As U.S. meeting and incentive planners scout for meeting rooms and hotel blocks that can accommodate their events in today's seller's market, they're more often looking beyond our borders to source those programs. It's not only because meetings are costing more in the United States, but also because the nature of organizations is increasingly global and business demands dictate that they hold events for multinational attendees, often closer to where the overseas delegates reside. Our exclusive survey results seem to indicate that an increasing number of U.S. planners are feeling comfortable enough in a post-9/11 world to take their U.S. attendees outside the country.
We surveyed readers who plan international meetings or incentives across all five of The Meetings Group magazines: Corporate Meetings & Incentives,, , Financial & Insurance Meetings, and . We gauged the numbers and types of events being held in 2006, 2007, and, in some cases, beyond; determined how cost affects the planning of overseas meetings and how far out the meetings are booked; took the pulse of planners on the most popular venues; explored the use of third parties for international meetings; and drilled down on the most important factors — and challenges — when choosing a destination for a meeting or incentive outside of the United States.
Here are our exclusive survey results.
Readers by Market Segment
CHART 1: Survey respondents
by magazine subscription
We wanted to know which market segments our respondents represented, so we asked them to tell us which of our magazines they subscribe to. (See chart 1, right.) Not surprisingly, the majority of the respondents to this survey were readers of Corporate Meetings & Incentives, with 54 percent. We know that these readers plan incentive travel programs as well as multinational corporate meetings, but perhaps the more interesting statistic came from comparing the number of meetings or incentives held — defined as those that use group room nights — by subscribers. (See chart 2, below.)
The readers of Medical Meetings, for example, who made up 17 percent of our respondents, are planning more events for 2006 (average of 10.5) and 2007 (16.5) than the subscribers of our other magazines. Only for 2008 did the readers of CMI report the highest average number of meetings or incentives planned (13.5). So it does appear that, for the next two years at least, medical meeting planners are the most prolific when it comes to planning meetings outside of the United States.
It is also reasonable to assess that companies that plan incentive programs overseas typically plan at least two to three years out, due to qualifying periods. The higher number of CMI readers who have already planned for 2008, therefore, most likely corresponds to those who know they will be taking their top qualifiers outside of the United States as an incentive. Does that mean they've already chosen their site for 2008? Read on.
CHART 2: The average number of events (a meeting or incentive that uses group room nights) being held outside the U.S. for each year
The Far Side
We asked respondents to tell us how far out they book the site for their largest 2006 event; and how far out they're booking their largest 2007 event. In both cases, the highest number of respondents book between one and two years out. For 2006, 41 percent said they booked between 12 and 24 months out; 31 percent between 6 and 12 months out; 10 percent between 3 and 6 months out; and 10 percent booked more than two years out. Only 8 percent said they booked less than three months out.
For 2007, the patterns were similar: 40 percent said they booked 12 to 24 months out; 30 percent between 6 and 12 months out; 18 percent more than two years out; 8 percent from 3 to 6 months out; and 4 percent less than 3 months out.
Savvy U.S. planners understand that they need to plan more lead time for overseas meetings than when planning domestic meetings.
Size Meets Type
CHART 3: Meeting activity
by types of meetings and median numbers of attendees
We asked our respondents to tell us the total attendance expected at their largest meeting in 2006. Using the median number (chart 3, right) for 2006, the largest meetings planned for 2006 will draw 400 attendees and are continuing medical education meetings with multinational attendees.
The next largest meetings are associations' educational meetings with multi-national attendees, drawing a median of 250 attendees.
Corporate sales meetings with multinational attendees have a median of 180 attendees. Next were group incentive programs, which had a median of 150 attendees. The smallest type of meeting we recorded were for corporate board or committee meetings, with 26 attendees.
It's Money That Matters
CHART 4: Did cost affect your site selection?
Cost plays a big factor in selecting a site for meetings or incentives outside of our borders. (See “Fear Factor?”, page 14, which rates each factor in site selection.) We didn't realize how big a factor cost is, however, until we asked the question “Did hotel room rates and the general cost of the destination affect your site selection for your largest event in 2006 and in 2007?”
