Small meetings or simple meetings? Is this really the question? While the definitions of each may differ, together they make up three-quarters of the meetings industry, so the question then becomes, “Whose job is this, anyway?” And the answer depends on whom you ask.

Yoda-like riddles aside, top players in managed travel and the meetings and events industries are more and more seeing small and simple meetings becoming the quarry of company administrators and non-meeting professionals. What’s driving this trend may shape the field of corporate travel management toward new efficiencies and relevancies in years to come.

In a nutshell, small meetings with as few as 10 people or as many as 50 is a tough area to manage for many companies. Simple in appearance, they still require negotiations, site sourcing, terms and conditions and policy compliance, contract signings, stakeholder agreements, food and beverage amenities and travel purchasing.

These efforts, individually and tied together, remain far from easy, streamlined or intuitive even for trained professionals. Tracking volume, aggregating spends, coordinating the whereabouts of attendees can be time-consuming and painstaking for these gatherings that are usually outside the parameters of a company’s strategic meetings management program.

Technology may be changing that, and may be also changing the playing field for travel management companies, travel planners and meeting professionals.”

“Technology is addressing a problem, not creating one,” says Patrick Smith, chief marketing officer at Cvent. “Small meetings tend to be of lower complexity in that the venue requirements may be just sleeping rooms and/or minimal meeting space, the food and beverage requirements are simpler, and the timeline between planning and executing tends to be much shorter. For example, a large organization spends six months on average planning and marketing their largest event. In contrast, a small meeting might be planned and executed within days.”

This is not a bad thing says Kevin Iwamoto, senior consultant at GoldSpring Consulting. “Meeting planning is really stressful – one of the ten most stressful jobs (according to CBS and CNBC news polls). Often, this work is falling not to a CTA but to an assistant – generally someone tasked with simple travel arrangements. And we are seeing a blurring of the lines these days; we are seeing more convergence between the lines of travel and meetings management.”

With simple meetings of just a few people or small meetings of 10 to 50 people, streamlining the planning process has been a win all around, says Iwamoto. The work usually falls to office administrators or occasionally to travel managers who are able to take advantage of new user-friendly technology and stay more or less within a client company’s policies. This was not always the case.

“When a company has a large conference planned, it makes sense to hire a full service meetings management company. What becomes more difficult is when there is a smaller meeting to arrange, which happens very frequently,” Gabe Rizzi, president of Travel Leaders Corporate, explained in a recent blog.

 “Even within a larger company, this might fall to someone who isn’t a meeting planner and is pressed for time,” Rizzi says. “In small businesses where employees need to wear many hats, anyone from the CEO to the receptionist could have responsibility for coordinating small meetings, and a lot of time and money is wasted pulling these together.”

Simple Complexities
Solutions, however, are now available, driven by new end-user technology and tools that enter this market every day to help streamline the process. Travel Leaders Corporate’s new Simple Meetings Optimizer tool is one of these. It allows the travel network’s business travel managers and hybrid travel coordinators to easily source and arrange smaller and less complex meetings.  

“It always depends on the level complexity. They all start out simple,” says Anthony Paola, managing director, meetings and events management at Travel Leaders Corporate. “A small meeting can be anything,” he says. “You could have a small meeting of 30 people with a lot of complexity. Or a 10-person executive council based in New York with stops in seven different cities requiring meeting support in each. The meeting may be small but could not be done without a meeting planner.”

Travel Leaders launched its Simple Meetings Optimizer tool in 2017 to create meeting solutions for positions other than professional meeting planners. It lays out all options for easy set-up and SMM compliance so a non-professional meeting arranger can go through the process.

Small meetings can take up as much as 30 percent of a company’s overall meeting spend, yet it continues to be a black box when it comes to data recording and transparency, mostly because of the definition in terms. These are often just too tiny to count, too small to fail.

“And it also depends on what exactly a meeting is,” says Brenda Miller, senior director, Global Life Sciences SMM, CWT Meetings & Events. “Companies have to determine the definition of a meeting in their policy and you are seeing policies change as the organizations increasingly want to wrap their arms around some of that volume. It’s relatively new as a category of meeting spend.” Miller cites Cvent’s recent acquisition of Kapow as an example of how the broader industry is recognizing this need and adapting to keep things simple and track the flow.

Think In and Out of the Box  
“Now these meetings will be categorized and seen without having to comb through complex documents to find them,” Miller adds. “I would not say it has been a black box per se, but the larger meetings companies have not really been able to get that small meetings figure right. Maybe a district sales manager wanted to create a completely different experience for attendees rather than usual room at the hotel with Power Point presentation. Maybe the solution was a team building event at a duck pin bowling alley or using a quaint little bistro café during its closed hours instead of a chain steakhouse for a great customer-focused meeting. You want them to have a good time, so the more you increase that experience, the more they will come back – and that is where the ROI is,” she explains.

