Meetings Outlook: Rising Costs Will Put Planners to the Test

by Harvey Chipkin
Meetings Outlook: Rising Costs Will Put Planners to the Test

Meetings budgets will increase modestly next year, but rising costs will put those budgets to the test. Value will still be available, but getting it will require flexibility and booking further ahead.

Sustainable meetings will continue to gather momentum, bolstered by new standards put in place by the Convention Industry Council. And, not surprising, social media and mobile technology will play an even bigger role – before, during and after the meeting.

These are some of the predictions that a cross-section of meeting industry professionals shared with Travel Market Report. Here’s what else they said.

Budgets Up – But Scrutiny Remains
“We are seeing budgets continue to slowly rise and meeting professionals project an increase in the number of meetings and attendance. However, there remains tremendous pressure on budgets and resources with organizations closely scrutinizing every expense.” – Brad Bebell, director of marketing, Meeting Professionals International

Value Remain – For the Flexible
“Slowly and carefully meeting pricing is trending up. That said there are still a lot of values available for meeting planners, especially those with date flexibility. In 2013, meeting specials and value date offers will become more sought after and relevant.” – Harold L. Powell, Jr., regional vice president, sales & marketing, Benchmark Hospitality International

Hotel Rates Likely to Rise
“Unless we go back into recession, we should see future rates going up. As business travel increases and convention attendance does as well, hotels will be more bullish on future rate quotes, especially for those shopping into 2014.” – Eric Whitson, director of sales and marketing, The National Conference Center

Airfares Influencing Site Selection
“Being that airfares contribute to a much larger piece of the budget pie than they have in the past, our clients are specifically reviewing price and lift to various locations in advance of making a selection to ensure that they fully understand the impact that airfare will have on the overall budget for their meeting or event.” – Brad Williams, senior director of operations for Carlson Wagonlit Meetings & Events

Boost in Regional Choices
“Budget challenges are driving an increase in local/regional meetings with shorter lead times. As such, we see more time and attention being paid to destination selection as an acknowledgement of the role that destinations play in the meeting and event process.” – Bebell

Squeeze on Short-Term Bookings
“We are starting to see organizations have trouble finding space for short-term meetings. This is a good thing and will likely lead to hotel rates finally going up and the need for customers to increase lead time for bookings.” – Whitson

“The majority of group business is still booking with short lead times, but larger meetings and multiple meeting programs are being scheduled earlier on an increasing basis. Availability for corporate meetings at prime destinations in the fall of 2013 and spring 2014 will be tight.” – Powell

“Business is improving and there is a trend to booking earlier. We encourage this by providing incentives for early bookings. Social media has made it easier for event planners to establish connections and to generate attendance at these events and even during the event they’re communicating in real time to maintain interest.” –  Zack Zahran, general manager, Helmsley Park Lane Hotel, New York

Thirst for Knowledge
“Just delivering content won’t be enough for attendees. Meetings will need to inspire and guide. The key to event success will be the ability for the planner to deliver diversity of content and diversity of experience. We’ll need to share content before our meetings, so that delegates can come prepared to brainstorm and learn from their peers. Delegates won’t want knowledge, they’ll want know-how.” – Bebell

Properties Design Gets Personal
 “Properties are redesigning their public spaces. Lobbies are becoming less formal. Meeting rooms are getting a makeover to accommodate more flexible meeting requirements. Property-specific areas such as workout areas and spas are focusing on a personalized guest experience.” – Peter Stockman, outgoing president of International Association of Conference Centers – The Americas

Drought Could Impact F&B
“Droughts in the U.S. are predicted to have an impact in food prices in 2013 – which in turn impacts banquet and restaurant costs.” – Whitson

Bigger Role for Social Media
“Social media is playing an increasing role in communicating with program participants before, during and after a meeting, while mobile meeting applications allow attendees to have all meeting or event information easily accessible in the palm of their hand.” – Williams

Tablets Take Over
“With multiple Internet devises per person, groups increasingly have precise requirements for bandwidth and often request private wireless and wired networks. In 2013, look for Power Point presentations via LCD projectors to often be replaced with individual, interactive tablets.” – Powell

Local Dining Hits High
“More and more natural and reusable products are being used at meetings, while local dining has hit an all-time high. Organizations have become extremely interested in eating what’s local, organic and seasonal. Not only is it healthier and more sustainable, but it also provides more of a local flavor of the destination for attendees.” – Williams

Healthy Choices Expand Beyond Menu
“The term “healthy” has gone beyond the menu in the form of vitamin-infused bottled water, anti-microbial bedding, air purifiers, carpeting, etc.” – Stockman

CIC Sustainability Standards Go Live
“The industry is poised for modest growth for 2013. It’s an excellent time to introduce new accreditations and standards to advance our profession. CIC will introduce the first ever healthcare subspecialty to the CMP program next year. We’ll also begin to see the sustainable meeting standards, which did not exist until last year, implemented at meetings and events around the world.” –  Karen Kotowski, CEO of the Convention Industry Council

Planners Going for Packages    
“We are experiencing increased demand for meeting packages, with corporate procurement departments becoming knowledgeable about the value and ease of all-inclusive pricing. Meeting planners are taking advantage of options to customize packages.” – Powell

“The meeting package is coming back. Although the past few years saw a slide in demand and an unbundling of the meeting package in 2012 – 2013 planners are once again embracing the product for the value it offers the meeting budget. Instead of unbundling there are more requests for customization of the meeting package.” – Stockman

Training, Product Launches Up
“Growth in certain types of meetings, including new hire training at professional firms, product launches and even larger national sales meetings are out pacing the group segment as a whole. For 2013, hotel sales team will adjust deployment to focus on the fastest growing segments.” – Powell

Social Activities Rebound
“The social aspect of meetings is coming back but in a much less elaborate form. Programs will be balanced between productive meeting and social activities that keep clients informed and motivated.” – Stockman

“Team building is coming back but it’s almost all half-day and evening programs…and nobody is scaring anybody. Properties are introducing creative and fun new programs designed to be delivered in-house.” – Powell

Tip of the Day
Daily Top List

Five Places to Go for Spring Travel

1. Carlsbad, Calif.

2. Aspen, Colo.

3. Kauai, Hawaii.

4. Cabo San Lucas

5. Washington, D.C.

Source: Forbes

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