The hand-wringing is done, and now the meetings industry is “digging in and adapting.”
That's the conclusion of FutureWatch 2010, the eighth-annual survey of meeting planners and suppliers conducted by Meeting Professionals International and American Express. The FutureWatch 2010 report was released in January.
While planners ranked “worsening economy” as their top concern in the FutureWatch 2009 survey, indicating a high level of anxiety and uncertainty, this year that concern didn't even make the list. The top three concerns in FutureWatch 2010 are budget cuts, doing more with less, and not having enough staff. The new reality is here; it's time to deal with it.
The FutureWatch 2010 report traces the arc of the survey over the past several years. From 2004 to 2007, respondents predicted strong growth in all measures, from budget to number of meetings. In FutureWatch 2008 the first signs of trouble could be seen, yet respondents still predicted 23 percent growth for that year. Then came FutureWatch 2009 and a full reverse: Respondents projected declines in budgets, attendance, number of meetings, and length of meetings.
FutureWatch 2010's predictions are less dire. Overall, respondents expect a 2.8 percent increase in meetings this year. (Corporate planners anticipate a 3.6 percent increase while association planners project a decrease of less than 1 percent — better than the 3.7 percent decrease they projected for 2009.) Budget cuts are still front and center, but planners are focused on working more efficiently, measuring, and eliminating frills.
There is potentially good news for hard-hit resorts as well. Though the use of resorts is projected to fall from 23 percent in 2009 to 20 percent in 2010, corporate planners' use of resorts will tick slightly upward from 25 percent in 2009 to 26 percent in 2010. This is not the only indication that the dreaded “perception problem” around meeting at high-end properties is fading. While 11 percent of suppliers see “concerns regarding perception” as a trend for 2010, that issue did not make planners' top 10 list of trends. And while 6 percent of corporate planners and 2 percent of association planners listed “public perception” as a “challenge” for 2010, its importance was ranked far below the challenges of smaller budgets and dwindling support staffs. When it comes to the top considerations for selecting a destination, perception is down at No. 11; as for selecting a meeting venue, perception is only the 14th most important consideration for respondents.
The top consideration for choosing both the destination and the meeting venue is overall cost. Respondents also value “flexibility” when choosing meeting venues. And ease of travel is critical when choosing a destination. With cost and travel in mind, U.S. planners said they would hold 80 percent of their meetings in the United States in 2010, up significantly from 61 percent in 2009. And city destinations increased in popularity among both association and corporate meeting planners.
With technology, providing good alternatives to live meetings remains important to planners (No. 5 on the priority list). The top priority is “improving the presentation or audiovisual experience at meetings.” The greatest disparity between priority and delivery is in “Internet access at meeting venues and hotels,” which planners ranked as their No. 3 priority but which they ranked dead last (at No. 16) in availability and affordability.