For most North American meeting planners, 2019 has been a good year thanks to solid economic growth and increased demand for events. Uncertainty, however, may rule in 2020 with the U.S. election and corporations pulling the reins on meeting and event spending.
Experienced planners take these challenges in stride, but that doesn’t make it any easier dealing with demanding clients as booking windows shorten and the price of meeting spaces rise.
One challenge remains constant no matter what year it is, according to one planner: hearing back from venues that are likely slammed with potential customers.
“The biggest challenge that planners are facing is the lack of response from certain properties,” said JoAnn Gregoli, owner of Elegant Occasions by JoAnn Gregoli, a New York-based corporate events and destination wedding master planner. “Time is a factor when making a decision. We need to get responses to clients in a timely manner.”
Gregoli is critical of other planners that price their services lower than the norm to undercut competitors. It’s buyer beware as they may not have the level of experience the client needs. Gregoli believes you need to “educate the public about the importance of qualified planners as you get what you pay for” in an era where many are hunting for bargains.
Lori Heller, president of Toronto-based Heller Productions, organizes meetings, conferences, brand activations, and incentive trips. Heller echoes a Bob Dylan tune, “The Times They Are A-Changin,’” when she thinks how 2019 has panned out.
“Traditionally, events are planned three to six months out but we’re finding that more often than not events are being planned a month out which isn’t ideal. Venues, resources and suppliers are limited when planning a month out as is everyone’s time which can be challenging to say the least.”
It’s not just the current clients, but potential clients where demands on a planner’s time have been a challenge according to Gregori. “We are expected to respond to every email within hours,” she said. “If we do not they move on.”
Lack of planning time isn’t an issue with Coretta Washburn, co-owner of R2CW, a New York event management company. Budgets are, though. Some of the highest spending companies, as well, have reduced the number of events they hold.
In the past few years, Washburn explained, “many tech companies have moved to the East Coast and held events and launches. But in the last two years, they are holding off on events.”
TECHNOLOGY VS. PLANNERS
Planners need to keep up with the technology — clients and attendees are demanding it.
“More online services such as online budgets, online check-in, and online planning services [are in demand],” said Washburn. “Everything now has to be online with programs.”
Technology isn’t only welcomed by clients but expected as part of the event experience. Washburn experiments with new ideas and one that has caught on with clients is augmented reality. Smart TVs are also becoming a popular request by clients. Washburn’s company organizes numerous investor conferences and they try to integrate new software and technology into the programming.
“When times are flush, clients are more willing to spend on something new,” said Washburn. “Other clients, however, are just interested in seeing it but not in spending on it.”
With big spenders cutting back on working with third-party meeting organizers, planners will be pressed to find good deals for their clients at a time when venue availability is limited. Looking ahead, all of these issues will become even more pronounced in an election year amid an uncertain global economy.
Heller is concerned more companies are using their internal resources to plan events rather than third-party event management companies. Business-wise, this hasn’t had a huge effect yet as 2019 so far is shaping up to be about the same as last year.
For Washburn 2019 has been a solid year, although like many she is in a holding pattern to see how 2020 shakes out. “People are waiting to see what is going to happen in the 2020 [elections],” she said. “It is very unstable and fears some clients may scale it back anticipating a bubble burst.”
Planners no doubt have their work cut out for them. Time and budget demands and keeping up with the latest technology and software, how they organize and manage their events, make for challenging times indeed.