Of those who replied yes or no for their 2006 event, more than half, 54 percent, said it did affect their site selection, while only 19 percent said it didn't. (See chart 4.)
For 2007 events, it was slightly less, with 49 percent saying room rates and costs did affect their site selection, and only 16 percent saying they did not.
In terms of what our survey respondents are paying for overseas group hotel rooms, the average rate is $217 for their 2006 event and $226 for 2007. (See chart 5.) That's about a 4 percent increase for next year, not outlandish when one considers the seller's market and how much rates have gone up in the past year in the United States.
CHART 5: Average hotel rate paid
CHART 6: How does your 2006 overall group/meeting travel budget for events outside the USA compare to 2005?
Have planners' budgets gone up considering that costs have gone up? Not necessarily. When we asked respondents to compare their 2006 budgets to 2005, nearly a third of our respondents, 30 percent, said both budgets are about the same, while nearly the same amount, 29 percent, said their 2006 budget was greater than their 2005 budget. Only 10 percent said that their '06 budget was smaller than the previous year's. (See chart 6.)
CHART 7: What type of property or venue will you use for your largest future meeting or event outside of the United States?
We asked our survey respondents what types of venues they would use for their largest event in 2006 and 2007, and, not surprisingly, resorts came out on top, with 41 percent. (See chart 7, left.) That's because you need to think back to which segments of our readership responded in the highest number: the corporate meeting and incentive planner.
After resorts came downtown hotels, at 31 percent. Considering the high number of continuing medical education programs planned, especially now that there are so many regulations and guidelines affecting where medical meetings can be held — at business-oriented properties and destinations — that percentage is not surprising.
Your Favorite Places
We asked our survey respondents to write in which destination, by city and country, where appropriate, they would be using for their largest event in 2006. In terms of continents, Europe was the overall winner, with 38 percent, followed by Canada and Mexico with 16 percent each. The Caribbean racked up 15 percent of the mentions, Asia 8 percent; and 7 percent went to other destinations.
We asked those planners who were not independent meeting planners to tell us if they outsourced any of their meeting planning functions or on-site logistics to third parties when planning meetings outside of the United States, and more than half did.
Of those who do outsource, we asked what types of services or logistics they were most apt to use for their 2006 events. (See chart 8.) The vast majority, 58 percent, say they use destination management companies when planning meetings outside the U.S. Using temporary on-site staff and tour companies or operators both came in at 42 percent, another hefty percentage. A full 30 percent of respondents said they outsourcednegotiations, and 20 percent said they hired professional interpreters and site-selection firms.
We also asked our survey respondents if they negotiated preferred vendor/supplierwith hotel chains for events outside the United States. Of those who answered the question, 35 percent said yes, 35 percent said sometimes, and 30 percent said no. That's 65 percent that will leverage their U.S. buying power with their international meetings buying power, a trend we have been witnessing for the past year or so, especially within corporate America.
CHART 8: What services will you outsource for 2006 events?
CHART 9: Factors most likely to affect site selection of overseas destinations, 5=highest influence, 1=least influence.
So what really influences planners' decisions about where to hold their meeting or incentive outside of the United States? Certainly many factors come into play, but safety and security topped our readers' factors. (See chart 9, left.)
Not far behind were cost of hotels, attendee preference, and cost of airfare, which tied with ease of doing business. Next came climate, use of English, airlift, culture, services of tourist boards, proximity to business or audience, and hotel chain contact.
CHART 10: Top concerns when planning a meeting outside the U.S., 5=highest concern, 1=least concern.
In terms of planners' concerns when planning overseas meetings, cost beat out security. (See chart 10.) And right behind security came anti-American attitudes. Whether founded or not, these perceptions play a major role in U.S. meeting planners' site decision processes.
The Meetings Group magazines (Corporate Meetings & Incentives, Association Meetings, Medical Meetings, Financial & Insurance Meetings, and Religious Conference Manager) conducted a survey to investigate how U.S.-based meeting professionals plan meetings and incentives outside of the United States. The e-mail survey was conducted between February 8 and March 8, 2006. The online survey went to 9,994 readers, with an effective response rate of 2.7 percent.