by Terri Hardin | January 03, 2017
Happy to see the end of 2016? You're not the only one.

In 2016, says Issa Jouaneh, senior vice president and general manager, American Express Meetings & Events, "businesses and the global community were faced with more unrest and interruptions than ever before. Tragedies and disasters both deliberate and natural impacted millions of lives and caused normal activity to come to a screeching halt, let alone meetings activity." Noting, however, that since the meetings and events industry is adaptive by nature, Jouaneh adds that this year, as always, it "responded courageously and in earnest to help travelers in need."

In the meantime, the industry, hoping for a better year, is following these trends, listed in no particular order.
 

1. POLITICAL UNREST IN UNEXPECTED PLACES

When it comes to looking for political instability that will have far-reaching global ramifications, we're used to looking at areas such as the Middle East, the Balkans, and South America. Who would have predicted Great Britain and the United States would join that group in 2016? But 2017 will be a year of dealing with the fallout from Brexit and the U.S. presidential election.

The decision of the U.K. to leave the European Union, and the election of hotelier and reality-TV star Donald Trump as president of the United States were both hugely unexpected events to which the world is still getting used.


Boom or Gloom?
Concerning Brexit, Andrew Swanston, head of sales for ExCeL London, says that while "we do not yet know what sort of deal the U.K. will secure from the EU, we have been pleased with how both the mayor of London and the U.K. government have responded to the vote and moved quickly to reinforce a message that the U.K. remains open for business. London always has and always will be a great place to live, work, and do business." In fact, due to the weaker pound that has occurred in the wake of the Brexit results, a number of ExCeL's North American clients "called us to arrange early payments for their events to take advantage of the preferential exchange rate," Swanston notes.

While London's future may be secure, U.K.-based futurist Rohit Talwar offers two extreme scenarios (call them Boom and Gloom) for the nation at large. In a "Boom" scenario, the U.K. succeeds by having a clear exit strategy that includes "access to European markets in a single deal in return for an annual access fee; tax incentives to increase U.K. competitiveness; and a program of regional investment," Talwar posits. In the "Gloom" scenario, the government, stalled by "the sheer volume of activities they have to disentangle as part of Brexit and a continuous stream of legal challenges, faces a gloomy future, with a stalled economy and reliance on the IMF for a bailout," Talwar says.


Will Trump's America Be Great?
Greatness is what President-elect Donald Trump is promising. Who knows if he'll deliver on that, but given his hospitality background, some prominent members of the meetings industry are cautiously to warmly optimistic as to what his presidency will mean to the industry.

"As a businessman with deep roots in the hospitality industry, the president-elect knows very well the value that meetings bring to our country. He understands that face-to-face is a critical factor for business success, and has noted that it's helped to grow his brand, build relationships, and generate new ideas," says Nan Marchand Beauvois, vice president, national councils, and general manager of the Educational Seminar for Tourism Organizations (ESTO), the U.S. Travel Association.

Michael Dominguez, senior vice president and chief sales officer, MGM Resorts International, and executive committee member, U.S. Travel Association, is encouraged by Trump's commitment to improving infrastructure. "President-elect Trump has stressed a focus on infrastructure investment, which would include the modernization of our airports. This has been a continued focus of our industry as we prepare for record international visitors over the next decade," says Dominguez.

"One would hope that given Trump's business background he would already have a grasp of the value of meetings and events for the U.S. economy and be well disposed towards the industry," says Carina Bauer, CEO of IMEX Group. "I would also hope that the advances that have been made over the past few years with regards to ESTAs [Electronic Systems for Travel Authorization] and the Trusted Traveler Programs continue. It's important that the U.S. continues to be perceived as an open and welcoming country to visitors."

Less sanguine is prominent tech guru Corbin Ball, CMP, CSP, DES, MS and principal of Bellingham, WA--based Corbin Ball Associates, who fears the Internet will be targeted for regulation: "I am very concerned that net neutrality will be gutted and that legitimate business travel to the U.S. will be restricted or diminished," he says.