According to the American Express Meetings & Events 2013 Global Meetings Forecast, the sluggish global economy will continue to hamper many meeting budgets next year. While the survey predicts that the number of meetings in North America will remain even, respondents believe that overall meeting spend will decline by one full percentage point in the States.
It's a climate of economic uncertainty, and it will continue to change the conventional responsibilities of meeting planners.
"The role of a meeting manager has evolved to become more of a strategist than simply a logistician," Cathy Mason, CMP, President, The Mason Group, says. "It's essential to use a strategic focus to define ROI and organizational objectives to justify the meeting spend."
Some planners may already be fluent in the language of ROI.
"Corporations have gotten better at talking about ROI due to the SMM discussions and the budget restraints they've been dealing with for the past few years," Gregg Talley, FASAE, CAE, President & CEO, Talley Management Group, says.
However, Talley says that associations are still a bit behind in their ability to clearly show that ROI. They can catch up, though.
"Ultimately, it's about matching the meeting to the mission," Talley says. "Think about why you're having it, what you need to achieve and how you'll know you've accomplished it. That's all measurable if you take the time to do it."
Staying Closer to Home
While meeting planners may be dealing with smaller organizational budgets, the survey predicts that attendees will be faced with their own financial concerns: higher travel costs.
With an estimated 4.2 percent increase in average group rates for hotels and a 3.3 percent increase in average group hotel expenses in North America, some organizations may rethink where they ask their attendees to go. The American Express survey highlights the potential for a shift toward more local meetings, and Talley says that he has already noticed that shift for certain segments.
"When you look at what's happening in the government meeting market and the education market, it's clear that getting approval to travel to meetings that are out of state or out of region will be more challenging," Talley says.
Opportunities in The East
While the numbers for North America, Europe and Central/South America all showed potential hurdles for members of the meetings industry, Asia continues to stand out as a place of possibilities. The survey predicts a 6.4 percent increase in the number of meetings and 4.2 percent increase in overall meeting spend.
"The growth in Asia in good news and bad news," Talley says. "On one hand, it's an exciting reflection of what's happening in the Asian meetings environment. On the other hand, it's going to be worrisome for the rest of the world."
Those worries can become opportunities, though. Talley says now is the time for planners to determine how they can enter the Asian marketplace.
"You can't take your existing meeting and just put it in the new environment," Talley says. "You need to understand the market, find partners and build something that will be appropriate to the new audience."
For planners who can tailor an experience to the needs of audiences in Asia, they may encounter a very welcoming characteristic: affordability.
Mason says that an increasing hotel supply in Asia has helped fuel more competition, giving planners more leverage in contract negotiations.
"As Asian suppliers work with the West more frequently, they're more adaptable to our hopes and expectations," Mason adds.
Regardless of Location…
Outside of where your meeting is held, how your attendees participate may need to change, too.
"Planners will need to consider what can be done virtually and ask themselves if there are certain components that turn the meeting into a hybrid event," Mason says.
To request a full copy of the survey, visit the official American Express website.