Industry Forecast

16th Annual Meetings Industry Forecast

Six experts on lodging, exhibitions, travel, and technology weigh in on what's next for the meetings industry.

What’s in store next year? Hotel prices will increase by 4 percent in North America and decrease by 0.6 percent in Asia-Pacific. The United States will continue to outperform the global exhibitions market. Airfares will be up 2.5 percent worldwide. And there will be growing use of cashless payments and livestreaming at meetings and events.

Here’s a big-picture look at current trends and the year ahead from experts in lodging, exhibitions, travel, and technology. For the full report, see our digital edition.


karen johnson head shotKaren Johnson, CRE, ISHC, MAI
President, West Coast consulting practice, Pinnacle Advisory Group

Did anything surprise you about the lodging sector’s performance in 2016?

The deceleration of demand growth in the Eastern [U.S.] cities, which is being attributed to myriad factors, including uncertainties surrounding the election, slowing corporate transient demand, atypical weather patterns, and impact from disrupters. Year-to-date RevPAR has declined in six of the top 25 markets. It would be tempting to attribute that to new supply, but the room nights sold have declined in four markets. It’s easy to explain Houston’s reversal of fortune with problems in the oil sector, but big group markets like Chicago, New Orleans, and Orlando have also sold fewer rooms through August.

What can we expect from the lodging sector in 2017?

Continued strength in the markets that were slow to add new hotels: Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Detroit. Dallas and, particularly, Nashville seem unstoppable. If you are looking for little or no inflationary increases for your groups and these cities are in your rotation, try Boston, Chicago, Houston, New Orleans, Orlando, Phoenix, and St. Louis. New supply is bubbling up in Manhattan and San Diego right now, so these cities might even be less expensive than prior years.

What is one trend that meeting planners should be keeping an eye on in 2017 and beyond?

Be prepared for increased bookings through your housing services. With the Marriott–Starwood merger, the major brands will attempt to muscle the third-party internet providers back into the “distressed inventory” model. If the big brands succeed, it will be harder for attendees to find cheaper accommodations outside your block.

hansonBjorn Hanson
Clinical Professor, NYU School of Professional Studies, Jonathan M. Tisch Center for Hospitality and Tourism

IN 2017National occupancy will decline, but generally not for hotels with facilities required for mid-size and large meetings, conventions, and events, so ADRs for most of these hotels will increase above the industry average, and there will be higher prices for many services and amenities.

ON AIRBNBAirbnb as a lodging alternative is gaining recognition and legitimacy, more for leisure and association event attendees, but increasingly for [other] business travelers and meeting/convention attendees.


Casey_Brian[3]Brian Casey, CEM
President and CEO, Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR)

Did anything surprise you about the exhibition sector’s performance in 2016?

A couple of things surprised us. First, the improvement in the performance of the government sector during the first half of this year was far better than we had projected. This particular sector has been a drag on the overall exhibition industry for some time now, so we were quite pleased with this positive movement. While we were not surprised about the poor performance of the raw-materials science sector (energy), this particular sector drew down the overall attendance performance metric for the overall exhibition industry during the first half of the year. What also surprised us is that we have seen six consecutive quarters of the exhibition industry outperforming GDP, which usually leads our industry performance up or down. It is also quite positive we have now seen 24 continuous quarters of positive growth for the exhibition industry.

What can we expect from the exhibition sector in 2017?

We expect the exhibition industry to return to our earlier projections of about 2.5 percent for 2017, following an improvement in overall GDP performance in the second half of this year. (We anticipate 2016 to finish around 2.2 percent overall.) Certainly there are a number of variables with the election and the decision by the U.S. Federal Reserve to raise interest rates, but for the time being, we maintain a fairly positive outlook.

What is one trend that business-event organizers should be keeping an eye on in 2017 and beyond?

If it isn’t obvious to everyone, the convergence of technology and changing demographic environment which is reshaping how we all communicate and of course adopt better ways to serve our customers through access to greater amounts of data. The term is probably overused, but a knowledge of data analytics in order to better understand your market at a micro level is already required. Investment is pouring into the event-technology business, and there is ever-increasing pressure for organizers to change how they are operating. While it may feel intimidating, it is without question what customers are expecting from you — which is a better understanding of them, how you communicate with them, and what you do to make their experience a more customized and engaging one. It’s an exciting time that has already reshaped our future.

Diana GinevaDiana Gineva
Editor, Globex 2016 — The Global Exhibition Organising Market: Assessment and Forecast to 2020, AMR International

Did anything surprise you about the exhibition sector’s performance in 2016?

Most mature markets continue to experience healthy growth, with the exception of France, which stagnated in 2015 due to strong decline in the B2C trade-fairs segment partly because of the recent terrorist attacks. Emerging markets’ growth has been slowing down since 2011 and experienced a negative growth in certain countries, as signs of increasing volatility have started showing. Emerging markets, however, retain their 22-percent share of the total market despite the declines in Brazil and Russia, which were partially offset by strong growth in markets such as Mexico, Indonesia, and the [Persian] Gulf region.

We saw a busy year of mergers-and-acquisitions activity in 2015, with the bulk of notable deals taking place in the mature markets of the U.S., U.K., and France. And 2016 is showing no signs of M&A activity abating with the most recent announcement of Informa’s acquisition of Penton for $1.56 billion.

What can we expect from the exhibition sector in 2017?

Provided that the macroeconomic environment continues its current trajectory, AMR forecasts steady market growth of 4.6-percent compound annual growth rate to 2020. Emerging markets will continue to develop in three different clusters in the short term: 1) maturing markets with stable growth (China and India); 2) high-growth dynamic markets (Mexico, the Gulf region, and Indonesia); 3) underperforming markets in economic and political turmoil (Brazil, Russia, and Turkey).

