Skift Take

The gap between what Millennial-age conference attendees want and what hotels are offering is huge, and it's way beyond time for the hospitality industry to wake up to its very real challenges and opportunities.

By anyone’s estimate of traditional meeting design best practices, the Meeting Professionals International Southeast Educational Conference last year at the Bonaventure Resort in Fort Lauderdale was deftly designed for older people.

During the pre-dinner cocktail reception in the main hotel ballroom, there were a bunch of casino tables set up around the dance floor while a live band on stage played 80’s tunes. Outside the ballroom in the prefunction space, there was a large mini-golf layout that helped create group movement between the two spaces.

There were also numerous communal tables and chairs set up in both the ballroom and prefunction space.

The casino games and mini-golf were heavily trafficked throughout the evening. Likewise, a lot of people sat at the communal tables to network live with each other and virtually through their devices.

Here’s the thing. Almost every person playing the casino games and mini-golf appeared to be a Gen X or Boomer attendee. Almost every person sitting at the communal tables was a Millennial. We checked this multiple times throughout the night, and one time we walked up to each table to get a clear look at everyone just to make sure.

The difference between how the younger and older generations engaged with one another at the hotel could not have been more black and white.

We didn’t think too much more about that evening after the event, but the conversation around Millennial-specific meeting design in hotels has really come to the fore since then. As we put together the recent Skift Trends Report: What Millennials Want in Meetings, the MPI event emerged into a clearer case study about the state of modern meeting design.

So we shared the Fort Lauderdale experience with the following Millennial-age meeting planners to hear why they thought their Gen Y colleagues didn’t engage with the older attendees. Here’s what they had to say.

Jenni Kuchenbecker, 27, Certified Meeting Professional (CMP), director of education services, Iowa Hospital Association:

It can be really intimidating when you go into events and you feel like you’re the outsider who is entering what feels like a sorority or frat house, where everyone knows everyone. And then to top it off, you’re about 15 years younger than everyone in the room. Finding conversation can sometimes be difficult because we are at such different points in our lives compared to the older generation, and we have a variety of different hobbies.

The activities that were selected, gambling and golf, in my opinion fit the older generation, and that’s who they were targeting. Those are two things I know my parents and their friends love to do, but they’re not really my thing. If I’m going to a work event, then having an activity that I can do is important. For example, I went on a work trip to Portland and got to do glass blowing. That was awesome. Also, we are constantly communicating with our phones, so even if the Millennials were playing the games, the phones would have been out.

Claire Repass, 28, CMP, manager, communications, Social Tables:

We really don’t want to have a barrier between our connectivity with one another. Like those Millennials who were sitting at the tables and talking to one another and on their phones, a lot of them are probably just wanting to get to know people. And it’s probably kind of awkward to get to know someone when you’re playing miniature golf, right?

Because then you’re spending however much time with a stranger, especially if you’re there by yourself, and you’re trying to network but it’s not exactly the best opportunity to network because you have a golf club in your hand. It’s actually distracting from the communication. Face-to-face relationships mean face-to-face relationships.

Magdalina Atanassova, 30, communication manager, AIM Group International:

We are not that familiar with golf and casino-type games. I think that event really brought up the generation gap. Me personally, I have no idea what to do in a casino. I do not understand it, and it does not bring up any emotional response. I might have played a casino-type game on my old video game when I was a kid, but I have no real relation to it.

I have tried golf, but again, I believe it doesn’t appeal to Millennials that much. I know that back in the day, many business relationships were built during card games and on the golf field, but Millennials don’t have that background. We are building our relationships online and that’s what brings an emotional response. It is more fun to sit down and exchange some social media profiles or talk about something that went viral, because we do relate to that.

Michael Cubbage, 29, Certified Government Meeting Professional (CGMP), principal, Meeting Contractors:

Having not seen the actual setup, this is a little difficult to answer. But one guess could be that since they were the youngest or most junior level participants at the meeting, likely they’re still working to prove themselves. It seems they didn’t want to put themselves in a position where they could lose at something and thereby be viewed as less qualified or less capable.

Kacie Hackett, 25, specialist, Consumer Electronics Show conferences, Consumer Electronics Association:

I’ve been to events like that myself, but I don’t think it’s necessarily an age thing. I think that there are people who have been going to those events for awhile, so they know each other and always gravitate towards the same people, and they aren’t necessarily ready to mingle with the newer people who don’t know anyone. The people who don’t know anyone find the other people who don’t know anyone.

The people I end up talking to are always the people who also don’t know anyone, and the age could be across the board there. I’m not sure it’s really a generational thing as it is a need to better facilitate interaction among all attendees.

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Tags: meetings, millennials

Photo credit: This is what the average Millennial conference attendee thinks about your traditional meeting design. Flickr

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