Forecast: 3 percent. That's the growth in spending that meeting planners, on average, are anticipating for the year ahead. That's according to Meeting Professionals International's FutureWatch 2004, an annual survey of MPI members — meeting planners and industry suppliers — that is co-sponsored by American Express and was released in January.

Three percent is something to cheer about compared to the 2003 FutureWatch, in which planners predicted negative spending growth (-1 percent); nevertheless, suppliers are hoping for more. They're projecting revenue growth of 10 percent for the year ahead.

Those results might suggest that meeting industry suppliers are overconfident in their revenue predictions, but other findings draw a different conclusion. In addition to asking planners to predict the percentage of their spending increases, FutureWatch asked them to write in actual budgets for 2004. When those write-in figures are compared to the same question for 2003, the surprise is a 25 percent projected budget increase for 2004.

Other FutureWatch findings:

  • Planners project a 5 percent increase in training budgets.

  • U.S. planners predict that 22 percent of all meetings will be international, up 11 percent from 2003; that corresponds with fewer U.S. planners keeping their meetings in the States. In 2004, U.S. planners expect 78 percent of their meetings to be in the United States, versus 89 percent last year.

  • Canadian planners expect to see 23 percent of their meetings go international, up from 11 percent in 2003.

  • European planners predict an increase in U.S. meetings, from 6 percent in 2003 to 9 percent in 2004.

Planners' growing concerns over corporations' ever-more-bottom-line view of meetings were documented when 11 percent of respondents — versus 4 percent last year — called the “commoditization of planning” the operational trend with the greatest impact on meetings. Fifty-one percent said “budget changes” rank as the No. 1 trend, with “cancellation and attrition clauses” ranking first for 31 percent of planners.

For the first time, this year FutureWatch asked planners about operational policies and procedures in an effort to track the pace of standardization in the industry. (See chart at left.) The results paint an interesting picture, with standardization of policies and procedures furthest along, and purchasing standardization also well under way. A quarter of respondents are currently considering the standardization, 13 percent are moving toward standardization, and 37 percent are already there.

Among the industry's largest surveys, FutureWatch drew responses from 1,116 planners and 959 suppliers, representing a notable response rate of 13 percent. Respondents were from the United States, Canada, and Europe, and are all members of MPI. For a full report on the survey, visit the MPI Web site,

What have you standardized?

Policies Purchasing channel Preferred suppliers Technology
Not Considered/Considered and Dismissed 25% 21% 12% 42%
Under Consideration 25% 25% 13% 37%
Implementation Under Way 34% 24% 8% 34%
Already Fully Implemented 30% 24% 17% 29%
Meeting purchasing policies and procedures (e.g., planning principles, contract language, approval process)
Purchasing channel for meetings (e.g., meeting request forms, registration tools, online booking)
Preferred supplier program for meetings (e.g., travel, lodging, meeting management)
Technology base for meetings (e.g., reporting, satisfaction testing, payment and reconciliation platforms)