The Krisam Insurance Advisory Board meeting has always been an intimate event, with free-flowing discussion and all topics on the table. This year, the 13th annual KRIAB drew 22 planners, hoteliers, and Krisam Group and Global Events Partners executives to the Jumeirah Essex House in New York City.

The overall mood, reports Laurel Rhoads McCarthy, CMP, Chicago-based director of sales for Krisam, a membership organization for more than 240 hotels and resorts worldwide, was upbeat but realistic. Meetings and incentive programs are back and high-end hotels are in the site selection mix again—but costs remain under scrutiny.

In fact, she said, “some planners are being personally evaluated on cost savings, so hotels have even been asked to write into contracts the savings on the negotiated room rate (versus the rack rate), and the dollar value of upgrades along with all savings.”

McCarthy says that one planner reported greater involvement from the finance department in meetings—even to the point of “re-evaluating things that are already in the approved budget. Everything is being questioned.”

Planners’ creativity is therefore being tested: How can they work with their supplier partners to add value without adding cost? Among their strategies, McCarthy says, are less spending on production and staging and more consideration of multi-year contracts with single properties to drive the best deal.

The Attendee Experience
Front and center amid the cost concerns, of course, is the meeting attendee. Jim Schultenover, president of both Krisam Group and its sister company Global Events Partners, names three buzzwords from the meeting: engagement, action, and choice.

Meeting planners are looking for ways to actively involve attendees in their own meeting experience, rather than having them passively absorb it. And they are also interested in elements that can be customized to participants, as a way to provide an extra touch.

“Planners are creating different experiences,” McCarthy notes. “The typical dinner in rounds of ten is becoming less popular. They’re still providing great F&B, but in a nontraditional setup that encourages more networking. They might mix high-boys with low tables, or use longer rectangular tables and offer a family-style dinner.”

Part of the customization comes out of necessity, as one planner reported needing special meals for 10 percent of attendees at a recent conference.

Seeing the C-Suite
During the past several years, says Schultenover, there was a lot of discussion about meeting planners “trying to get a seat at the table.” Now, he says, “They’ve got it. We are really pleased to see how far that has come. Their profile has been raised, their accountability has been raised. They are front and center in a way that had not been in years past.”

Some planners, McCarthy adds, “are actually sitting across from their CEOs and strategizing.”

KRIAB was co-hosted by Jumeirah Essex House, a Krisam Group Member, and by destination management company Empire Force Events, A Global Events Partner.