By Rayna Katz
Sometimes, it seems that being a meeting planner requires a crystal ball. The job can call for one to anticipate trends and market conditions, and to strategize accordingly. In keeping with such needs, meeting planners who are looking ahead to 2020 see several trouble spots on the horizon.
Chief among their concerns for next year is the potential for an economic recession or, at least, the beginning of a shift. Meanwhile, others are worried about a lack of advancement in the industry in both green practices and technology, as well as a need for greater content.
“I see a downturn coming in the economy,” said Tracey Smith, executive director, Senior Planners Industry Network. “Even though this dip likely won’t be as major as the recession in 2008, there are steps businesses and planners can take to offset the effects. [Reportedly], Progressive and Ford Motor Co. beefed up their advertising during the recession and had their best years on record. While most companies pull back on advertising and promotion in tough times, those who invest more tend to do well.”
She added, “The same philosophy can be applied to meetings and events. Maintaining a presence, even a reduced-cost version, will keep a company or association in the minds of its customers/clients/members. People need to know you’re still there and available to them.”
Further, Smith said, “Studies show that a company needs to conduct seven touch points with a customer to get and keep their attention. If an organization pulls back on its marketing dollars, which could include its events, the company or association will forego several of those touch points.”
ConferenceDirect global account executive Lauralee Shapiro is noticing signs of concern among hotels.
“I can see the pendulum starting to swing,” she asserted. “In 2009 or 2010, I was getting daily emails from all types of properties offering concessions; they were just screaming for business. For the last five or six years you couldn’t get anything from hotels but now I’m starting to see the emails come again.”
More specifically, Shapiro stated, “I’m seeing need dates and offers of additional concessions based on total room nights contracted when booking further out. I don’t know if we’ll get back to where we were in 2010 but 2021 is looking soft for a lot of hotels.”
Still, the industry as a whole appears optimistic about its growth. According to the 2020 Global Meetings and Events Forecast by American Express Meetings & Events, meeting planners across North America expect to see an increase—albeit a modest one—in meeting spend of 1.6 percent.
Upticks also are forecasted for next year by meeting organizers in other parts of the world. The Asia Pacific region is slated to experience a 1.3 percent increase, while Europe’s meeting professionals anticipate a 2.1 percent increase in meeting spend. Survey respondents in Central and South America predict that 2020 will be a stable year.
Meanwhile, some event organizers are noticing a foot-dragging in the industry when it comes to green meetings. Said Sarah Shewey, CEO and founder Happily, a network of more than 50,000 freelance meeting and event planners, “We're most concerned that the event industry still has not widely implemented sustainable practices. We still see plastic water bottles everywhere, food waste and swag continues to be the norm, and folks are still flying in production teams instead of working with locals.”
To counteract that, she noted, “We'll be stepping up our commitment to sustainability by requiring our freelance event managers to sign our sustainability pledge, and we’ll invest a portion of our profits to train and re-skill vendors for sustainability. Suppliers need to be trained on the basics, like ‘floral foam is bad,’ the alternatives—like what to do when eliminating single-use plastic—and the impact.”
Shewey also said she wants to “show suppliers that technology can help them be more efficient and less wasteful.”
That’s a message that Mariska Kesteloo, founder, World of MICE and president, Meeting Professionals International Belgium, also is looking to convey. “The biggest challenge that I see for 2020 is the digital gap. Convention bureaus, hotels and other suppliers are not adapted to the 21st century when it comes to digitalization. We still tend to work in a very old-fashioned way."
Still other meeting professionals fear a heightened pressure to deliver great content in the face of more competition from technology. Self-described “sup-planner” Dahlia El Gazzar, founder, Dahlia+ Agency, said, “My greatest concern is that our members and event participants have more content and experience options, so we need to work harder, smarter and be more creative and unique in the experiences that we design.”
She added, “The experiences have to educate, engage, and hook the audience, so that attendees continue to come back, and ultimately become your loyal fans.”
Photo by Getty Images