KRIAB 2012 brought together a group of experienced meeting planners from the insurance and financial services industry with hoteliers representing properties in the Krisam Group portfolio to discuss trends on both sides of the aisle, review hot-button issues, and get some hands-on time with iPads and apps.

Krisam Group President Jim Schultenover and Director of Sales Laurel Rhoads McCarthy led the event, Krisam’s 14th annual advisory board meeting for the insurance and financial industry. The Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain Resort & Spa in Phoenix, Ariz., played elegant host to the group. (Read about the exclusive resort, nestled into the northern slope of Camelback Mountain, in our On Location report.)

A willingness to address any and all issues was again the hallmark of the event. “I think there are two key reasons for the loyalty to KRIAB by some very senior people,” Schultenover says. “First is the ‘human scale’ of the advisory board. This impacts everyone in that we can cover big picture trends, but also dive into the details of an individual’s needs. The second is that the ‘advisory’ is a collective advisory, not just for Krisam Group/GEP. What I mean by that is the agenda is driven for, and by, the attendees. And because of the relationships that have been developed, the dialogue continues throughout the year.”

For Koleen Roach of Securian Financial Group, Chair of Financial & Insurance Conference Planners, KRIAB is on her must-attend list of annual events. “What I love most about this particular gathering of planners and hospitality partners is the caliber of planners who participate, the quality of the properties and sales managers represented, and the working environment Krisam Group works so passionately to create for us to do business in those few days.

“I always walk away with a new tool, resource, or idea to take back to my team. I also greatly appreciate the smaller, more intimate size of the group as it allows planners and sales associates to truly get to know each other. Each year I meet someone new and at the same time strengthen existing relationships.”

On that score, first-timers find they are quickly welcomed into the group. “I did not know what to expect,” says Maggie Johnston of Assurex Global in Dublin, Ohio, attending her first KRIAB. “I left the weekend energized and ready to take back all that I learned to my office. The opportunity to network with insurance industry meeting planners in such a small group setting was very valuable.”

On the other end of the spectrum, James Wolfe, CMP, of NCCI in Boca Raton, Fla., has attended all but one or two of the KRIAB meetings. “First of all, I’m flattered to be invited,” he says. “When I look around the room and gauge the talent and expertise present, I’m awestruck. And not just for the planners. The suppliers have as much, if not more, experience that they freely share. Many of them have seen both the ‘up’ and ‘down’ market swings.”

While no one seemed ready to say the economy had fully recovered, there was also a noticeable absence of “doom and gloom” around the table this year. In Wolfe’s view: “My take on the pulse of the group is that folks are feeling more positive about the recovery. No one is shouting, ‘Hooray it’s over,’ but there is a cautious optimism. And all the while the downturn has been going on, what I’ve continued to hear from hoteliers at the Krisam function is what they have done to improve their product, their service, their delivery… When the market comes back, which it seems to be doing, they’ll be ready.”

9 Trends From Planners

1. We’re ready to get rid of the six-inch binder in favor of the iPad.

2. We need to spend time focusing on the younger generation of qualifiers and potential qualifiers out there. What do they want?

3. Availability is becoming a concern, particularly among five-star properties.

4. Hotel bandwidth is already an issue, and is going to become more challenging as attendees and presenters bring more than one device with them, and use those devices for heavy-data downloads such as video and PowerPoint decks.

5. Executives are asking more questions about meetings and meeting spending, getting more involved, wanting more details.

6. Increasing airfare has had a huge impact on budgets.

7. The words “luxury” and “resort” are no longer seen as negatives in site selection. (At some companies, in fact, they never were.)

8. Easy access (airlift and ground transportation from the airport) to the meeting destination is becoming more important for some.

9. What can really “sell” an incentive property is access to something exclusive, such as golf on a private course or dinner with a celebrity chef. One planner’s chief executive puts it this way: If they can do it on their own, it’s not good enough.

5 Trends in the Hotel World

1. Companies are asking for increasingly personalized experiences for incentive attendees.

2. Some hotels are offering tiered Internet access: It’s free if you just want to check e-mail; more bandwidth comes at a price.

3. Executives may need to be pushed to make booking decisions earlier. With the coming availability crunch (which is already here at some destinations), hotels are not able to hold space as long as they have been without commitments.

4. Food and beverage costs have risen enormously, so planners may not get F&B-related concessions that they’ve become accustomed to.

5. The “RFP spam” problem continues: With electronic request for proposal systems, planners or their third-party representatives tend to send RFPs to more properties than they did in the past. Responding to these RFPs is time-consuming for hoteliers, because the electronic forms must be completed in a specific way and all fields must be filled in before the response can be sent, regardless of whether it’s a 50-person business meeting or a 700-person program. One planner suggested a possible solution: On the back end of an e-RFP system she once used, RFP forms could be streamlined and customized, which could make it less time-consuming for hotels to complete.


Financial & Insurance Planners: Issues and Takeaways

• Experienced meeting planners know that a major way hotels evaluate group business is the rooms-to-space ratio. So is there any way to book your business if you fall below the ratio? Said one hotelier: “We have to sell the rooms. If we don’t have the meeting space, we can’t sell the rooms. It’s as simple as that.”
Suggested a planner, “Tell me what I owe you, and I’ll bring that to my CEO.” It’s a potential solution, but only if there is a way to account for ancillary spend in addition to sleeping-room revenue. The consensus? “Don’t just say no” if a planner’s rooms-to-space ratio isn’t up to snuff. Instead, investigate a possible fee that could make up for it.

• One planner is noticing a line item for food-and-beverage damages cropping up in cancellation clauses, in addition to room-revenue damages. It’s legitimate, said one hotelier, “because we could have turned away other groups.” Accepting the planner’s booking in the first place may have been based in part on F&B spend, and now, six months out, the hotel might not be able to find as high-quality a piece of business to fill the hole, even if the rooms can be resold. “What we try to asses is what the total damages will be,” said another hotelier. “Rooms and F&B are something we can quantify. But if you don’t like those terms, we can just agree on an amount.” That’s what traditionally was done, offered another hotelier, but in these days of transparency, companies more often are requesting a breakdown of what the damages amount represents, so that’s why you’re seeing F&B damages listed. As with many of the issues discussed, this one came around to the need for thorough and open communication, the group agreed.

• Consider reworking the job descriptions of the planners on your team so that they are involved in content discussions. Planners know the history of meetings, and their involvement not only ensures a higher-quality program but consistency. And being part of the content conversation demonstrates the planner’s value to the company.

• Create an event profile before you even begin a site search, and require the meeting sponsor to specify and sign off on the goals and objectives of the event.

• If bandwidth is a concern in your meeting rooms, ask attendees to only check e-mail, not download video or manage other data-heavy tasks.

Krisam Group acts as a national sales office for a portfolio of more than 200 hotels and resorts worldwide. The Krisam Web site includes a property directory with individual fact sheets that were designed by advisory board members so that relevant information is clearly stated and easily found. You’ll find, for example, “meet and feed” (the maximum attendees for a banquet and for the meeting space), the ideal group size in season and off season, distance (in both miles and minutes) from the airport, cost of ground transportation, and many more details.