According to research conducted by health and wellness solutions firm, Wellco, 2022 will see a greater demand to incorporate more immersive experiences, wellness, and programming outside of the event space. As more and more planners consider the impact of the pandemic and social distancing on mental health and well-being, wellness programming is becoming a must-have for gatherings and events.

Traditionally, the average group meeting or event has taken place in a large ballroom within a hotel that has a couple of dining options and few, if any, recreational amenities. As industry demands shift, so must the hotels. As a brand, Omni Hotels & Resorts can be very nimble in quickly addressing these trends. We are using design, both spatial and experiential, to break the mold of traditional meeting spaces and offerings by delivering alternative gathering spaces, extensive food and leisure options, and tailored accommodations.

The ultimate goal is to present each of our hotels as a "destination" in and of itself rather than an amenity to a convention center and provide planners and attendees with a holistic experience. Groups are enhancing what they are looking for in a host location, going beyond the event space and guest rooms. Many now are looking for destinations that offer amenities to appeal to the market of "bleisure" business, the intersection of business and leisure travel. Often, guests want to arrive early or stay late to enjoy spa services, golf, or a fun culinary experience. When your hotel can meet multiple needs on site, it provides an experience that is not only functional but enjoyable as well. It also serves the planners need to meet their attendees' desires while streamlining event activities and remaining onsite.

In terms of meeting spaces themselves, planners and groups want to diversify and have options apart from the traditional convention center ballroom. We are seeing a significant uptick in interest in our alternative gathering spaces, encompassing open hallways, large windows, and outdoor spaces. While groups are becoming more and more comfortable traveling and meeting in-person, the push for outdoor gatherings during the height of COVID-19 has left a positive impression, resulting in many planners using outdoor spaces for meetings and not just social events.

"Now more than ever, it is important for hoteliers to remain strong and nimble. The evolution of flex meeting spaces, unique food and beverage offerings, and even forward-thinking guestrooms will be the differentiator between hotels and spaces that move on to the next generation, and those that do not," says Laura McKoy, Creative Director and Vice President of Interior Design at Omni Hotels & Resorts, "As we develop new hotels and renovate others, we are considering how guests may use the space to ensure each area can transform to meet their needs. For example, at the Omni Oklahoma City Hotel, we designed the second floor of the sports bar to accommodate groups with a private area yet remain connected to the energy of the space. If the group does take over that area, they have access to a dedicated bar and outdoor area as well as a VIP area and private restrooms."

Going Beyond Convention Centers

While the traditional event space has its place, event planners are looking for more. They want flexibility, versatility, and the offering of additional options that allow their attendees to have a full experience onsite – from accommodations and dining, to sporting clubs and spa treatments.

A convention hotel should not be just an amenity for the convention center. For example, our Omni Oklahoma City Hotel – a new entrant to the convention space market – is a destination within a market that is not yet known for convention business. Outside of the large meetings throughout the year, this property is already self-sufficient with tremendous leisure and business travel due to the thoughtful design and programming.

We have found that it is also important to tailor your offerings and even the room design to the groups you will likely be hosting. The entire top floor of the Omni Oklahoma City Hotel has 10-foot-high ceilings, high showers, and California king beds, to accommodate our next-door neighbors and frequent guests, the Oklahoma City Thunder basketball team, and their traveling opponents. Planners need the hospitality industry to think beyond the traditional approach. If your group and meeting centers will be used by an unconventional market, it is important to accommodate them – even if that means going off the traditional path and designing your spaces accordingly.

Similarly, at Omni Austin Hotel Downtown, we designed additional meeting rooms right off the lobby bar to encourage collaboration and brainstorming. By incorporating flexible and eclectic seating, we encourage dynamic interactive meetings and events. For example, our intimate podcast room at the Omni Austin Hotel Downtown allows guests to connect one on one in a unique way while also having an experience that they are not likely to have at another hotel. This makes our twist on meeting spaces fun, unique and memorable.   

Additionally, it is important to think beyond the four walls of meeting spaces. We have worked to make Omni Boston Hotel at the Seaport a destination in and of itself, not just a hotel conveniently located across the street from a convention center. This means multiple food and beverage venues (several created with group meetings and catering in mind), spa services, flexible indoor and outdoor gathering spaces, and large windows in meeting rooms that open up to bring the outdoors in.

Bringing the Outdoors Inside

The hospitality industry has a new opportunity to not only reimagine but also elevate traditional meeting facilities by incorporating outdoor spaces and activities into their offerings. Planners are starting to include more opportunities for team building and bonding activities, relaxation, and fun while bringing in a dose of fresh air into their meeting and event experiences. This can look like a round of golf on a short course as a primer for the day, a meditation session in between breakouts, or ending the day with a spa experience.

Following a $60M expansion project of Omni Mount Washington Resort, guests can now enjoy a year-round facility that showcases breathtaking mountain views of New England's highest peaks, and expansive outdoor decks that provide additional access to the landscape. And at Omni Boston Hotel at the Seaport the outdoors are highlighted throughout the property. This hotel features the largest hotel ballroom in Boston and 100,000-square-feet of flexible indoor and outdoor space, with special innovations on the third floor that opens to a balcony of the Boston skyline.

At our Omni Las Colinas Hotel, we were intentional about how we approached our outdoor spaces. We designed our new backyard to incorporate an event lawn that is separate from the pool area and transitions into an outdoor gaming area, allowing for several dynamic uses of the space.  The event lawn is purposefully positioned right up against the lake to create an experience unlike anything in the area. As part of the renovation, we updated the restaurant located on the same level as the event lawn so that a group can have an indoor-outdoor experience with a great place to set up a food offering if desired. The outdoor space also includes a bar and restroom to create an all-encompassing experience.

The Omni PGA Frisco Resort is another example of pivoting group and event meetings to outdoor spaces. The hotel, set to open in Spring 2023, will offer several pools, a spa, a Top Golf lounge, a short-course, two acre putting course and two 18-hole championship golf courses – that is in addition to the over 127,000-square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting space. The sheer volume of options for meeting and leisure allows planners to bring their meetings outdoors, incorporate bleisure, and remain onsite at the resort.

Many planners also want to provide their groups with the opportunity to be a "tourist" in the meeting off-hours. Due to time constraints, health concerns, or just personal preference, many group meeting attendees are only traveling or gathering for in-person meetings for their business needs. This leaves many with a desire to maximize their experiences, incorporating outdoor activities that provide a local experience and do not require leaving the hotel or resort grounds.

As we continue to navigate group meetings and events in 2022 and beyond, it will be important to rethink the function of group meeting spaces. Incorporating thoughtful design elements, tailoring hospitality experiences to specific markets, and remaining nimble amid continued change, will be paramount for leaders in the hospitality space.

Guests want options that go above and beyond their business needs – providing flexibility, versatility, and fun as well. We will all need to continue to move toward the path of creative and dynamic meeting spaces that allow for a multitude of experiences, bring the outdoors inside, and offer bonding activities outside of the meetings themselves.

By Dan Surette Chief Sales Officer, Omni Hotels & Resorts