American Express Global Business Travel has produced an annual Business Travel Global Forecast for more than two decades, looking at rate trends in hotels, airlines, and more, but now the company’s meetings division has a report of its own. American Express Meetings & Events released its inaugural Meetings Forecast on November 30.

The study looks at meeting activity in North America, Europe, Asia Pacific, and Latin America, reporting on meeting volume, meeting spending, destination and property choice, lead time, group air trends, sustainability issues, and more. AEME gathered the data from its clients’ actual and planned meetings (and Maxvantage clients’ meetings in the U.S. and Canada); surveys of nearly 200 hotel suppliers and meeting professionals working worldwide; and in-depth interviews with meeting experts. The resulting trend report and forecast, says said Issa Jouaneh, vice president and general manager, AEME, is intended to help “meeting professionals and executives navigate this landscape to strategically direct and make effective use of their meeting investment.”

The 42-page report is organized in two main sections, global trends and regional trends. Here are some highlights from the section on North American meeting trends:

  • Meeting lead times have been gradually lengthening over the past two years—from an average of about 70 days in Q2 2010 to about 95 days in Q3 2011. However, the AEME report says, “this ‘new normal’ market situation of providing meetings in just-in-time fashion is expected to continue indefinitely.” And looking ahead to 2012, 62 percent of North American survey respondents expect lead times to get shorter while only 7 percent believe they will get longer. The remaining respondents either say lead times will stay the same (25 percent) or they don’t know (5 percent).
  • While AEME reports that companies appear to be watching their meeting spend carefully, the number of meetings is staying strong. In 2011, North American meeting demand increased for 47 percent of hotel suppliers, while for 38 percent of hotel respondents demand was “about the same.” Just a small fraction of suppliers (13 percent) saw a decrease in North American meetings and the rest (7 percent) didn’t know.
  • The demand for mid-tier properties has increased “substantially, at the expense of resort and luxury properties,” according the report. Maxvantage customers were asked in an October 2011 survey whether they are using more, fewer, or the same amount of properties in four segments: resort, luxury, mid-tier, and lower tier. In both the resort and luxury categories, just over half the respondents said they are using fewer. Only 4 percent said they were using more resorts, while 11 percent said they were using more luxury properties. (For the remaining respondents demand for resorts and luxury hotels is about the same.) Only mid-tier properties show considerable strength, with 40 percent of respondents noting that demand is up in that category. The report predicts a continuation of this trend, “supporting price increases in the sector, while possibly limiting meeting rate increases at high- and low-end properties.”
  • The cost of group airfares is expected to go up in 2012, mirroring the expected increases reported for individual fares in American Express’s Global Business Travel Forecast 2012. AEME predicts fares for short-haul U.S. flights to rise 2 percent to 4 percent for economy seats and 5 percent to 7 percent in business class. Long-haul U.S. fares will grow up to 3 percent (economy) and 3 percent to 6 percent (business).