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Meeting industry on the up-tick

Fewer meeting cancellations, increased bookings, greater attendance predicted


After 18 months of declining demand and an uncertain horizon, it appears the U.S. meetings industry outlook is improving.  According to a survey commissioned by the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA), the PCMA Education Foundation and American Express, meeting planners are booking more events this year compared to the past two year. The national survey was conducted earlier this spring and included participation from 505 professional meeting planners.


Survey respondents indicated that they booked 15 percent more meetings per planner in 2010 and 24 percent more meetings per planner in 2011 compared to 2009.

According to information provided by the PCMA, the outlook and booking behavior of meeting planners reflect a significant shift in sentiment on the forces that impacted the industry so adversely over the previous two years: only 6 percent stated they were planning to postpone, cancel or re-book meetings in 2010 because of “current economic conditions”, versus 41 percent who cited this reason in 2009. Further more, 89 percent stated they were not planning to postpone, cancel or re-book any meetings they had already booked in 2010 and 2011, versus 54 percent who shared this sentiment in 2009. Respondents also expected to pay only $7,600 in cancellation fees for meetings booked in 2010 and $3,500 for meetings booked in 2011 – versus $81,000 in 2009.

“While it’s been a difficult 18 months for our industry, I’m encouraged to see both actual business as well as business sentiment improving,” said Deborah Sexton, PCMA president and CEO. “ There continues to be caution in budgets and costs controls, which is to be expected, but if we can stay on this positive trend path there are certainly brighter days ahead for meetings.”

Although planners’ sentiments with respect to both the selection of meeting venues and lodging accommodations reflects moderation in their concern about the perception of venues that might appear frivolous, the results clearly reveal lingering anxiety. Specifically, meeting venue selection is likely to be affected during the next two years, with resorts and cruise ships still perceived to be destinations that should be avoided:
• Resorts: net decrease of 7%
• Convention centers: net decrease of 4%
• Cruise ships: net decrease of 15%
• Hotels: net increase of 25%
• Conference centers: net increase of 1%.

A similar conclusion emerges from the analysis of the type of lodging accommodations
sought by meeting planners in the year ahead:

• Mid-scale: net increase of 18%
• Upscale: net increase of 1%
• Upper upscale: net decrease of 19%
• Luxury: net decrease of 24%.

Financial and time pressures also continue to impact the length of off-site meetings, with 30 percent of planners expecting to reduce the length of both sales and incentive meetings by one or more days, and 17 percent expressing a similar sentiment with respect to their annual conferences. On a positive note, one out of four planners expect their total annual budget for off-site meetings to increase this year over last, compared to only 8 percent who expressed this sentiment in 2009.

“These survey results reveal promising signs of a revival for corporate meetings and incentives,” said Issa Jouaneh, vice president, Maxvantage and Global Meeting Solutions, American Express Business Travel. “As meeting activity rebounds, cost control will remain top of mind and it will be critical for planners to make strategic spending choices. Companies with effective meetings programs will be those that continue to promote policies that deliver a strong return on investment from meetings while balancing the need to deliver on stakeholder objectives and creating the designed attendee experience.”

 

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