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The Future of Meetings

Recently Meeting Professionals International sent me a request to participate in a survey regarding the future of the meetings industry. Funded by the MPI Foundation this initiative is featured as part of a series of Thought Leadership Initiatives to help planners succeed today and tomorrow.

We all get lots of requests to complete surveys but for some reason this one drew my attention.  It came with a warning that this wouldn’t be a boring, multiple-choice questionnaire; it required essay-type answers and original thought!  It took me almost two hours for me to complete (good grief!).

But half-way through I realized that instead of just sending my answers to the Maritz researchers, I should copy them for our own blog.  If you haven’t had a chance to take the survey, read on.

What do you think is the future of the meetings and events industry? How do you see the meeting industry evolving? In other words, what significant changes are you seeing?

Because of rising prices, I see the meetings industry becoming more elitist. Airlines have applied strict yielding strategies, making some travel increasingly unaffordable. Hotel management companies are also under pressure from their ownership to increase returns. I think this will cause organizations to "regionalize" some meetings, especially for lower to middle managers.  It'll be too expensive to send them away, so they'll keep them closer to home.

This is already happening.  As opposed to one national meeting, companies are having 2-3 smaller regional meetings, where a number of attendees can drive.  By doing this companies also are reducing the length of meetings.

The more distant destinations will attract only senior executives who have the budgets for more expensive travel. I believe this has serious implications for destinations such as Hawaii -- demand overall will be significantly lower.  Incidentally all of these developments will be exacerbated by rising oil prices.

On the more positive side, the above will give rise to more virtual and hybrid events, creating a whole new set of jobs and businesses. Just look at the number of consultants who now specialize in social media strategies for meetings!

Because of the cost of meeting face-to-face is increasing, I believe the value of such meetings will increase in the eyes of participants. Whereas in the past participants would see their association's annual convention as "just another convention", in the future this may be viewed with more respect -- their ONLY opportunity to connect with colleagues.

As a side note I see companies increasing their individual travel budget for sales purposes. Bringing reps together with buyers in one-on-one meetings more often is becoming a “new old tool” in the arsenal of customer loyalty management.

How are you preparing for those changes in your business?

For one thing we are stepping up individual travel so we can meet with clients one-on-one more often. Because we have flexibility in scheduling, this allows us to book during shoulder periods, etc.

We are also developing new expertise to help our clients develop new business in creative ways. We've launching into marketing automation, content creation and social media so we can help facilitate their activities.

Lastly we're advising clients to develop stronger relationships with their local/regional markets as a more effective way of spending their marketing and sales dollars.

What do you see staying the same?

Does anything EVER stay the same? :-)  Let's see: the role of hotel brand Global/National Sales Offices and Convention & Visitor Bureaus in the meeting sales process I believe will remain relatively stable.

I think we will continue to have to fight to get the meetings industry recognized as such, and the value meeting professionals bring to the table. Our "right" to the seat at the table will continue to be difficult to articulate and quantify.  I'm saying this because I don't think we moved the needle in this last recession... The world still doesn't understand what we do (everybody was happy to bash the meetings industry, including the U.S. President!). We were caught unprepared. Shame on us.

The above is an excerpt of the questions and my answers.  So what are your thoughts on the Future of Meetings? Share your thoughts and comments below!