Why Meeting Planners Should Want to Pay for Built-In AV

Looking at an old problem through a new lens
By: Eric Bracht
Okay, so maybe “want” is a little bit of a stretch, but here’s the thing. Even when things were going great for the meetings and events industry before the pandemic, most meeting planners had the feeling that pricing in the in-house AV industry had gotten out of control. And you know what…they weren’t wrong.
I don’t think it was a secret to anyone that the two biggest expenses for the outsourced AV providers were labor and the commission they paid back to the host property. Paying for labor is understood. We live in a world where everyone needs money to survive and thrive. But the markup on equipment and services required to support the hotel commission was so high that the outsourced providers had a very difficult time competing against the “street pricing” of independent AV and production providers.

But like a three-legged stool, this model needs to benefit the three entities involved (AV Provider, Hotel and Customer). And just like a three-legged stool when at least one of those legs isn’t equal you run into problems. The outside providers had a difficult time trying to manage relationships with both their meeting planner customers and hotel customers, meeting planners were frustrated with the high costs of services, and hotels were seeing their commission revenues fall as meeting planners went elsewhere for AV support. Who was this model working for?
As we recover from the pandemic and return to in-person events now is the time to look at ways we can change and enhance the meting experience rather than just return to the way we’ve always done it. And one of those things is to look at is the advantages of having meeting spaces that come equipped with the ability to support basic presentation needs.

All parties involved (hotels, meeting planners and even the AV companies) concede that having built-in AV systems that support basic presentation needs benefits everyone. Built-in systems can be far more reliable since they are not constantly being moved from place to place. They provide a much better meeting experience as opposed to a projector sitting in the middle of a conference table blowing out hot air and having cables taped down across the floor. And they save on labor since they don’t need to be setup and removed for every event.

It is important to note that in this scenario we are not talking about the large ballroom events. These require input and a high level of support from AV and production partners. Likewise, I’m not suggesting that meeting venues install enough equipment to serve any possible configuration of flexible spaces. But most meetings that take place on a daily basis are smaller meetings that require presentation display and perhaps a microphone and a few other basic requirements. And most often occur in rooms that are typically setup in the same direction, if not the same setup style, for every meeting.
Hotel brands understand that they’ve invested a lot of money in creating beautiful meting spaces, only to have it filled with temporary equipment. But faced with the decision to either build in AV or continue to utilize portable equipment, hotels evaluate the potential revenues against the costs. And what they hear from their salespeople (an often from their AV providers) is that meeting planners won’t pay for built-in equipment.

So, there’s the issue. Either a projector and screen are portable equipment that costs meeting planners close to $1,000 per day in many markets, or the built-in display on the wall is free. Once again, we have a model that doesn’t work for all parties involved. The hotel has made an investment in the built-in technology. And that investment only starts at what you can see. It also includes the infrastructure (cabling, hardware and programming) that connects the display to the room control system and the inputs used to connect a laptop or other device. The AV company is still providing a technician to meet presenters and assist them in connecting and controlling the built-in systems. And these systems need to be maintained and serviced on a regular basis to keep them working well.

Here is where the meeting planning community can take a very large role in the solution. By accepting that there should be a reasonable charge for built-in presentation systems suddenly the entire model works for everyone. Hotels will see a return on their investment, AV companies will save on labor expenses, and meeting planners will pay less for AV while getting an improved meeting experience. What is a reasonable charge is a topic for industry discussion, but it’s a discussion that needs to start happening…and soon!
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