Behind the Scenes

More Than ‘A Buffet of Crumbs’

Economist John Kenneth Galbraith once said that there were two classes of forecasters: those who don't know and those who don't know they don't know.  And so it is with our 11th Annual Meetings Industry Forecast, where uncertainty has its place.

As I write this, the September jobs report has been released and sifted through.  Amid growing concerns that the economy is falling back into a recession, the report – which indicated that hiring was stronger than expected in September – was a bit of a bright spot.

But only a bit.  Patrick J. O‚’Keefe, director of economic research at the financial firm J.  H. Cohn, described it as ‚”very much a buffet of crumbs.  There are some good things there, but it’s not going to fill our appetite.”

At the same time that the report came out, the Occupy Wall Street movement – demonstrations against economic inequality, corporate greed, and the influence of corporate money and lobbyists on government‚ – had spread to 70 major cities in the United States.  It has now gone international, with demonstrations in more than 80 countries.  But on Oct.11, New York City’s Zuccotti Park – Occupy Wall Street’s launching pad – seemed not only several thousand miles away but a world apart from the Sands Convention Center at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas, where nearly 6,000 people flooded the exhibit hall for the inaugural IMEX America.  During the show, I attended a handful of press conferences and met with dozens of planners and suppliers from around the world.  The buzz was overwhelmingly positive‚Äî not just about IMEX America, which exceeded expectations in terms of exhibitor and attendee numbers‚Äîbut about prospects for the meetings industry in the coming year.

IMEX America was proof positive of what Steven Hacker, CAE, president of the International Association of Exhibitions and Events, writes as part of our 11th Annual Meetings Industry Forecast (p. 67) “Volatility in the global and U.S. economies is continuing, and any forecasts of future economic performance for almost any industry is subject to rapid and very unpredictable revision.  What is indisputable, however, is that despite the ebbs and flows of the economy in recent years, the exhibitions and events industry continues to demonstrate remarkable resilience both here and abroad.”

The two other industry experts who contribute to our 2012 forecast likewise acknowledge the effect of domestic and global market forces on our industry, but expect better days ahead.  Barry Goldstein, chief revenue officer for Dolce Hotels and Resorts, writes (p.47): “What we do know is that as we approach 2012, the industry continues to be optimistic about growth in the lodging section.  However, what is even more clear is that rapid change in the lodging environment will continue with the changing global economy.”

And in an interview with Convene Executive Editor Christopher Durso, David Huether, senior vice president for research at the U.S. Travel Association, says (p. 55): “As we get closer to the election cycle, the probability of any major change in legislation – like changes to the health-care laws, or increasing regulations – is going to diminish, which would mean that business confidence will start to pick up, because there’s going to be more certainty….Which I think will start to embolden companies to start to invest, to expand operations, which is then going to mean more meetings.  So next year should be a little brighter than this year.”
Emphasis on “should”

Michelle Russell

Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.