As we desperately try to distance ourselves from what has been—by far—the most punishing year the meetings and incentives industry has ever known, I’d like to share my predictions about what lies ahead:

  • The practice of strategic meetings management (SMM) will extend beyond corporations to associations, as they also seek ways to leverage their overall meeting spend.
  • Companies will continue to curb travel for all internal meetings—all those non-client-facing non-revenue-producing trips—indefinitely. The exceptions: training and sales meetings.
  • The most coveted buyers will no longer be planners from the Fortune 50, but those from the direct-selling companies—the Nu Skins and Herbalifes—as their meetings grow exponentially, the result of the unemployed or underemployed population turning to direct selling as a way to make ends meet.
  • One of the three (that’s not a typo) trade shows planned for the U.S. in 2011—IMEX America, AIBTM, and the Motivation Show—will bow out, go out of business, go regional, virtual—anything but go on.
  • Individual incentives will be all the rage, as more companies choose these trips in lieu of group programs. A new kind of third party—individual incentive planners—will emerge as independents scramble to find a new niche to make up for lost group business.
  • Low-key group incentives will continue into 2010 and beyond, with companies shying away from resort destinations and five-star hotels, despite unheard-of bargains. Dozens of additional luxury resorts will go the way of the St. Regis Monarch Beach as hotel foreclosures continue to skyrocket.
  • In every industry, there will be increasing pressure to use technology to gather data around meetings, which will be driven by the auditing department. The compliance screws will tighten even more when the Sunshine Act provision of the healthcare bill forces pharmaceutical companies to disclose all payments and gifts to doctors over $5 (that’s not a typo, either), with sweeping consequences for meetings in that sector.