Claire Rowland, Director of Marketing at QHotels shares her thoughts on the conference market in 2014.

"As the recovery takes hold, we have seen conference enquiries grow since last year, we envisage this trend will continue into 2014 as the economy improves and business confidence accelerates.

ROI will continue to be an industry buzz word and this is a trend we see continuing as a long term recessionary impact; businesses will continue to push for the best quality and exceptional service but for the best value for money.

Another trend that we see continuing is faster shorter booking cycles and shorter conferences - again another long term impact of the recession. The challenge for venues here is to deliver a quality and memorable event in a shorter space of time both pre and during the conference. Interestingly as a result of the trend for shorter conferences, we predict more focus will be placed on conference dinners and team building or extra-curricular activities.

We have seen this trend start to take hold in 2013 with businesses investing more in entertaining and engaging delegates with special VIP dinners and exhilarating or unusual team building exercises. This all stems from the fact that people are under increasing pressure to be the best versions of themselves they can be: to eat healthily, spend carefully, live ethically and achieve.  But as the pressure increases, so does the need to let off steam. Businesses are recognising this and seeking ways to help their employees escape and switch off. As such, extreme events that take people to their limits have become a popular and fun way of releasing pressure. QHotels has answered this trend by launching its very own Mudference package where delegates are put through their paces and miles of mud by an ex-military trainer to develop team building skills, mental and physical strength. 

In addition to this, we predict a change to meeting space itself as businesses look to move away from traditional 'boardroom-style' space and create more innovative environments for their meeting or event. The focus is on creating more productive settings, it's becoming more commonplace for delegates to break out of the typical boardroom environment and try something new and engaging in order to increase productivity and get the most out of a conference. This reflects a more collaborative approach to business that we are seeing and is evident in conference technology too, with more delegates dialing in and requiring AV equipment and support.

One of the biggest trends we predict for 2014 is in conference and event food - this year we have seen many special requests for food and we think this will continue to develop - after all food plays a key part in ensuring a conference or event is memorable. Also, as organisations become more concerned around the health and wellbeing of employees we will see a move to more healthy conference food and a focus on locally sourced, imaginative and inspiring menus. 

And finally, green credentials have now become a prerequisite for many Blue Chip companies when choosing conference venues, but this will develop beyond the green agenda to a more broader corporate social responsibility requirement, as the demand for organisations to operate responsibly and be transparent takes hold. Starbucks and Amazon tax scandals are great examples of this. People now care how corporate brands operate and will avoid buying from them if they think they are corrupt in any way - this impacts customers at all levels from consumer through to trade - and so conference venues must work hard to promote their reputation and act responsibly."

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