Mature markets will remain stable with moderate growth, driven by occasional price increases and slow-volume growth. Despite a strong recent performance, the outlook for the U.K. market will be very much determined by how underlying markets respond to the challenge of Brexit. AMR expects a period of uncertainty, with first signs of market decline as early as 2017.

What is one trend that business-event organizers should be keeping an eye on in 2017 and beyond?

Shifts in the dynamics of mature exhibition markets — including flattening revenues and greater scrutiny of return on investment by exhibitors and attendees — are driving interest and investment in event technologies, which can help organizers to improve exhibitors’ and visitors’ satisfaction by better meeting their objectives.

Developing and implementing an effective, game-changing data strategy does not seem to be clearly on most boards’ minds, but this will likely be key to generate meaningful, sustainable return on investment from technology investments. Organizers will continue to increase their investment in event technology, as this becomes normalized spending.


Issa Jouaneh High ResIssa Jouaneh
Senior Vice President and General Manager, American Express Meetings & Events

Did anything surprise you about the travel sector’s performance in 2016?

In 2016, travelers and the global community were faced with more unrest and interruptions than ever before. Both deliberate and natural tragedies and disasters impacted millions of lives and caused normal activity, as well as travel activity, to come to a halt. But both the travel and meetings industries responded to help travelers in need.

What can we expect from the travel sector in 2017?

In the past year, we’ve seen an increased interest in measuring traveler satisfaction as evidence of travel-program success. In 2017 and beyond, this interest will get more serious. We expect travel managers to systematize the measurement of satisfaction and deeply integrate it into their programs. Travel managers will gather more data on traveler satisfaction, including traveler preferences, to shape traveler-centric programs that also prioritize cost savings. Technology and TMC [travel-management company] partners will play a crucial role in this by offering automated solutions that allow travelers and travel managers to focus on the business at hand.

What should meeting professionals be keeping an eye on in 2017 and beyond?

Three trends we have our eye on are industry consolidation, duty of care, and talent development:

1. CONSOLIDATIONThe hotel industry saw significant M&A activity over the past two years, driven by hotels’ desire to expand, acquire scale, and increase presence across segments such as luxury or mid-tier. When the dust settles, there will be a much leaner pool of financially solid hotel suppliers that could facilitate changes in content distribution, the RFP process, pricing, ancillary fees, and corporate-customer negotiations. Meeting executives should reassess their supplier deals in light of any changes to make sure they are getting the most value and heading off any risk. It’s a fluid environment at the moment, but buyers that can plan ahead, develop strong preferred programs, and stay on top of the changes can uncover efficiencies and new opportunities.

2. DUTY OF CAREIn light of recent global events and tragedies, companies and individuals are paying attention to personal safety more than ever, and planners need to prepare. Managing duty of care begins well before the meeting begins, and planners should outline strategies they can take during the planning process, on-site preparations, and program operation to maximize security. For example, planners should meet with the security teams at their venue to discuss security precautions. At the venue, they should review the emergency protocols with the on-site team.

3. A CHANGING WORKFORCEBeyond the traditional “soft” skills of interpersonal skills, creativity, and problem solving, organizations now expect meeting and event professionals to read financial statements, measure ROI, and gather and analyze data. To recruit these stellar professionals, companies with a vested interest in meetings and events should establish relationships with universities that offer hospitality programs through which [recruiters] can offer internships, special tutorials, and networking sessions to reach the best candidates. To attract prospective hires, companies must also create compelling and elevated M&E departments that are open to creativity and new ideas. Developing and investing in a strong employee value proposition — one that includes a roadmap for career advancement — is incredibly important for the future success and continued elevation of our profession.


colangeloJoseph Colangelo
CEO and Co-Founder, Bear Analytics

Did anything surprise you about the technology sector’s performance in 2016?

I don’t know if anything was overtly surprising in 2016, but there was a confirmation of a very interesting trend: Best-in-class event-tech solutions and marketing solutions are being married together.

As you can imagine, I look at the event world through a data-centric lens. As event organizers push for better marketing techniques to attract attendees and develop richer on-site experiences for those attendees to engage in, they have a number of decisions to make on how to accomplish those goals. There are more technology and marketing solutions in the marketplace than ever before, but the utility of those solutions is fragmented. Perhaps that is why you see larger organizations starting to consolidate solutions — for example, when you see a company like Freeman purchase Exhibit Surveys. It really speaks to the value of data, aligned with marketing and logistics. Another example of this is the purchases of Marketo and Cvent — a huge deal that marries marketing and event tech directly.

What can we expect from the technology sector in 2017?

2017 is going to be the year of the integrated tech marketplace. Event organizers are using more enterprise-level software solutions than they ever have. Some of these are event-specific solutions; however, as tech becomes more ubiquitous, we’re seeing non-event-specific solutions play a more predominant role in the event organizer’s life. This includes technologies such as marketing automation, beacon technology, customer-relationship software, and the vast array of retargeting and geofencing tools that are adding another dimension to event marketing. This adoption is only going to grow as attendee conversion continues to challenge our industry.

What is one technology trend that business event organizers should be keeping an eye on
in 2017 and beyond?

Looking beyond 2017, the power of automated decision-making to facilitate time-sensitive decisions is only going to expand. We’re seeing basic artificial intelligence make its way into our homes with products like Amazon Echo and Google Home, allowing for more customized experiences. As the push for personalization at events increases, this is one area where technology can provide leverage for the event organizer to tailor attendee experiences. From automated concierge services, to Netflix-like education and content recommendations, to dynamic, crowdsourced playlists at parties, the number of potential avenues to connect with attendees is going to increase exponentially.

Convene Editors