by Leo Jakobson | October 01, 2013
The U.S. economy may be getting more stable, but according to Successful Meetings' "2014 Meetings Budget Forecast," the big trend next year will be the tightening of belts. 

When we asked 153 corporate executives and planners, "What do you think the greatest challenge to your organization's ability to execute effective meetings will be in 2014?" three words popped up repeatedly: cost, budget, and economy. Combined, those three words were in at least three quarters of the responses. 

The "ability to effectively plan and get the same effect with lower budgets and higher costs," is the greatest challenge that Theresa Zukoski faces in her role as administrative assistant/trade show manager for Dorfman Pacific, a hat and handbag wholesaler. Among the cost-cutting measures she expects to implement are booking lower-tier hotels, reducing the food and beverage (F&B) budget, and offering fewer optional activities for attendees.

Of course, more than a few of the executives and planners who responded specified cost increases by suppliers - in areas such as F&B and airfare - as the reason for their budgetary challenges.

Carol Reisling, a meeting planner for the American Bar Association, said her greatest challenge will be "working with limited budgets yet still providing creative F&B options and state-of-the-art technology for our members."

The survey also showed that the number of respondents expecting slight budget increases (29.3 percent) was almost evenly matched with those who expected decreases (28 percent). About one-third (35.3 percent) expect flat budgets. And while those who expect big budget cuts (4.7 percent) outnumbered those predicting big increases (2.7 percent), both numbers were small.

Some of those cuts will result in fewer meetings being held in 2014. The biggest loser was incentives, with 21.6 percent of respondents predicting fewer compared with 9.5 percent planning more. A close second was consumer/marketing events, with 19.2 percent expecting fewer and 9.6 percent anticipating more.

There will be a higher priority placed on training meetings according to our respondents, with 23.8 percent saying they will hold more of these meetings and 15.2 percent saying they will hold fewer. Sales meetings are slightly positive, with 14 percent planning on having more, and 12.7 holding fewer.

But the big change was in virtual and hybrid meetings. Fully 45.3 percent expect more virtual meetings, compared with just 2.7 percent expecting fewer; for hybrid meetings, the numbers were 25 percent and 5.4 percent, respectively.