Research Spotlights Present and Future Challenges for Planners

Late registrations and room-block bookings are an issue, but planners see more challenges on the horizon.

Author: Curt Wagner       

people in line

Late attendee registrations and room-block bookings continue to vex meeting planners, but those are not the only challenges they face.

As attendance for in-person meetings continues to grow, planners face myriad challenges including late registrations and room-block bookings, according to results of the “7th Annual State of the Meetings & Convention Industry” study.

Conducted by travel, tourism, and hospitality consultant Future Partners in collaboration with travel marketing consultancy Miles Partnership and the tourism marketing agency Digital Edge, the study surveyed 479 U.S.-based corporate, association, SMERF, and third-party planners between late December 2023 and January 2024. The survey organizers also conducted 20 interviews with meeting and event planners.

The study found that a significant number of attendees, according to respondents, are waiting until less than a month before events to register and to book their rooms, “which I imagine must be really difficult for planners,” said Myha Gallagher, vice president of research at Miles Partnership, during a webinar about the study results.

Nearly 12 percent of respondents said attendees registered for their events less than a month in advance of the event, while almost 46 percent said attendees registered two to three months in advance. Slightly more than 29 percent of planners said attendees registered four to five months in advance — less than 13 percent of respondents said their attendees registered six to eight months in advance of the event.

On average, planners said attendees were booking their lodging just slightly more than three months before the event. Similar to the registration results, almost 12 percent of attendees are booking less than one month before the event. According to the report, the more frequent attendee behavior of booking past the room-block deadline is creating a significant challenge for planners. While nearly 45 percent of planners said fewer than one out of 10 attendees is booking a room as late as one month prior to the event, the remaining 55 percent of planners said 11 percent or more of their attendees are booking rooms past the room-block expiration date. Nearly one in five planners, or 18 percent, said that a large majority of their attendees — 71 percent or more — are booking after the room-block expiration.

These findings mirror those in another recent study, Maritz’s “Registration Insights Report,” which also reported that such behavior creates headwinds for planners, citing logistical challenges including lack of hotel rooms/sold-out blocks; last-minute changes to F&B and session rooms; and support-staff strain, as well as such financial consequences as attrition damages and supplier surcharges. (See the Convene story, “Rethinking Early-Bird Pricing — and Other Time-Honored Registration Strategies.”)

Maritz studied the habits of 360,000 conference-goers registered for the same 30 trade shows spanning diverse industries over three years. The report showed that in 2023, 45 percent of attendees delayed registration until fewer than four weeks before the event; more than one in four waited until the final two weeks before the show to register; and nine percent registered once they arrived on site.

The Future Partners study also showed that booking windows for venues continue to get shorter. While almost 10 percent of planners responded that they source venues three to five or more years in advance of the event date, nearly 16 percent said they do so less than six months in advance. Nearly two out of five respondents said they book venues six to 12 months in advance and slightly more than 36 percent do so one to two years in advance.

“Shorter booking windows both for planners and attendees as well as heightened expectations for live events make the evolving job of meeting planners challenging,” said Future Partners President and CEO Erin Francis Cummings.

Here are other results from the Future Partners research, which asked respondents to predict trends in the industry over the next three years.

1. Planners anticipate a growing need to align both the destination and their meeting agenda with their attendees’ values.

  • Three out of five planners predict an increase in the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion in meeting attendees and speakers. “We need the DMO to have lots of info about minority-owned businesses, LGBTQ+ resources, and all other things DEI related,” said one planner. “Social justice, diversity — people want meaning at their meetings. They want to show up as their entire selves,” another said.
  • More than half (52 percent) of planners expect an increase in corporate social responsibility initiatives being incorporated into meeting agendas. Related to this result, 63 percent of planners prefer to support local rather than national organizations for the CSR initiatives.
  • More than three-quarters of respondents say they and their clients are open to sourcing U.S. destinations they had not considered previously.

Mya Surrency, sales and marketing strategist at Digital Edge, said in the webinar that since the pandemic, DMOs have become advocates for their communities. “Planners are looking for destinations to be the intellectual capital resource, to have that in-depth knowledge of the opportunities within the destination,” she said. “It’s like advance matchmaking…. It’s not just about the space, the dates, and the rates anymore.” Planners want to know how the destination fits with their organization’s values and how it will help the group advance its mission, she said.

2. Planners see politics having a wider impact on destination selection as Convene previously reported in “Navigating Political Polarization at Your Events.”

  • More than 60 percent of respondents believe the impact to local politics on destination selection will increase.
  • Slightly more than half of the respondents said state and local laws already have caused them to reconsider a destination, which is a 14-percent increase over last year’s results. See the graphic below for the top issues given that caused their reconsiderations.

3. When asked what trends will have the biggest impact on the industry, planners were “buzzing” about AI being incorporated into their work, Gallagher said. She offered quotes from planners who were interviewed. “Personalized experiences are key,” said one planner. “Attendee expectations are shifting towards more dynamic and customized experiences. Interactive elements, AI-powered recommendations, and flexible agendas that cater to individual interests will be crucial for engagement and satisfaction.”

Another said, “Technology-driven innovation is the biggest trend. Advancement in virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and augmented reality will transform meeting formats and Interactions. AI-powered facilitation, and data-driven insights will further enhance engagement and learning outcomes.”

Curt Wagner is digital editor at Convene.

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