Roger Dow, president and CEO, U.S. Travel Association
As we near 2019, domestic economic fundamentals remain solid, with business and consumer confidence alike sustaining their recent highs. Domestic leisure travel volume will continue its growth trend, increasing 1.8 percent next year, supported by solid gains in employment and personal income. Increases in corporate profits and investment will help push domestic business travel to 1.8 percent growth, as well.
We will also see international inbound travel grow at a slower rate of 3.2 percent in 2019. Despite the forecasted increase in international arrivals, the U.S. faces a decline in market share of global long-haul travelers. America’s share of the international travel market slid from 13.8 percent in 2015 to 12.2 percent in 2017, and that trend looks set to continue. This is why U.S. Travel advocates for a bold new national strategy on travel and tourism that includes extending Brand USA; expanding and enhancing the Visa Waiver Program; growing trusted traveler programs such as Global Entry and Preclearance; and adding port-of-entry screening personnel.
We expect a good year for travel in 2019, but it could be even better.
Philip J. Eidsvold, CIS, CITP SITE President-Elect
As the fastest-growing and with the highest per-person spend in the MICE industry, 2019 is poised to be a very strong year for incentive travel. By all indicators, use of incentive travel as a key business strategy is growing at a brisk rate; and organizations are leveraging incentive travel in new and different ways to drive employee retention, learning and development initiatives and even health and wellness goals. The 2018 Incentive Travel Index study, powered by SITE and in partnership with FICP and IRF, revealed that globally, 65 percent of buyers are increasing the number of incentive travel qualifier. And what’s interesting is that Asia is leading the way with 73 percent, which is a testament to the adoption of incentive travel in this very important emerging market. The growth and increased use of incentive travel is an output of many influences; chief among them, a strong global economy and very competitive job market.
Per-person budgets will rise in 2019, and much of that is due to increased focus on new and compelling technology to enhance the incentive travel experience. From mobile apps to advanced production elements and Wi-Fi, technology is becoming an increasingly important part of the development and deployment of incentive travel programs for communications and operations.
Optimism is high around incentive travel for buyer and suppliers alike, despite world events and political volatility. The threat of terror groups is the largest area of concern; however, we are seeing it decrease year after year as the world is adjusting to our “new normal.” On the political front, important elections and the tightening of border security between nations are increasingly seen as having a negative impact on the incentive travel industry.
Other trends for 2019 include the rise of all-inclusive resorts being used for incentive travel. All-inclusive resorts see the value in incentive travel and are partnering with DMCs to create compelling offerings and are willing to be more flexible with the planning to meet expectations required to deliver a true incentive travel-quality experience. Of special note on this topic is the growth of “ultra-all-inclusive” properties that specifically cater to the high demands of incentive travel.
And finally, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) will continue to be an important element of incentive travel itineraries with significant growth and focus on CSR in Europe and Asia.
Paul VanDeventer, president and CEO, MPI
In 2019, we are predicting a healthy period of growth in the meetings industry. According to the 2018 Meetings Outlook survey results, we are seeing increased attendance in both live and virtual events.
Meetings are becoming more frequent and larger, yet shorter in duration. There is an increased focus on events for niche groups.
More organizations are focusing on specific topics that have a higher impact for the intended audience. There is an interest in engaging meeting spaces, as the ballroom trend is beginning to fade, and outdoor experiences are introduced.
More groups of all sizes are interested in health. This includes healthy foods and refillable water bottles to avoid plastic cups and bottles.
Technology continues to be weaved throughout meeting presentations in new ways. At one conference, attendees were asked to text their input to a central number, and it was recorded on an electronic map onstage.
There is less of an emphasis on traditional PowerPoint, while some presenters employ decidedly low-tech tools, such as flip charts, white boards and glass walls.
In the next year, we will see new ways to engage multiple generations in an impactful way.
Sherrif Karamat, CAE president and CEO, PCMA
There are so many factors that constantly generate concern and change in the business events industry. As the world’s largest network of business events strategists, PCMA advises our members to always consider the impact of consolidation, budgets, safety and security, and food and beverage.
Now, however, business events strategists must factor in other environmental concerns, such as global trade policies, regulations and referendums. For example, we see the impacts of GDPR and Brexit.
These are not typically issues the business events industry has needed to consider. But as the sector continues to expand internationally, so does the portfolio of concerns for business events organizers.