BCD Meetings & Events also recently launched an online tool to help planners – often executive assistants, office managers, project managers and sales reps – more easily manage meeting arrangements as a trend clearly emerged that there was a lack of clarity into the spend for this level of meeting.

“Small or simple meetings are not new, they’ve just been flying under the radar,” says Nancy Medoff, vice president, global sales at BCD. “As corporations cast a sharper eye on areas to reduce cost and risk, small meetings have bubbled up as key focus area. For organizations just starting a meetings management program, understanding this ‘simpler’ area of spend is a huge first step into understanding who is planning meetings, where they are going, vendors they are using and where they can leverage spend and create process improvements.”

Medoff, Miller and Iwamoto all agree that the technology to accomplish this is well in hand now and in ways it has never been in the past. Hotel chains are developing their own end-user technology to streamline the otherwise onerous RFP process, and third-party apps are offering creative ways to find impressive – often wowing – out-of-the-way gathering sites and to smooth bookings for rooms, F&B and unusual bonding activities.

Tech Takes 
Simple Meetings by BCD Meetings & Events, Travel Leaders’ Simple Meetings Optimizer, Groupize, Bizly, Breather, Kapow, Double Dutch – it can be difficult to keep up, much less try these technologies and become voices for adoption.

In a 2017 article, Iwamoto wrote, “I have come to the conclusion, based on numerous conversations with enterprise and midsize SMMP buyers and supplier partners, that when it comes to small-meetings management and data tracking, no one has developed a mousetrap that is working well, or for that matter, has been widely adopted by their stakeholders.”

Today, Iwamoto sees a new fast-changing landscape where these technologies are becoming more mainstream and easier to use. “If something is not observably complex or is in the category of being repetitive enough to be switched on autopilot, then you can simply do it yourself,” he says. “Small meetings often fall into this area and now there are better ways to capture small meetings data providing the corporation resists the tendency to add complexity and third party costs. Most meeting owners do not want meeting planners to be doing small meetings tasks anyway – rather, they would prefer to get them out of this area and focus on the complex logistic-laden tasks they are trained to do and where they add the most value.”

Cvent’s Patrick Smith notes that organizations are recognizing the impact that live events can have on their bottom line and are thus adding more small meetings to their marketing mix. And in some companies it’s the corporate travel manager who is finding event planning added to the task list.

“We have seen increased activity from both corporate travel agents and office managers or executive admins who are organizing and managing these small events. It’s an interesting juxtaposition; corporate travel agents are typically comfortable with the procurement, logistics, and budgeting aspects of events, but face unfamiliar territory when tasked with measuring the onsite impact; and office managers or admins are often unfamiliar in many of the elements of event planning since the meeting requests are often ad-hoc in nature and planning events is not in their job description in the traditional sense,” says Smith.

“Fortunately, there are tools out there that make it easier for those who are not professional event planners to book a small or simple meeting.”

Groupize is one of these tools. It started out five years ago as a group hotel booking engine and has grown to become a leading end-to-end platform for simple corporate meetings. The company joined the Concur App Center last year for a focus on small meetings and providing a bridge between transient travel tools and complex meetings management technology.

“Travel planners and occasional planners never had access to meeting tools,” says Groupize CEO Charles de Gaspe Beaubien. “More expensive meeting planning tools were cordoned off to the professional planners. Now there are five to 10 small and simple meetings apps throughout the world focused on sourcing, booking, registration, on-site logistics, etc. But few are end-to-end and designed for managed corporate travel with rules and integrations.”

As de Gaspe Beaubien notes, “Meeting professionals are time-limited and can only focused on the bigger complex events. Corporate travel managers and travel agents have been the ones raising their hands to solve the problem and fill the gap.”

Keeping plans centralized in a simple-to-use booking tool is essential for duty of care, de Gaspe Beaubien says. “In many cases, attendees and room occupants reside in an outside tool or an Excel list on a planner’s computer disconnected from any duty of care system or process. Corporate travel managers will look to helpful tools that register meeting activity companywide by date and location, with additional critical functionality such as integrations to Concur, the GDS or direct to duty of care tools.”

As small and simple meetings continue to drive 60 to 80 percent of meetings globally, CWT’s Brenda Miller expects to see more streamlining tools, broader integration and more intuitive ease of use coming from technology start-ups, but she doesn’t see meeting planners being supplanted by robots any time soon.

“Five years from now, I think we’ll see more emerging small meetings management tech and not just more from the huge pot of tools we have seen already. We will see the technology landscape change and we will see this area of small meetings technology come together. These tools will evolve and become more and more about the attendee experience.”