assume liability for any acts of third parties which take place at our Site. By utilizing the Good Samaritan procedures set forth herein, you waive any and all claims or remedies which you might otherwise be able to assert against hotelexecutive under any theory of law (including, but not limited to, intellectual property laws) that arise out of or relate in any way to the content at hotelexecutive or our response, or failure to respond, to a complaint.

E. Investigation/Liability Limitation

You agree that we have the right, but not the obligation, to investigate any complaint received. By reserving this right, we do not undertake any responsibility in fact to investigate complaints or to remove, edit, disable or restrict access to or the availability of Content. We will not act on complaints that we believe, in our sole discretion, to be deficient, incomplete, or otherwise questionable. If you believe that Content remains on HotelExecutive which violates your rights, Your sole and exclusive remedy shall be against the user or other party responsible for said content, not against HotelExecutive. your sole and exclusive remedy against HotelExecutive shall be to terminate your use of HotelExecutive and service.

Digital Millennium Copyright Act Compliance. As set forth in Subsection (b), you must contact our agent if you believe that a work protected by a U.S. Copyright which you own has been posted on our Site without authorization or that our Site, in some material way, contributes to its infringement. It is our policy in appropriate circumstances, if possible, to terminate the access rights of repeat infringers and other users who use HotelExecutive in an inappropriate or objectionable manner.


HotelExecutive reserves the right to fully cooperate with any law enforcement authorities or court order requesting or directing HotelExecutive to disclose the identity or other information regarding any user or member alleged by any governmental entity to be using HotelExecutive or any Content or materials available in, at, through or in association with HotelExecutive in violation of any law or regulation, or in violation of this Agreement, including, without limitation, the posting of e-mail messages, or publishing or otherwise making available any such materials. By accepting this agreement you waive and hold harmless HotelExecutive from any claims resulting from any action by HotelExecutive during, or as a result of, its investigations, and from any actions taken as a consequence of investigations by either HotelExecutive or law enforcement authorities


If any provision(s) of this Agreement is held by a court of competent jurisdiction to be contrary to law, then such provision(s) shall be construed, as nearly as possible, to reflect the intentions of the parties with the other provisions remaining in full force and effect. HotelExecutive's failure to exercise or enforce any right or provision of this Agreement shall not constitute a waiver of such right or provision unless acknowledged and agreed to by HotelExecutive in writing. The section titles in this Agreement are solely used for the convenience of the parties and have no legal or contractual significance. This Agreement may be assigned in whole or in part by HotelExecutive. This Agreement may not be assigned in any manner by you without the express, prior written permission of HotelExecutive.

Any and all disputes or controversies of any kind, including but not limited to any performance, duty, obligation or liability arising under or related to this Agreement which are not first resolved informally, shall be determined by binding arbitration in San Francisco, California, in accordance with the rules of the American Arbitration Association. The final award in any such arbitration proceeding shall be subject to entry as a judgment by any court or competent jurisdiction, provided that such judgment does not conflict with the terms and provisions hereof. The jurisdiction of the arbiter (or arbiters) with respect to legal matters shall be limited only by the statutory and common law of the State of California and the United States.

Notwithstanding the foregoing, any and all disputes, which the parties cannot informally resolve, regarding the scope of issues or matter with the jurisdiction of the arbitrator, shall be resolved by a separate dispute resolution process whereby HotelExecutive, in its sole discretion shall elect the dispute to be resolved by either (1) a court of competent jurisdiction in the State of California or (2) a panel of three new arbitrators.

This Agreement shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of the State of California notwithstanding any conflict of laws provisions. You and HotelExecutive agree that the venue for all legal disputes, controversies, actions of any kind arising under or related to this Agreement shall be San Francisco, California. You and HotelExecutive further agree that in case of any litigation regarding this Agreement, you irrevocably and unconditionally (i) consent to submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the state and federal courts in the County of San Francisco, California for any litigation or dispute arising out of or relating to this Agreement, (ii) agree not to commence any litigation arising out of or relating to this Agreement except in the California Courts, (iii) agree not to plead or claim that such litigation brought therein has been brought in an inconvenient forum, and (iv) agree the California Courts represent the exclusive jurisdiction for all litigation relating to this Agreement.


Hotel Business Review Subscriptions

If you choose to purchase a subscription, member subscription payments can be made in U.S. Dollars, as well as a variety of international currencies. Membership terms are Annual Recurring, and Monthly Recurring. The Annual Recurring subscription is an annual commitment and subscribers will be charged each consecutive billing cycle. Annual Recurring subscriptions can be cancelled after the first billing cycle and within 30-days of the billing date for a full refund. Monthly Recurring subscriptions are ongoing and subscribers will be charged each consecutive monthly billing cycle. Monthly Recurring subscriptions can be cancelled after the first month and within 7 days of the monthly billing cycle for a full refund.


Payment for the services provided to you in, at, through or in association with HotelExecutive may be made by automatic credit card, debit card, direct debit, bankwire or Paypal and other approved payment means offered in, at, through or in association with HotelExecutive, and you hereby authorize HotelExecutive and its agents to transact such payments on your behalf.

