This month I attended AccorHotels’ 7th annual Global Meeting Exchange, held this year in the beautiful city of Montreal. Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth served as the host hotel for the four-day event, and attendees who hadn’t been to Montreal in a while were blown away by both the city, the hotel and its meeting spaces—myself included.
To the tune of $140 million, the hotel was closed a year for renovations (nearly unheard of in this industry) and finally reopened last summer. Looking fresher than ever, the lobby, fitness area and spa, and guest rooms all got facelifts, but it’s the overhaul of the meeting spaces that truly sets this hotel apart from any other.
On the third floor, The Queen E (as it’s affectionately known) partnered with C2 Montreal, an international business conference known for its immersive experiences and bizarre learning setups, to design C2-like meeting space dubbed CoLab 3. The collection comprises seven themed rooms, like a fish tank boardroom, and thirteen meeting spaces, including a room with swings and another with a retro bead wall, all filled with unusual seating and tables.
During the conference, we were fortunate to have C2’s founder and chairman, the dynamic Jean-Francois Bouchard, speak on the state of events. He presented a new way for planners to view the venues in which they hold events.
“Think about hotels not as a collection of rooms and amenities,” said Bouchard, “but as canvases where immersive experiences can be created.”
He went on to describe what’s wrong with events now, based on what his C2 team has discovered, compelling planners and sales teams in the room to challenge the status quo. Here are his key points.
1. Flexible space configuration
Ball pits? Bleachers? Lounge chairs? Replace traditional seating with surprising (and perhaps uncomfortable) new options and watch the creative magic happen.
2. Digital immersive environments
Spaces like the circular boardroom with digital fish tank walls take meeting attendees out of their comfort zone and put them in a new place, both literally (to sit) and figuratively (to think).
3. Thematic décor
Themed events that get attendees into the spirit of a destination continue to grow in popularity. In Montreal, one evening was dubbed “The Sugar Shack Shindig”—a Montreal tradition in which a meat-heavy meal is served alongside maple syrup to celebrate spring.
4. Modular structures and installations
C2 experiments with unusual structures to take events to a new level, like folding scaffolding. There are safety precautions to take with such objects, of course.
5. Menu of options for entertainment acts
This is something hotels and venues should carefully curate and provide to planners, says Bouchard. On the last evening of GME, Cirque du Solei performers dazzled the crowd with a stunning display of body strength. Cirque du Solei originated in Montreal, providing an even more authentic experience.
6. Content and animation services
Venues should also provide a la carte services for things like dynamic content and animation, says Bouchard. Hotels that are ahead of the curve with unique meeting spaces, like Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth, take extra planning (and people) to make full use of the venue—like content to fill the giant video walls on the lobby-level meeting space called Agora, for example.
7. Thematic activities
C2 is known for its out-there brainstorming setups, which have included chairs suspended from the ceiling and walking around with umbrellas under an indoor simulated rain shower.
8. Progressive F&B
There’s more to event F&B than buffets and plated meals. Reconsider serving formats and experiment with making old ideas new again—for example, Bouchard shared an example of groups of meeting attendees working together to learn how to prepare a dish, then every group sharing what they made, potluck style.
9. Curate and integrate tech solutions
Hotels need to be doing more to create high-tech opportunities for meeting planners to take advantage of for events, including permanent installations like the aforementioned video walls, and also work with providers who know how to operate them.