Rohit Talwar is a global futurist and popular speaker who specializes in the meetings industry. As the CEO of Fast Future, a research and consulting organization, he is leading Convention 2020, a major study on the future of events, venues, and meeting destinations, in conjunction with the International Congress and Convention Association and IMEX, the Frankfurt, Germany, exhibition for incentive travel, meetings, and events. From his London office, Talwar recently shared his somewhat gloomy predictions for 2010 and beyond with Editor Barbara Scofidio.
Corporate Meetings & Incentives: Do you see some loosening of travel in 2010?
Talwar: Not really, it depends on the industry you’re in. We continue to see corporations cutting their travel budgets for 2010 and downgrading the class of air travel staff can take. For example, in November, BA’s passenger numbers were down while those for the lower-cost carriers EasyJet and Ryannair were up. It’s going to require even greater justification for any trip; companies will ask employees whether they really need to go to a conference this year or if they can put it off to next year. Employees may also be nervous about being away from their desks or being perceived to be on a “jolly.”
CMI: Can you discuss your concept of “more, shorter, cheaper, and faster” as it applies to meetings?
Talwar: We expect to see a proliferation of shorter meetings, where instead of asking prospects and clients to come for a one-day event, they will be invited to a shorter session, possibly in the evening. Venues may change as events get smaller. We are seeing more and more events happen in wine bars, restaurants, and clubs. You have a smaller audience, lower cost, and a greater focus on networking. Even if people have the budget to organize bigger client meetings and sales events, the uncertainty about how the year will play out means they will delay until the last minute before committing. And the expected second dip of the downturn in the second half of the year in markets like the U.S. and U.K. also could have a serious effect in terms of event cancellation.
CMI: Will more meeting industry suppliers go out of business?
Talwar: A number of factors are at play here. Existing agencies will seek to expand their offerings to cut out other players in the value chain and secure more of the budget, making smaller margins on each activity but providing more services. I suspect that the bigger meeting planning firms will be more aggressive, waiting for competitors to collapse and then picking up their customers and staff as cheaply as possible. Mergers could happen between medium-sized firms looking to strengthen their balance sheets and broaden their offerings.
CMI: You’ve spoken about the idea of shared events between corporations. Can you elaborate?
Talwar: It's already happening: If you share a venue, you can also share costs by having common keynotes, a single set of staging, some common education sessions, and clever scheduling, you need fewer rooms overall. At mealtimes, you can either share breaks or stagger them so that food-and-beverage stations are only set up and taken down once and restocked as required. Sponsors may even be attracted to host cocktails and provide event funding if they feel they will be visible to a larger audience.
CMI: What about incentives: Will companies cut incentives altogether, or conduct these trips as they always have, just less conspicuously?
Talwar: We’re seeing more discreet incentive trips; companies aren’t making them the lavish and showy affairs of the past. At EIBTM recently, there was a growing interest in learning- or community service–based trips, where attendees learn by going to a new market to understand it, appreciate the culture, and have some low-key fun.