Artificial intelligence’s (AI) impact on the workforce and consumer customization is another area I will be watching closely for signals of where the business events industry is heading.
And I am monitoring how urbanization will affect cities, services and the way we work. I believe the effect of urbanization has the potential to transform global political structures, though the ultimate impact of the phenomenon is not yet understood.
Frank Passanante, senior vice president, Hilton Worldwide Sales – Americas
Meeting attendees’ expectations are continuing to increase as it relates to every facet of the meeting — from the design of the room, to food and beverage offerings and, of course, meeting content. As hospitality leaders, it’s our responsibility to both evolve and inspire.
Our 100-year history in meetings and events tells us there is no one-size-fits-all answer for meeting planning. Today, meeting professionals tell us that they are looking for flexible spaces and creative, budget-friendly ways to host more mindful or sustainable events.
There is a greater demand for more unique and flexible spaces. Among Hilton’s 15 different brands, there are a variety of options for those looking for unconventional spaces to host more intimate gatherings, such as team trainings and workshops.
Sustainable elements and purpose-driven activities are no longer a request but an expectation among meeting attendees. It’s crucial that meeting providers implement these elements seamlessly into programming — both in terms of budget and timing vs. as a costly or timely add-on. Hilton’s “Meet With Purpose” program was created specifically in response to growing demand in this area and enables more productive, meaningful and memorable meetings. Today, we offer half a dozen rewarding give-back opportunities that are sure to inspire — from group meal packing activities to preparing floral arrangements for local nonprofits.
Michael Massari, senior vice president and vice president of meeting sales and operations, Caesars Entertainment
Based on what we’re seeing across our 40 U.S. properties, we are extremely optimistic that the future of meetings is bright. Our confidence in the industry is underscored by the significant capital investments our company is making to develop new conference facilities in key markets like Atlantic City and Las Vegas. While meetings are growing larger in size, planners continue to be highly focused on finding unique experiences to engage their attendees. Hyper-local offerings and health and mindfulness themes are not new, but still in demand. We’ve also heard from our clients that they want to get their attendees out of the meeting room to have the opportunity to experience a sense of place wherever they are meeting, which is why we’re developing Las Vegas’ first dedicated outdoor meeting space, the FORUM Plaza, a 100,000-square-foot venue which will open in conjunction with our new CAESARS FORUM conference center in 2020. We expect 2019 to be a record year for the meetings industry, and we’re excited to be part of its continued evolution and growth.
Carol Lynch, vice president, global sales, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts
Strong relationships will be a key advantage for planners in 2019 as they navigate growth and change in the group segment. We’re seeing three major trends coming up again and again: consolidation, commissions and privacy. Having solid partner relationships will help planners steer through these challenges as hotel and other travel companies continue to consolidate, challenging the status quo for negotiations and contracting for planners.
Additionally, commissions changes will impact budgets and revenues for customers and intermediaries alike, making relationships and partnerships that much more important.
We’re also hearing from planners that privacy and security is an increasingly present challenge with new compliance needs like GDPR changing the game.
And 2019 also has a lot of growth in store for the group segment, not only in North America but also in China, Europe and Latin America. Travelers are crossing borders today more than ever before, and planners can look to their hotel partners for exciting new destinations. Wyndham Hotels & Resorts is keeping pace, rapidly expanding the footprint of its midscale and upscale brands in these regions, including meetings leader Dolce Hotels and Resorts by Wyndham — a brand which pioneered the Complete Meetings Package and continues to innovate with nutritional menu items supporting meeting productivity — as well as its Wyndham and Wyndham Grand brands, which announced new hotels coming in the Greek Isles, Georgia, Mexico and Cyprus next year.
Michael Dominguez, chief sales officer, MGM Resorts International
I would think that 2019 will have a great deal of uncertainty and volatility, much like the markets. The economy should remain strong as employment is very positive, as is consumer confidence. However, interest rates, inflation and trade concerns will persist.
The M&A activity in business and in our industries will continue to change the landscape and create much risk and opportunity. We see this in all vertical industries with a lot of activity in the tech sector. These mergers will redefine what the tech industry looks like for years to come. In our industry, you continue to see the merger of smaller hotel brands, as well as DMCs and tech in our industries. Very disruptive, but very exciting.
We are excited about 2019, as we will have the new Park MGM completely done, Eataly opened, New Space open at MGM Grand, and Lady Gaga, Aerosmith and Britney residencies all beginning. We enter the year with a strong group base of business with no signs of our group business slowing down.
