When asked to sum up the past year, I kept thinking of the Grateful Dead song, “Truckin'” and the line, “What a long, strange trip it's been.” For some perspective, I took a look at our cover story from the end of last year, in which we asked three industry leaders — SCMP president Kevin McNally, former MPI chairman George Aguel, and then-SITE president Peggy Whitman — to take a stab at predicting the year ahead.

The word that came up most in their interviews was “uncertainty” — about the economy and about the political instability abroad. We face another year of the same, as companies remain tentative about international incentives. We're already working on next month's cover story, in which we speak with three of the 2003 Crystal Award winners, all of which were forced to relocate their trips because of political unrest. Companies are once again booking internationally, but they're looking to perceived “safe” destinations: London, Costa Rica, or the Caribbean, for example. Risk management and contingency planning are permanent parts of a planner's vocabulary.

The bottom-line pressure on meeting executives and hoteliers that Kevin McNally spoke about late last year is also here to stay. In this month's cover story on page 14, we hear from several planners who have assumed responsibility for, or seen their departments merged with, corporate travel. It's all part of a movement by companies to get a handle on meeting expenses and consolidate travel spending to leverage the best buy. Whereas meeting planners used to rarely have any contact with procurement, now they're working hand-in-hand at many companies.

Last year at this time, people were talking about how lead times had never been so short. Now they're even shorter. It's no longer a phenomenon; planning by the quarter has become a way of life.

Finally, all three industry leaders spoke of the importance of proving ROI, another point that remains true. To this end, MPI has begun a second ROI project, and all the organizations have stepped up their training in proving ROI — an acronym that's no doubt here to stay.

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