With more than 60 properties across the JW Marriott, Renaissance, Marriott, and Gaylord brands, as well as the Autograph Collection, Marriott’s Convention & Resort Network can be a revealing microcosm of the big-meeting universe, revealing trends in spending, agenda-building, and booking.

Convention hotels in the network all have at least 600 guest rooms, a large amount of meeting space, sizable ballrooms, and a focus on meetings that are national in scope; resorts in the network have at least 350 rooms and are group-focused.

In surveying its CRN properties last year, Marriott found a lot to cheer about:

• 41 percent of hotels said large groups are booking farther out. “Planners are changing their strategies and now are looking much further ahead in order to secure desired dates, locations, and patterns,” said Mike Wainwright, vice president, sales strategy, for the network.

• Nearly 8 in 10 Marriott CRN hotels reported that spend was up in 2015, and 90 percent of these are U.S. resorts.

• Nearly 7 in 10 properties said groups increased F&B spending in 2015.

• Almost half of the hotels said cancellations in 2015 decreased from the previous two years, while two-thirds of the hotels said the majority of large groups achieved or exceeded their room blocks in 2015.

It’s All About the Attendee Experience
When it comes to looking ahead to 2016, the trends reported by the hotels and resorts across the network clearly focus on the attendee experience. First and foremost (and no surprise) is wellness, both mental and physical.

Today’s twists:

• Instead of yoga, there’s yoga on stand-up paddle boards—that’s right, SUP Yoga, a favorite activity at Frenchman’s Reef & Morning Star Marriott Beach Resort in St. Thomas.

• Considering the popularity of bloggers and YouTubers these days, Marriott partnered with one: Sarah Dussault, of SarahFit, who shared tips for planners to incorporate into meetings to help attendees maintain their energy and avoid burnout.

• Healthy food at breaks is expected, but how about setting up a nap room?

Drink Up!
Less about health and more about relaxation is the emergence of a property’s beverage director as a key resource for planners. Cocktails, mocktails, and food-and-drink pairings are all popular, and can incorporate other value-adds as well, such as bringing in an authentic local experience (think moonshine bars in the South; rum tastings in the Caribbean).

On With the Show
Planners are stepping up their production requirements as well, and CRN hotels reported increased budgets for more “wow” factors at general sessions. Wainwright noted that all of Marriott’s new large convention hotels (such Marriott Marquis Washington, DC, and JW Marriott Austin; plus these, under construction: Marriott Marquis Houston; Marriott Marquis Chicago; and Gaylord Rockies Resort & Convention Center) will have ballrooms with ceiling heights of at least 20 feet. With attendees accustomed to HDTV at home, planners are incorporating videomapping and other specialized projection and lighting to meet ever-higher expectations.

Taking it Outside
Then there are properties that have something truly special to share. The JW Marriott Orlando, Grande Lakes, is adjacent to Whisper Creek Farm, a 7,000-square-foot fruit and vegetable garden with an adjoining 11,000-square-foot outdoor event space, barn, apiary, and chicken coop.

Groups can get a genuine farm-to-fork experience at this venue, which accommodates 550 guests. Participants are encouraged to walk around the garden and pick the produce. Products from the farm are featured at events as well as throughout the resort at both The Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes, and JW Marriott Orlando, Grande Lakes.

Find the list of Marriott’s Convention & Resort Network properties here.