The Shift to Conference and Meeting Venue Package Pricing

European-Style Meeting Package Pricing Has Become More Popular in the U.S.

A hotel conference room setup.
A hotel conference room setup. Blend_Images/Getty Images

Unlike in the United States, it’s a common practice for European hotels to offer corporate conference and meeting packages as options for event planners who hold seminars, conferences, and other meetings at the hotel. The idea behind offering packaged corporate event venue services is to combine all the various elements of meeting room space, food and beverage, and audio-visual needs into a meeting package for a flat daily rate on a per attendee basis.

Not only can this practice be generally more efficient for those involved in the planning of the event, but is makes managing and predicting the costs associated with the venue a much more straightforward process.

In the United States, on the other hand, it’s still much more common for hotels to build conference costs line item by line item based on the detailed and customized needs of each meeting or event. Though the practice allows for the event planner to have greater control over every detail of the event, it also frequently creates complicated banquet event orders and more difficulty in managing costs and the overall event budget.

Though how major players in the industry continue to change the way they do business, the European model and the American model still tends to reflect these differences in their approach to conference and corporate events. For a deeper dive, let's take a look at two corporate event and conference package examples: one from the former Fira Palace in Barcelona (European example) and the other at Wynn Resorts in Las Vegas (American example).

European Conference and Meeting Packages Example

Daily packaged rates are popular in the United Kingdom and have worked their way to continental Europe as well. “The UK market was the first to ask for this type of package, and we always try to adapt our proposals to meet our client needs,” explains the former general manager of Fira Palace in Barcelona (now the Crowne Plaza Barcelona), a business hotel that is popular among corporate event and meeting planners who organize international meetings.

European Hotel Clientele

Back when the Crowne Plaza Barcelona was still operating as the Fira Palace, about 20% of the hotel's clients were from Spain. The rest of the annual clientele came from the UK (19%), the U.S. (17%), France (7%), Italy (6%), Japan (4%), and Germany (4%). Additionally, about half of the business events hosted there were from the pharmaceutical industry with the remainder including technology, food and beverage, banking, and auto industry clients.

European Demand for Conference Package Pricing

During this time, the daily meeting package at Fira Palace included the use of the meeting room, coffee break(s), lunch, screen, and more. The available meeting package(s) essentially included everything that a planner could need to include in a meeting.

As the industry evolved, requests for conference and meeting packages have continued to change over time. Initially, corporate event planners were requesting flat conference pricing for meeting rooms and food and beverage. In time, these requests expanded to include other items, such as screens, Internet access, flip charts, and sound systems. But the demand was still for packaged, flat-rate pricing.

For those who required overnight guest rooms, they also requested a special/negotiated rate for accommodations into their conference overall event rates.

While these packages would cover a majority of the event needs, planners would still negotiate for other event requirements, such as exhibition area, gala dinners, cocktail receptions, and other event agenda items.

Pros and Cons of the European Approach

It is clear that the primarily European approach to conference planning and pricing may be helpful to event planners for several reasons, including the perception of cost savings, predictability of costs, and ease of client presentation and approvals.

That said, such an approach definitely places an increased burden on the hotel to predict its clients' needs while managing to its own bottom line. "From our point of view, it's much easier to do 'à la carte' events. In fact, the operation is much more complicated. But the benefit for us is the customer satisfaction,” says the former general manager of Fira Palace.

American Conference and Meeting Packages Example

While the European market is relatively mature with the acceptance and use of conference or meeting packages, more U.S. hotels may begin to consider changing the way they package and price conferences and meetings as well. This is especially important now when event planners are being required to make meeting decisions under shorter deadlines more and more frequently.

In May 2009, Wynn Las Vegas took the initiative to introduce three types of what they call all-inclusive conference and meeting package rates for the smaller meetings market, meaning those with fewer than 80 attendees. Today they are still offering those packages. They include:

  • Full Day Conference Delegate Package
  • ”AM” Half Day Conference Delegate Package
  • ”PM” Half Day Conference Delegate Package

Just as European event planners have come to expect, Wynn’s packaged options are priced on a per delegate (i.e., attendee) rate, including the meeting room, food and beverage, snacks for breaks, and LCD projector and screen.

The idea for Wynn to develop its conference package options grew out of the European market approach. In fact, André Link, the former Wynn national sales manager, previously came from Europe. “For the most part in ​Europe this is the only way we sold meetings... It was very rare that we prepared à la carte proposals that listed F&B costs, room rentals, AV charges etc.,” Link explains.

A Shift in the American Corporate Event and Conference Industry

With the launch of their small meeting package program, Wynn Resorts anticipated that the packaged conference rates would be more popular with their corporate clients because most association meetings are larger in size. They were right. Since then, several high-profile American hotel chains have begun offering corporate meeting and conference packages that better reflect the European model if corporate event planning.

To be sure, meeting and conference package rates will not meet the needs of every event. In fact, most planners recognize that they will forego some detail preferences for their program or require the venue to customize the package to include additional elements. There is always the caution about relying on package rates if planners anticipate that their programs may run longer than initially anticipated, which can trigger additional fees. But for those meeting and event planners who are looking closely at their budget, these meeting and conference packages offer clear predictability for the conference budget.