2018 Meetings Industry ForecastJanuary 1, 2018

Preparing for the Challenges and Opportunities Ahead By
January 1, 2018

2018 Meetings Industry Forecast

Preparing for the Challenges and Opportunities Ahead
John H. Graham, IV, FASAE, CAE, President and CEO, ASAE, Washington, D.C.

John H. Graham, IV, FASAE, CAE, President and CEO, ASAE, Washington, DC.

A new year typically translates to champagne toasts, off-key renderings of “Auld Lang Syne” and a final farewell to the last 365 days. However, in the world of meetings, additional elements are incorporated into the mix. So, though the future is never as clear as the past, here is a forecast geared to help guide planners from such perspectives as budget, safety, technology and more.

“Costs are going up across the board with respect to meeting expenses, so planners need to be smart — evaluate what matters most to their attendees and eliminate areas that are less important,” says John H. Graham, IV, FASAE, CAE, president and CEO of ASAE — a membership organization of 39,000 association executives and industry partners representing 7,400 organizations in nearly 50 countries. “All of this is in an effort to balance rising costs in the areas of food and beverage, as well as rates for hotel rooms and technology.”

In addition to managing budgets, Graham foresees the following challenges for associations in 2018:

  • Delivering ROI for all stakeholders.
  • Placing meetings and events in a seller’s market.
  • Offering meetings that provide a customized experience.
  • Learning new job skills necessary to attain these objectives. Though essential talents are continually changing, basic skills include negotiation, financial supervision, relationship management and operational excellence.

When discussing numbers, Graham opines that associations may experience a slight decline in meeting size due to the recent tightening of travel restrictions. Overall, however, associations are experiencing steady attendance at their meetings, and many are seeing increased popularity in smaller regional meetings.

A Time of Change

Graham says it’s imperative to acknowledge the business climate: “It’s a time of change, and it’s important for organizations to consider how they can evolve.” Though every department within an association plays a critical role in creating an experience for its members and attendees, Graham considers meetings and events one of the most visible deliverables — oftentimes the most significant asset in producing member engagement.

He addresses millennials and microlearning. “Everyone engages differently, so it’s critical for associations to use data to determine how attendees want to personalize their experience. As organizations start to reimagine their events, they need to consider how to meet the needs of all audiences.” One way of appealing to millennials is to introduce new learning formats, such as microlearning. Graham explains that when an association provides more ways for members to customize their experiences, the result is increased engagement with the organization.

A significant theme for 2018, Graham believes, is the reimaging of association meetings and events. One of the reasons why associations are changing how they produce meetings is because of how attendees consume content and engage in forums. His advice: “It’s vital for organizations to look at their meetings and events through a new lens — deliver the experience and the engagement opportunities, as well as the content, in ways members want to learn, when they want to consume and at a price they are willing to pay.”

As meetings and events are typically a revenue producer for most organizations, Graham says it is essential to reevaluate each of these get-togethers to determine what is resonating and what is not. It is critical to look at mature meetings and events or those that are declining and reimagine them or replace them with a new event that delivers what members want and need. “Regardless of the path, the key is to continually assess and increase the value proposition for attendees.”

Emergency Preparedness

With respect to recent natural tragedies and disasters, Graham views these incidents as reinforcement for the importance of two protocols: good communication and emergency preparedness procedures. “There’s no way to prepare for all instances, but it’s critical to have a plan in place and to make sure it’s communicated and practiced by all staff so that everyone is ready to respond in the event of a crisis.”

Experts with iJET International agree. As a company providing end-to-end, tailored solutions that integrate world-class operational threat intelligence, innovative technology and response services to help organizations avoid threat, mitigate risk and protect their people, operating locations and reputations, its advice for meeting planners is straightforward.

Advances in mobile technologies and two-way instant communications will continue to make identifying, communicating and responding to threats much more efficient in 2018. Thus, meeting planners will have more resources available to them than at any time in history — from better technology to the ever-expanding cadre of experienced security professionals in the risk management industry. If they can effectively leverage the information and resources at their disposal, they can increase their likelihood of putting on a safe, successful event.

Three tips iJET International’s security team suggests are:

1. Utilize a reliable source of intelligence as far in advance as possible so you can identify and mitigate potential threats to the event itself, as well as those associated with travel to the broader area.

2. In the event’s communications package, be sure to highlight any threats to the event or the broader area, along with easy-to-understand actions attendees can take to stay safe.

3. Establish a reliable means of communicating new information and updates in a timely manner and disseminating that information to attendees and security stakeholders alike.

“It’s no secret that we live in a time where security is a top priority,” states Carisa Norton, CMP, vice president, event services with the Los Angeles Convention Center (LACC), AEG Facilities. “Attendees want and need to feel safe at an event, and from an international traveler’s point of view it is a requirement to book a destination where the venue, tourism board and event take steps to provide that security.” She suggests to the meeting planner that when it comes to budgeting, these questions should be answered. What are your venue’s requirements? What is the cost to provide the proper security measures for your event?