You hereby authorize HotelExecutive's Internet Payment Service Provider to charge your credit card to pay for your membership to HotelExecutive. You further authorize HotelExecutive's Internet Payment Service Provider to charge your credit card for any and all purchases of products, services in association with HotelExecutive. You agree to be personally liable for all charges incurred by you in association with your access or other use of any content provided by HotelExecutive or any third party in association with HotelExecutive. You acknowledge and agree that your liability for all such charges shall continue after termination of your access or any type of membership arrangement with HotelExecutive.

In the event that you have chosen to have your membership automatically rebilled, unless and until you notify HotelExecutive that you wish to cancel or terminate your membership to HotelExecutive, you hereby agree and authorize HotelExecutive's Internet Payment Service Provider to automatically renew your membership to HotelExecutive on a continuing basis and to charge your credit card (or other payment means you have selected) to pay for the ongoing cost of your membership. You hereby further authorize HotelExecutive's Internet Payment Service Provider to charge your credit card (or other approved payment means you have selected) for any and all purchases of products, services and entertainment provided to in, at, through or in association with HotelExecutive.


The following is the Privacy Policy for HotelExecutive

We can be reached via telephone, email, or online at our contact page. When you visit our site we do not log any information regarding your domain or email address. Information Sharing: We do not share user information with any third parties other than via press release distribution as described below.

Hotel Newswire is a newswire service that distributes press releases on behalf of our users. If you decide to submit a press release for distribution through our system we will transmit your entire press release including any personal information therein contained to our media contacts and online distribution points including search engines. This is the only redistribution of your information that we engage in. Your submission of press releases through our system indicates consent with this policy. The information we collect during your registration process is used to notify users about updates to our service and inform users of any special events hosted by Hotel Newswire. This information is not shared with other organizations for commercial or non-commercial purposes.

Cookies: Our system requires the use of cookies to enable the user to log back into our website to access information from the newswire, without having to log in each time using the required username and password.

If you do not want to receive email from us in the future, please let us know by following instructions included in our communication with you. Users who supply us with telephone numbers online may receive telephone contact from us regarding their account, or informing them of new products and services available on the HotelExecutive website. If you do not wish to receive such telephone calls, please edit your account and remove your phone number from your account profile. This can be done from your user account menu.

Ad Servers: We do not partner with or have any relationship with any ad server companies. From time to time, we may use customer information for new uses not previously disclosed in our privacy notice. If our information practices change at any time, we will post the policy changes to our website to notify you of these changes and provide you with the ability to opt out of these new uses. If you are concerned about how your information is used, you should check back at our website periodically.

Upon request we provide site visitors with access to all information (including proprietary information) that we maintain about them. Users can access this information by logging in to their account.

Security: We always use industry-standard encryption technologies while transferring and receiving user data exchanged with our site. We have appropriate security measures in place in our physical facilities to protect against the loss, misuse, or alteration of information that we have collected from you on our site. We do not store credit card information in our systems.

If you feel that this site is not following its stated information policy, you may contact us.


Zoe Connolly

Everyone reacts to a crisis in their own way. Some retreat into their own silo whereas others seek to collaborate. As an industry, the speed of recovery depends on the latter as travelers expect to travel safely and can stay healthy throughout their journey. We call this transparency, and it... Read on...

Jan Sammeck
Daniel Poulin
Susanne Carter
Martin Stoll
Court Williams
Kate Keisling
Greg Berman
Joe Ogdie
Rob Adams
Nancy Loman Scanlon, Ph.D.
Coming up in October 2020...

Revenue Management: Maximizing Profit

Hotel Revenue Management continues to evolve at a blistering pace. Driven by technological innovation and new distribution channels, there are some dynamic opportunities for expansion in this fast-growing field. The technology is primarily designed to help revenue managers further refine their operations and pricing models to maximize hotel profit. For example, hotels can't be all things to all people, so a key strategy is to precisely identify their target audience. By employing geo-targeting techniques and analyzing behavior such as previous bookings, on-property purchases and online shopping practices, there is an increased capability to define guest demographics. By segmenting customers in more specific ways, hotels are able to create more personalized experiences which, in turn, allow managers to optimize their room rates. It is also an effective way to fulfill the unique needs and preferences of the individual. Another methodology is to consistently monitor the competition's pricing strategies. There are software tools that analyze a competitor's current rates, and then allow a hotel to make its own pricing adjustments. It is also a useful means to conduct forecasting models. Other technologies that are being integrated into a revenue manager's toolkit include Artificial Intelligence in the form of automated algorithms, and Voice Recognition (VR) for data inquiries, rate changes, and booking behavior. Predictive and analytic software programs are also being leveraged to provide more forward-looking data, instead of the usual reliance on historical performance. These metrics allow managers to be more proactive - rather than reactive - with their revenue strategy. The October issue of the Hotel Business Review will examine these developments and report on how some leading hotels are executing their revenue management strategies.