• What’s in Store for Meetings and Business in 2013

    “Cautiously optimistic” is how meeting planners and hoteliers characterize their business climate predictions. And while these business professionals seem pleased with the first quarter of 2013, they have also adopted a wait-and-see attitude—depending on what happens in the U.S. Congress, as it relates to government spending.

    “All indicators look really positive,” said Michael Dominguez, CHSE, senior vice president of corporate sales, MGM Resorts International, based in Las Vegas. “There’s stability in the meeting industry; pace and demand are looking good; and booking windows have expanded.”

    Looking at the numbers from the U.S. Travel Association, business travel in the United States will grow by about 4.3 million trips in 2013, for a total of 464.5 million trips. Business travel is expected to grow even more rapidly from 2014 to 2016. U.S. Travel predicts 2016 will see 480 million business trips in the U.S.

    “The fact is that business trips grew in 2010, 2011 and 2012, and consecutive growth like this hasn’t happened since 2003 to 2007,” said David Huether, senior vice president of research and economics for the U.S. Travel Association.

    Despite general uncertainty about jobs and the economy here and abroad, organizations recognize and are taking advantage of the value of meetings and business events. The result: attendance and budgets have grown, according to the latest edition of MPI’s Business Barometer, which surveys senior-level meeting professionals on a bi-monthly basis.

    The February 2013, Business Barometer found a 13 percent increase in budgetary improvements over the previous two months and a 16.9 percent boost in projected budgetary growth for the coming year. The percentage of respondents indicating positive changes in current budgets (45 percent) is the largest rate the Business Barometer has reported in nearly two years.

    The number of people experiencing meetings and business events also grew, with a 13 percent increase in the number of respondents seeing higher attendance numbers compared to results from two months earlier, and a 15 percent growth in the number of respondents projecting improved attendance over the next year.

    It should be no surprise that current and projected business conditions are also positive, with 66.1 percent of respondents claiming business has improved in the past two months and 75.3 percent projecting improvement for the coming year (increases of 4 percent and 7.3 percent, respectively).

    Michael Patton, president and CEO of POTHOS, an agency specializing in corporate travel, in San Diego, agrees that the signs are good.

    “People were waiting to see which direction the economy would go,” Patton said. “[But] we have already seen the floodgates beginning to open. Now that we are past that, it is back to business, plus we are making up for last year.”

    New Legislation, More Meetings

    With the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), and all the new legislation that comes with it, many industry veterans believe we will see more meetings.

    “What I’m seeing is with the current administration’s new rules, regulations and laws there will be more [meeting] activity in the healthcare sector,” said Dawn Penfold, CMP, president of MeetingJobs in Fayetteville, North Carolina.

    She encourages meeting professionals to look to healthcare, technology and the education sectors for future employment.

    “The past few years saw a rise of independent planners and companies outsourcing to third-party companies, but I’m optimistic about companies hiring again,” she said.

    In fact, the February 2013 Business Barometer reported an increase in full-time, part-time and contract employment in the meeting industry (6 percent, 10.7 percent and 3 percent, respectively) compared to the December 2012 survey.

    Chris Lee, DMCP, CEO of ACCESS Destination Services in San Diego, points out when pharmaceutical regulations changed, a whole new subset of training meetings and conferences appeared in order to educate business professionals on the new requirements and guidelines.

    “First you have meetings to understand the guidelines and a second wave of meetings on compliance,” he said. “We’re going to see meetings growth in segments such as the hospital and healthcare device industries. Whenever there is a major government shift, education is going to be a focus.”

    The PPACA’s requirements that call for organizations with 50 or more full-time equivalent employees to provide health insurance policies for workers will affect countless companies, which will most likely mean more meetings, says Jim Grillo, CMP, president of www.HeresChicago.com. Larger organizations may have to restructure to minimize the impact, he says, but the result will be more companywide meetings to communicate these changes back to employees. And that’s just one example.

    Moderation Is Here to Stay

    The longer we go without another recession, the more confidence corporations will have in meeting again. But the flagging economy will have a lasting effect on how planners put on meetings and events in the future. Moderation has been and will be the key.

