The challenges facing meeting managers and travel buyers in 2009 will be much the same as in 2008, but they’ll be facing them in an increasingly tough environment, according to analysts from American Express Business Travel.

These comments were made during a conference call with reporters that replaced an audioconference that was scheduled to roll out the company’s 2009 Global Business Travel Forecast. American Express delayed the release of its annual prognostications in light of the unfolding Wall Street financial crisis.

“We are not redoing the entire forecast,” said Herve Sedky, vice president and general manager, Global Advisory Services. However, Sedky’s group will use the postponement to assess what effects the financial events of the past several weeks will have on the underlying supply-and-demand assumptions that American Express used to arrive at its forecast.

No matter how those assumptions have changed, companies are facing a “fundamental challenge” when it comes to “keeping travelers on the road,” said Frank Schnur, vice president, Global Advisory Services. Buyers can expect higher airfares, he says, particularly since American Express anticipates further airline consolidation and more capacity cuts.

Schnur also said that airlines will continue to look at corporate contracts closely and, for those companies not living up to their commitments, will be aggressive in reducing or eliminating those contracts entirely.

A possible bit of good news for buyers: When it comes to hotel rates, says Schnur, the mood seems to be changing from a seller’s market to a buyer’s market.

Schnur also said that while companies are looking to cut travel budgets, they need cut “fat, not muscle,” and added that it is possible to substantially cut costs, yet keep necessary travel in place, by making smarter buying decisions.

American Express Business Travel hopes to release the 2009 global business travel outlook within a couple of weeks.