AMEX Global Meetings & Events Forecast 2014

As you turn the corner into a new year, you can never have too much business intelligence.

Perhaps equally valuable — although life holds no guarantees — is simple peace of mind. That’s what the 2014 Global Meetings and Events Forecast from American Express Meetings & Events, released last month, delivers.

Surveying meeting professionals in North America, Europe, Asia-Pacific, and Central/South America as well as hoteliers across regions, the forecast finds many key metrics — including number of meetings, total attendance, and overall meetings spend — holding steady or experiencing only minor changes next year:

  • Total meetings are projected to increase in North America by 1.5 percent, to hold steady in Europe and Central/South America, and to drop by 1.2 percent in Asia.
  • Total attendance is projected to increase by .6 percent in both North America and Central/South America, and to fall by 1.8 percent in Europe and by 2.4 percent in Asia.
  • Overall meeting spend is projected to hold steady in North America and to decrease by 1.8 percent in Europe, 1.4 percent in Central/South America, and 3.6 percent in Asia.

“After years of upheaval and uncertainty,” writes Issa Jouaneh, vice president and general manager of American Express Meetings & Events, “it seems there is a sense of stability returning to the meetings industry.” Recently Convene spoke to Jouaneh about the global forecast for 2014 and beyond.

Which finding most surprised you?

Heading into 2014, the changes likely to occur in the Asia-Pacific region stood out for us. In previous forecasts, we predicted increases in spending by corporations in Asia-Pacific, as the region grew economically. While it’s no surprise that organizations are slowing down spending, the slight declines expected across all categories (number of meetings and attendees expected, and overall spend), as the region is under greater scrutiny and shifts towards tighter spend control, is something that caught our attention.

More than anything, the findings seem to suggest stability after a tumultuous three to five years. Why do you think that is?

The forecast revealed that industry activity appears to be stabilizing due to a rise in meetings-related policies designed to help ensure meetings comply with company guidelines and deliver against strategic objectives. We also recognize that while management controls improve, a more stable economic outlook helps in creating an environment of more certainty for planners and companies for their meetings activities.

Are there any clear emerging markets when it comes to international meetings in 2014?

We have seen growth in China and Brazil in the last two years and a maturing meetings industry in India. Going forward, we expect to see these countries continue to develop, grow, and evolve. In 2014, survey respondents for the forecast expected demand for meetings in Brazil to increase, although the gain maybe slight, from all regions except Europe, where the demand is expected to be flat. We are also seeing evidence of growth in Africa, supported by increased activity and demand.

The one region where projections seem to be consistently down for 2014 is Asia. Why is that?

After years of predicted increases in spending by corporations in Asia-Pacific, the industry appears to be entering a new phase of greater scrutiny by organizations of its meetings activity and spend. As meeting costs rise, organizations will likely spend more time evaluating the meetings planned for 2014 to ensure compliance and control costs. Asia-Pacific is expected to experience slight declines across all categories (number of meetings expected, number of attendees expected, and overall spend) as the region shifts toward greater spend control.

The forecast includes a special report on virtual and hybrid meetings — adoption of which was slightly less than what planners predicted last year. In addition to reflecting various barriers to adoption, does that suggest a decrease in pressure to control costs by meeting virtually as opposed to in person?

We’ve long believed that virtual meetings complement traditional meetings. While cost savings and reduced travel time are both provided as drivers of virtual meetings in the forecast, we believe that customers have not lost sight of the value of in-person meetings. As meeting attendees embrace new technologies and look for greater engagement throughout the entire meeting process — including before and after — we do not expect companies to decrease the pressure to control costs solely through virtual meetings, but instead see meetings planners incorporating strategic virtual elements into meetings to help drive greater engagement and allow companies to connect with a broader audience segment.

Is there anything in the forecast that allows you to take a stab at a longer-term look — beyond 2014?

The forecast is conducted annually and is primarily focused on predictions for the subsequent year. However, this year’s forecast respondents indicate that small increases in average group rates maybe expected to continue into 2015. Hotel suppliers were optimistic about continued growth in demand into 2015, with evidence of organizations committing to meetings and events in 2015, indicating that some meeting types maybe being booked out further in advance to help ensure the optimal property and location choices are secured for these events. Additionally, respondents indicated small increases in group air rates maybe expected moving into 2015. As planners are increasingly looking to include air as a part of the planning process, this will be an area we’ll continue to watch.

Christopher Durso

Christopher Durso formerly was executive editor of Convene.