FutureWatch, the four-year-old flagship survey of Meeting Professionals International, released its 2006 results in late January, offering a wide-angle snapshot of the industry.

Among the take-aways from the study, commissioned in partnership with American Express, is that meeting planners are bracing for a challenging year ahead. Three out of four “client-side planners” (and an even greater percentage of suppliers) predict rising hotel rates, and only 22 percent expect improvements in supplier concessions or flexibility in attrition or cancellation clauses. Beyond that, “workload” is cited as the No. 1 internal/organizational trend affecting these planners, followed by “organizational budget changes.”

Of course, not everyone comes at the industry from the same perspective. Short lead times is the internal/organizational trend most affecting the meeting “intermediaries” who responded to the survey. We learn that because, for the first time, instead of lumping respondents into two categories — planners and suppliers — MPI broke out the type of respondents even further. This year's survey results include cross-tabulations from “client-side planners” (corporate, association, government/nonprofit), “intermediaries” (independent planners, third-party planners, destination management companies, association management companies), and “suppliers” (hotels, convention centers, production companies, etc.).

Several indicators point toward growth in the meetings industry in 2006. Client-side planners and intermediaries expect the total number of meetings to increase over 2005 by 7 percent and 21 percent, respectively. Suppliers agree, predicting a 10 percent bump in the number of meetings they host. MPI also found that planners anticipate average expenditure per meeting to rise by 7 percent in 2006, with intermediaries expecting a 14 percent jump.

While half the respondents thought meeting costs would remain flat as a percentage of the overall budget, a full 42 percent of client-side planners saw meetings using a larger portion of the pie. When asked to rank the environmental trends affecting their jobs and the industry, client-side planners clearly saw dollar signs: Travel costs, the economy, and the cost of oil and gas came in first, second, and third, respectively.

The survey can be reviewed in its entirety at www.mpiweb.org.

How You Work

Besides examining the meeting industry's overall health, the FutureWatch study also questioned planners about how meetings and meeting planners fit into their organizations. Key points:

  • Association respondents out-sourced just 3 percent of meeting business to intermediaries in 2005, but respondents expect that to rise to 5 percent in 2006.

  • A quarter of the intermediaries and 11 percent of suppliers said that more than half the time their meeting clients require them to be a preferred supplier.

  • The typical lead time for booking hotel and support services is expected to jump from 23 weeks in 2005 to 31 weeks in 2006. For meeting space, respondents predict booking 40 weeks in advance versus 29 weeks in 2005.