Geoff Freeman, President & CEO, U.S. Travel Association: In the darkest days of the COVID-19 pandemic, some said that business travel would never fully recover — that we would forever conduct meetings from behind a computer screen. While the naysayers were proven wrong, it’s true that transient business travel, as well as meetings and conventions, have been slower to return than other segments of the travel economy.
According to U.S. Travel’s latest forecast, business travel spending is not expected to return to pre-pandemic (2019) levels until at least 2027, while international inbound travel is not expected to recover until 2025. These timelines are particularly concerning given sky-high inflation, workforce challenges, visitor visa processing delays and a possible recession on the horizon.
Despite the challenges, we are optimistic about the meetings and events industry’s prospects for 2023. The latest Business Travel Tracker — a product of U.S. Travel, J.D. Power and Tourism Economics — shows that businesses are willing to get back on the road, with 78% of business travelers expecting to take at least one trip to attend conferences, conventions or trade shows in the coming months. Fortunately, many business leaders are recognizing that nothing beats a face-to-face connection when it comes to getting deals done and generating profits.
This is the message that U.S. Travel has elevated to business leaders and policymakers, and will drive our advocacy efforts for this segment in the new year. Particularly, Global Meetings Industry Day 2023 on March 30 — spearheaded by U.S. Travel’s Meetings Mean Business Coalition — will be a key moment to spotlight the importance that meetings and conventions bring to people, businesses and communities.
But this will not just be a one-day event: U.S. Travel will tout the benefits of face-to-face engagement all year long. We will host a full slate of in-person meetings as we have done since early 2021, and will continue to urge the federal government to return to the office and resume business travel. While the path ahead may be difficult, I’m confident that the meetings and events industry can make meaningful progress toward a full recovery in the coming year.
Sherrif Karamat, CAE, President & CEO, Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) and Corporate Event Marketing Association (CEMA): The year 2023 is shaping up to be one of contradictions, making predictions very challenging. From government intervention, strict COVID policies or the Russia/Ukraine war, the world is faced with inflation in most industrialized nations. Central banks have responded by increasing interest rates to blunt inflation, which has the potential to create a recession if there is a period of prolonged high interest rates.
What seems contradictory is the persistent talk of a recession while global employment is at an all-time high — leading to a talent shortage. This becomes even more complicated with political populism, supply-chain issues and massive energy shortages in part due to the Russia/Ukraine war that is disproportionally impacting Europe. This has resulted in the following five trends: (1) accelerated digital transformation; (2) inflation and supply-chain insecurity; (3) an increased focus on sustainability; (4) immersive customer experience and (5) talent challenges.
PCMA’s Convene reported in November 2022 that in the first half of 2023, 19% of event organizers will only do digital/online events; 35% will use a hybrid format and 54% will hold in-person-only events. Meanwhile, 67% expect an increase or no change in their 2023 event revenues over 2022, while 30% expect a decline in revenues year over year. About 24% expect a decline in registration numbers, while 35% expect no change or an increase and 14% could not estimate.
In the corporate event marketing space, there is overall optimism, with the majority expecting budgets to be back to 2019 spend levels in 2023, with some saying 2024. Despite the mixed economic and geopolitical factors, I am cautiously optimistic that 2023 will be a softer landing for the business events space as more associations and companies use the business events platform to build their sales pipeline, launch new products or sell existing ones, as well as increase engagement with their customers and members.
Those who are seemingly more successful than others are realizing that COVID has had a profound impact on customer expectations, value and time. Customers will respond to those organizations that are firmly focused on listening to their customers and are agile in responding.
Michelle Mason, FASAE, CAE, President and CEO, American Society of Association Executives (ASAE): In 2023, face-to-face meetings and events will remain essential conduits for learning and networking, though association meeting planners will need to ensure the ROI for prospective attendees is high. With inflation still dangerously high and a possible recession looming, decisions about traveling to meetings will not be made lightly. While networking is a key component, high-quality, timely, innovative content — coupled with pricing — will be the driving factor in members’ decisions to attend an in-person meeting or event. Meeting attendees are coming to events to find solutions to critical, pressing needs. Associations have to nail the content and experience pieces of their meetings.
Partnerships between associations and their host cities are also more crucial than ever, as both parties have a stake in delivering a standout experience. One positive outcome from the pandemic is a renewed emphasis on collaboration in our industry in order to turn disruption into opportunity. Everyone in this industry now understands that we have to work together to achieve our goals.
Association leaders also increasingly want to leave a lasting, positive impact in the communities where they meet. I think we were reminded of this unique aspect of associations to effect positive change during the long pandemic-related dearth of face-to-face meetings. The local economic impact of a meeting is important, but association leaders also want to leverage their resources and their host city partnerships to improve community conditions and the local quality of life.
Sustainable meetings are another point of emphasis emerging from the pandemic, and present another opportunity for collaboration between association meeting planners and their host-city partners and vendors. Associations and their partners are all in the same business of bringing people together at the least cost to the environment. Ultimately, it’s about planners and partners fostering a conversation to develop sustainable solutions that are cost-effective, but advance the goal of creating a greener future.
Don Welsh, President and CEO & Foundation Executive Director, Destinations International: We have seen significant recovery in the industry and anticipate the positive trend will continue. The upward trajectory in the number of meetings and conventions being sourced and contracted will be a driving force in the recovery of economies for destination communities across the globe.
We don’t believe it is business as usual for our industry, with several topics at the forefront. The value of the destination organization and business event strategist relationship is more important than ever. These partnerships are creating synergies and meaningful experiences people can’t experience anywhere else.
Both business events strategists and destination organizations will have a large focus on immersive destination experiences that provide education and positive impacts in areas such as sustainability, human rights and equity, diversity and inclusion.
Partnering to create one-of-a-kind, immersive experiences that offer attendees a reason to attend an event in person — rather than virtually or not at all — will help generate economic impact and drive deeper impacts on communities.
Nothing can replace the in-person meeting experience when it comes to personal development, continuing education and networking on and off the show floor. Those have to be done in person. | AC&F |