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By Roseline Victoria Vijayakumar

With the grips of the pandemic fading into the past, in-person conferences and events are staging a comeback. Business travel is on the rebound with corporate entities promoting in-person meetings to foster company culture, plan business strategies and brainstorm for the future.

“There’s significant energy from our customers around meeting, especially after being apart for a few years,” says Brian Gilligan, SVP of Sales & Distribution, Marriott International.

The trend of blending business and pleasure is evident in shoulder-night bookings, where travellers extend their stay for pre- or post-conference activities to merge a few leisure days into business trips. According to stats provided by Marriott, business travel revenue was up three per cent in the U.S. and Canada in the fourth quarter of 2023. Haley Luther, Communications manager, STR states, “For 2023, U.S. hotel group occupancy was up 7.5 per cent year-over-year.”

Revenue streams generated through hotel events and group businesses have been integral to the survival of the hospitality sector. These meetings and events provide room bookings and also generate income from other revenue sources such as catering, banquet services and additional amenities.

Kate Sullivan, director of Sales at the Chelsea Hotel, Toronto says, “This business is booked in advance — sometimes two or three years ahead if citywide ― which gives the hotels their base business and is needed for a successful year.”

The economic impact of hotel events and group businesses dwindled during the pandemic, and the resurgence of demand for hotel rooms among business groups acts as the primary indicator of economic rejuvenation after the pandemic. With the resumption of face-to-face interactions, there’s a steady rise in bookings for meeting places and accommodation. 

“Small-and medium-sized companies were leading the recovery in group demand early on and continue to remain strong; however, large meetings are back,” says Gilligan. “Several influences continue to impact some of those larger corporate groups as they get back on the road, including concerns these businesses may have about macroeconomic conditions and/or sustainability goals they’ve set for themselves.”


Sustainability continues to be a top trend, with meetings and events playing a prominent role in sustainability efforts. Meeting planners are evolving to adapt new expectations, such as impact reporting and carbon-offset opportunities.

Marriott has developed a carbon-offset program called Connect Responsibly, which aims to provide resources to all luxury, premium and select hotels across the globe, including learning materials and opportunities to provide carbon-offset options to customers. 

“Customers have shared that these components matter in how they make business choices for their events,” says Gilligan. “The impact of a carbon-offset program was underscored through a global pilot conducted by Marriott in July 2023. Customer feedback revealed that an overwhelming 92 per cent would be encouraged to book Marriott-branded hotels in the future if such a program were available, emphasizing the growing importance of sustainability initiatives in customer choices and the ROI [Return on Investment] for Marriott.”

Additionally, the increasing number of Gen Z meeting attendees has led planners and strategists to incorporate elements tailored toward their engagement, from shorter sessions to gamified interactive activities. 


To keep up with the dynamic landscape of corporate interactions, hotels have started to embrace hybrid meetings and events. The combination of in-person and virtual meetings provides flexibility and also accommodates diverse preferences. This adaption ensures the continued relevance of hotels and their appeal to a broader audience in a world where the new norm spells remote collaboration.

Despite these efforts, Sullivan notes that the adoption of hybrid meetings is still in its early phases. “They haven’t really taken off in our experience,” she says. “Hybrid meetings (audio-visual) [are] extremely expensive so most conferences are face-to-face.”


The evolving event landscape demands heightened expertise, and post-pandemic, hotels have had to maneuver through various challenges in managing conferences and events. The looming labour shortage, increased general labour costs, additional administrative costs and rising food-and-beverage costs have necessitated strategic management.

Hotels have adopted innovative approaches to navigate these challenges by optimizing staffing models, ≈ and effectively managing IT costs.

“This past year, we launched new in-depth onboarding guides, facilitated multiple virtual and in-person trainings globally and piloted a formalized mentor program to elevate talent and retention,” says Stephen Toevs, senior director of Culinary Development, Marriott International. “Our goal is to continue to boost our event team’s creativity, engagement and ability to be a true partner and advisor to our customers.” 

The Chelsea Hotel, Toronto implements strategies to both attract and retain business from meetings and events. “We ensure that while groups are in-house, they have the best experience ever,” says Sullivan. “It’s much easier and cheaper to re-book a piece of business than to go out and replace it.”


Hotels have begun investing significantly in new technology and infrastructure in consideration of the changing meetings-and-events landscape, such as upgraded audio-visual equipment, high-speed Internet and user-friendly platforms to enhance the overall event experience. 

“Action stations around trending foods or seasonal ingredients have recently taken centre stage in the meetings-and-events space,” says Toevs. “This allows the operation to bring the kitchen energy into the event space, with a focus on portion control and reducing waste. These stations also encourage our chefs to interact with the guests onsite and offer a full gastronomic experience.”

Another innovative approach by Marriott to control expenses without compromising quality is to menu-match with other groups that may be taking place simultaneously. This strategy proves to be successful for hotels with multiple levels of meeting space and breakout-room options.


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