To the Point

Are You Prepared for the Future of Meetings?

The meetings industry doesn't stand still.

What’s going on right now in the meetings industry, and where are we headed? As is the case each year, Convene’s Meetings Industry Forecast pulls together a wide range of data and information to paint a picture of how we’re doing — and more importantly, offers a peek at what we can expect down the road. All in all, I believe our industry is in a good place, but not without challenges to address.

First, the good news: Global spending on business travel is expected to reach $1.12 trillion this year, a 5.4-percent increase from 2012, according to the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA). That growth is expected to continue to rise by 7 to 8 percent each year through 2017. Hotel occupancy is also on the rise, albeit more modestly; Travel-Click says committed occupancy is up 2.2 percent versus the same time last year.

Airline-performance and hotel-satisfaction levels are both higher, signs that the industry has been successful in eliminating some of the headaches associated with business travel. But higher performance and satisfaction have come at a cost — prices for both air travel and hotels are up, too.

What to watch: Growth in U.S. exhibitions has slowed, largely due to the delicate state of the economy and cutbacks in government spending. The Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR) reports that overall the industry grew only 1.5 percent in 2012 and is expected to increase only 1.1 percent in 2013, although stronger performance is predicted in following years.

As the economy and our industry grow stronger, the competition among U.S. meeting destinations heats up — Cvent’s list of top 10 cities to meet holds some surprises. As far as the global market, India, China, and Mexico are making significant gains, and are in a stronger position to take advantage of the growing number of international meetings.

Challenges: Our industry must continue to focus on engaging younger generations in meetings and exhibitions and make sure that they deliver value to them. And that value proposition might be very different from their predecessors.

We must also continue to look for ways to harness technology to benefit meetings. Whether it’s hybrid meetings, crowdsourcing at face-to-face events, or helping to connect attendees, technology is key to engaging our constituents. Venues are crucial in helping meeting planners deliver what attendees need; for instance, making free Wi-Fi a reality at more properties is a big plus.

Aggressive cutbacks in government spending for meetings and business travel have had, and will continue to have, an impact — not to mention the effect of the federal shutdown (see sidebar). The economic toll (not including the shutdown) is $2 billion in spending, but our challenge is to educate lawmakers on the losses outside of the economy. What happens when government agencies can’t come together in person to collaborate? When government representatives can’t join the conversation at industry-wide events? Those are the messages we must communicate.

Deborah Sexton

Deborah Sexton is president and CEO of PCMA.