    “Fewer limos, more local bands, less extravagance,” Lee said. “Moderation will be in play for at least another four years.”

    Andre Fournier, senior vice president of sales and marketing, Destination Hotels & Resorts, agrees.

    “People will continue to be [operating] under cost containment,” he said. “They will want to do more with less. They’ll have smaller, regional meetings.”

    And moderation has had an unexpected benefit: When planning meetings and events, more companies are looking to include corporate social responsibility.

    “We could spend a half million dollars on Elton John or refurbish a vocational school,” Lee said. “Companies coming off a recession want to add meaning to their meetings and want to contribute to the local economy.”

    International Meetings

    Travel to London saw a big uptick with the Olympics and will continue this year, according to Chris Lynn, vice president, North America and emerging markets – business tourism at London & Partners, the city’s convention and visitors bureau.

    “The fact that President Obama was reelected makes it business as usual for us,” Lynn said. “The relationship between London and the U.S. is critical, because 50 percent of European headquarters for Fortune 500 companies are in London. I think 2013 will be a year in which we will see a degree of business growth.”

    Laura d’Elsa, New York-based regional director for the US and Canada, the German Convention Bureau, is also optimistic about international meetings and business events coming to Germany, citing heightened interest at trade shows.

    “We are continuing to educate [businesses] that while they may spend more on flights, hotels are more affordable and they’ll get their VAT [tax] back,” d’Elsa said.

    One business professional, who organizes international events, says she is not seeing any negative impact on her clients’ meetings for the upcoming year.

    Julie Walker, CMP, president of CHOICE Meetings in Fairfax, Virginia, has a lot of clients in the healthcare industry. As a result, she’s seeing only good things for 2013.

    “I may be wearing rose-colored glasses, but late December and early January set the tone for the upcoming year and I’m strongly encouraged by the high volume of activity as it relates to meetings and conferences,” Walker said. “We’ve had solid bookings for the first three quarters of this [fiscal] year.”

    As far as European inbound meetings and events, MGM’s Dominguez says the industry has to realize the U.S. is still dealing with the European debt issue.

    “Why it matters is that almost 40 percent of the S&P 500 receives 35 percent of their revenue from Europe, and if they don’t hit their earnings growth targets, the stock pulls back,” he said.

    U.S. Travel Association’s Huether says the international side of business has been surprising, with spending by international travelers up 10 percent. But, he points out, that’s driven mainly by growth in Asia and South America, which made up for the weakness in Europe.

    Trade Shows in 2013

    Ray Bloom, chairman of the IMEX Group, which puts on trade shows in Europe and the U.S., happily shares that IMEX America 2012 was a great success.

    “We had 40,000 appointments with buyers and 150 countries participating in the show,” he said. “It’s very encouraging.”

    But Jason McGraw, CTS, CAE, senior vice president of expositions at InfoComm International, notes that trade show attendance will remain dependent on the industry. While the housing industry took a big hit, solar energy, wind power, machine tools and technology industries have done well.

    “I hope it will continue, but there are unknowns,” McGraw said. “What’s going to happen with the tax policy? Will it have a detrimental effect on small business?”

    That might impact trade show exhibitors and attendees alike. But having just returned from the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, he feels that trade shows are alive and well.

    “There were 150,000 people and 3,200 exhibitors with one pavilion [dedicated to approximately 100] start-up companies,” McGraw said. “I think it was a good bellwether for the trade show industry. Exhibitors are spending robustly on function rooms and parties. We saw a big pullback in 2009 and 2010 but it’s blossoming now.”

    One of the shows InfoComm did in 2012 was GovComm, which attracts government employees, government contractors and the military, among others. One of the ways to fuel the economy is for government to have policies that encourage travel.

    “The government helped to improve visa entry with the U.S. State Department and there are more funds for travel promotions to help export our products,” McGraw said. “If you can’t get people to come to the U.S., how do you get them to buy your products? Events help people drive the economy. And if the fiscal policies are put in place and markets continue to improve, it will instill confidence. Maybe at a single-digit pace, but I’ll take that instead of recession.” One+

    JENNIFER JUERGENS is a veteran meeting and event industry journalist and a regular contributor to One+ (http://www.mpioneplus.org).

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