F&B, Mobile Apps and Site Selection

An additional trend Norton anticipates for the new year is the continued interest in healthful, sustainable food choices. She explains: “We have gotten many requests from attendees for more farm-to-table food options — there is a greater desire for local tastes that are healthy and environmentally conscious.”

With respect to mobile applications, Norton is definitive. “Mobile apps are not only a trend, they have become standard.” Attendees expect an event to have a mobile app where they can find information and engage with the event — it’s the norm.

From a site perspective, Norton has suggestions. Stay engaged with your venue partners. “As venue partners, we become an extension of your team and are here to make your event a success. Keeping a two-way communication is key.” Provide feedback to your venue. “At the LACC we send out client surveys after every show. Providing in-depth and candid feedback not only helps us grow, but also helps the event if, and when, they sign up for the upcoming year.” Challenge the venue and think outside of the box when it comes to event marketing, floor plans and entertainment. “We want to try something new and have the space to do it versus a luxury venue where you may not able to move a fixed installation.” So, rely on your venue team.

Curating Content

“With the markets up, geopolitics unpredictable and divisions (culturally and politically in the U.S.), those who take risks and provide innovative speakers, sessions and topics will break out,” says David Saef, CTSM, executive vice president of  strategy with GES, a global, full-service provider for live events and producer of corporate events, exhibitions, conferences, congresses and entertainment experiences.

Today’s planners have information, so they need to provide tools for attendees to select, plan and participate in sessions and forums that accelerate their success through proactive recommendations, access to unique viewpoints and peer-to-peer exchange. “Don’t just create a forum and expect attendees to navigate it — like Amazon or Netflix. Meeting planners need to help attendees curate a better experience,” says Saef.

The certified trade show manager sees one challenge for 2018’s meeting planners is being able to attract and engage attendees. He elaborates: “People are time-starved and budget-deprived. If your meeting is not No. 1 or No. 2, then you may not get them in the door. Attendees simply don’t have the time and willingness to travel multiple times per year, so make sure your meeting is a must attend.”

Millennials’ Preferences

Millennials have impacted the current meetings market three-fold explains the GES strategist. The lecture format that the boomers have grown to love is quickly fading in favor of a more interactive and engaging approach. This hipper demographic wants to solve problems, network with peers and make a difference — and then tell the world about it via social media. Having grown up on portable devices, millennials demand a tech savvy experience — from registration to course selection to content access in real time (or as close to post-event as possible). Millennials are additionally forcing meeting planners to provide additional venue, hotel and food choice options. “Planners need to be more flexible and ensure there are options for millennials who may not have the budget of their Xer and boomer peers; because if they don’t see those options, they won’t show.”

In conclusion, Saef says, “Meetings are a forum to collect content to be shared later. Think of a meeting as an anchor ‘content event’: Gather videos of sessions, testimonials of attendees, roundtable discussions, white papers, etc. Then use this content in relevant and meaningful ways to engage and recruit new audiences and members throughout the year.”

Hotelier’s Perspective

From the outlook of a hotelier, Michael Dominguez, chief sales officer, MGM Resorts International says, “There has been a subtle change in the length of meetings that we have witnessed by about a half day. It seems very much related to ‘time poverty’ versus a cost savings. People are just trying to get back home.”

The MGM executive sees Las Vegas, Orlando and Chicago still leading the charge as top meeting cities. However, he cites Austin, Dallas and Nashville — cities that have put resources and effort into their experiences — as destinations that have experienced increased demand in return. When comparing large versus smaller markets he says, “Except for citywide capacity, you see very little difference in what is being offered and their attractiveness.”

Dominguez details perceived challenges: “There is a lot of compression in the meetings market, and although meeting budgets have increased, the budget per attendee in many cases has shrunk.”  The good news is that the opening of some new facilities in 2018 will be a bonus for a compressed market.

His advice to modern-day planners can be summed up in three key words: flexibility, negotiation and distinctive. “Flexibility still matters today, so ask what is needed to make a program work if space and capacity are issues. Leveraging future meetings as part of a negotiation has never carried more value and should be added to the conversation if there is an ability to contract multiple meetings at one time. Unique venues are in high demand as many have built-in experiences and décor, which help when budgets continue to be a struggle.”

In addressing the millennial impact, he believes the group should be separated into older versus younger millennials. Explanation: “In the meetings market specifically, the older millennials (28 to 35 years) are behaving like many generations before them. The exception is their early adoption of technology.”  Thus, his advice is to focus on behaviors, not age, to be successful.

Dominguez concludes, “2018 should be another great year for the meeting professional, and to know that we have a global economy positively growing at the same time bodes well for the future.” AC&F

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