Dan Surette, senior vice president, sales and marketing, Omni Hotels
As Omni Hotels & Resorts heads into 2019, we are predicting another very strong year for the brand. With $1.5 billion in growth and expansion, including the $150 million renovation project at Omni Barton Creek Resort & Spa, along with new properties underway in Oklahoma City and the Seaport District in Boston, Omni is poised to continue to sustain its position as a leader in the marketplace, especially among the groups and meetings industry.
An example of this is the creation of our new group loyalty program, Omni Select Planner (the only group loyalty program to offer planners immediate redeemable rewards and benefits), where we are able to capture what our groups and meetings planners are seeking; therefore, allowing us to cater to their needs.
Jennifer Patino, DMCP, CEO, Hosts Global
2019 predictions show a year with growth in the incentive market, however no/little growth in budgets. Due to escalating costs, we are seeing a shift in destinations selected with greater consideration of lift and hotel costs as the number of qualifiers continues to grow. Hosts is seeing growth in corporate meetings and events as well; however, booking windows continue to be compressed. More procurement involvement has led Hosts Global to differentiate ourselves with leadership in areas where procurement finds great value; proactive emergency preparedness planning to GDPR compliance and other regulatory requirements that have become part of the procurement process in guiding company’s meeting spend and needs. Overall, we are optimistic about meetings and events with anticipated growth of 10 percent over 2018.
Catherine Chaulet, president, Global DMC Partners
Global DMC Partners recently released our top destination predictions for 2019. The data used for this study was compiled from leads for meetings and events taking place around the world in 2018 and 2019. By analyzing the data, we found that secondary markets and new destinations are seeing increased interest as new experiences are sought after. As a result, tried-and-true top destinations such as New York, London and Paris should consider creating unexpected offerings and highlight off-the-beaten-path venues in order to continue to attract interest for repeat business.
As we have been closely monitoring, safety and security, as well as data privacy, will continue to be a focus for our industry in 2019. While destinations need to maintain their unique identity, they must rise to new global standards for the assurance of safety, security and privacy. We at GDP are dedicated to sharing information, valuable insights and best practices to our DMC partners and clients, staying ahead of and addressing important topics, such as data privacy, ethics, safety and security or contingency planning.
Through our conversations with meeting planners, we also recognize that there is an increased demand for efficient, easy-to-use technology for attendee engagement. Planners are still challenged in not only encouraging attendees to download and utilize the apps but also in educating them how to use the technology. Cost-effective, easily useable and engaging app-driven technology is a big opportunity to help shape the future of our industry.
Chris Lee, CEO, ACCESS Destination Services
My industry predictions for 2019 can be broken down into several distinct categories:
Technology will continue to be a huge force in our industry, in ways even bigger than we could have imagined just 10 years ago. Voice and facial recognition will become much more commonplace as it relates to security (more on that below). Virtual and Augmented Reality will find its way into site inspections and room/design planning, and as technology improves, social media will be an even more powerful hub for live, streaming, “virtual” events.
The global reality is that security planning is not optimal. Event producers will have to begin developing written security and EP plans for each meeting or event they produce and work closely with local hotels and DMCs to implement them. These plans will have to be communicated in advance to participants via privately sourced member groups or secure email. Plain clothes security personnel will better monitor security by blending in with the attendees.
Being creative or thinking outside the box isn’t going to cut it in the future. Event planners should expect to have provable, repeatable methods in place to guarantee that creativity finds its way into their events consistently — regardless of personnel. Methods like Design Thinking or Innovation Labs combine both the art and science that is event production.
Most well-produced events will successfully engage your sense of site, sound and taste, but our sense of touch and smell is often overlooked, and there’s so much potential to create experiences and events that utilize all of our senses. I think we’ll see more planners experiment with bringing multi-sensory experiences — both virtually and in reality — into their events.
Society continues to evolve its social consciousness and mindfulness, and I only see that continuing to grow on an exponential scale. Neuroscientist Sam Harris calls it our “growing circle of compassion,” and it’s something our industry will continue to embrace. We expect so much from the destinations in which we plan meetings and events, and both planners and participants alike want to give back to those destinations whenever they can.
Related to CSR and sustainability — local, responsible sourcing will become an even bigger concern. The concept of farm-to-table and local craft beers and spirits isn’t going away any time soon, and I believe we’ll see a major push for most event elements to be local, including entertainment, speakers and décor. C&IT