Forecast: Three percent. That’s the growth in spending meeting planners on average are anticipating for the year ahead. That’s according to Meeting Professionals International’s FutureWatch 2004, an annual meeting industry survey cosponsored by American Express, which was released this week.

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

Those results might suggest suppliers are over confident in their revenue predictions, but other findings draw a different conclusion. In addition to asking planners to predict their percent spending increase, FutureWatch also 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.

Planners growing concerns over corporations’ ever more bottom-line view of meetings was 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 number one 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 below.) Meeting purchasing policies--contract language, approval processes--are the furthest along the continuum, with 42 percent of planner respondents already standardized, 12 percent in the process, and another 21 percent considering standardization.

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; however 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 U.S. 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.

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 U.S., Canada, and Europe, and are all members of MPI. For a full report on the survey, visit the MPI Web site,