This is the second in a two-part series about the challenges and opportunities facing meeting planners in 2012.
The uncertainty of world events and a tougher negotiating environment with hotels and venues are likely to test the mettle of meeting planners in 2012.
Another key challenge will be continued media scrutiny of corporate meetings and incentives, putting ever-more pressure on planners and their organizations to provide transparency.
These were among the challenges highlighted by meetings industry leaders contacted by Travel Market Report.
In part one, the leaders emphasized that becoming a strategic business partner is the key opportunity for meeting planners in the year ahead. (See: Outlook 2012: For Planners, Strategy Will Trump Logistics, Jan. 5, 2012.)
Prepare for uncertainty
“The big challenge is flexibility. Clients are going to have to deal in a gray world, not a black and white world. Nobody is operating in certainty. For planners, that means having to be prepared. It’s having access to all the necessary information. It’s like an athlete being in the zone – with shorter lead times, changing situations, attendance that won’t come together. People have so much sensory input from different sources; the key is to be prepared, to be plugged in. and not just technologically plugged in. If you have the same association meeting with the same format 10 years in a row, it loses its appeal.” – Bruce MacMillan, president and CEO, MPI
Tougher negotiating environment
“The market is slowly moving to the supplier side. In 2011, properties focused on driving rate. In 2012, the focus will be on growing occupancy and holding more firmly on ancillary revenues. During the past few years planners were successful in negotiating away fees like meeting room rental or using lower food and beverage costs in return for signed contracts. This will become much more difficult in 2012-2013.” – Neil Pompan, global president, International Association of Conference Centers
Meetings under scrutiny
“There is a continuing need for transparency as news cycles continue to focus on issues relevant to planners. That might include issues like the administration’s order to limit spending on government travel. Every time something like that happens, it causes everyone to take a harder look at meetings.” – Kristin Kurie, president, The Wilderman Group (venue operator)
Challenge: Breaking the mold
“Preconceived notions within the planner community and their organizations see planners as logistics people, and breaking that mold is a massive challenge. Planners can’t be seen as the clipboard carriers of the past. If associations don’t change the way they operate and communicate with their members, they will not be able to function. They used to be able to yell at the masses and people would listen. People just don’t respond to that anymore. There is a massive shift to trusting peers over organizations. That forces meetings to be much more collaborative than in the past. Attendees expect the same rich media at meetings that they enjoy in their personal lives with social media and tools like iPhones.” – Eric Olson, general manager - small and medium-sized businesses, Active Network (technology provider)
Doing more with less
“The economy is still a challenge. While there is conservative optimism, there is going to be a lot of pressure on doing more with less, as has been the case the last few years. Part of the challenge is being able to afford all the technology now expected at events. While the costs of that technology are coming down, planners have to focus on what’s useful to them and not every function and service available.” – Michael Doyle, president, The Virtual Edge Institute