by Alex Palmer | January 01, 2018

What trends can planners expect to see in the year ahead? What challenges and opportunities are on the horizon? To help get some answers to these questions, Successful Meetings drew on the findings of our own research as well as data and insights from a number of industry organizations, getting a clearer picture of what's on the horizon for 2018 -- and what planners should be doing to make the most of it.

First, the good news. In Successful Meetings' survey of planners about 2018 meeting trends, respondents said they expect to see more meetings rather than fewer, with 17 percent of respondents expecting to see more sales meetings (compared to 4 percent who expect fewer), 18 percent expecting to hold more consumer/marketing events (with 10 percent expecting fewer), and 30 percent expecting more training meetings (while 5 percent expect fewer).

Issa Jouaneh,
American Express Meetings & Events

"When we look to 2018, we are seeing continued growth and investment in meetings and events and the recognition that meetings and events drive growth for business, it drives sales and marketing, it drives learning and training, as well as a connection with customers and prospects," says Issa Jouaneh, senior vice president and general manager of American Express Meetings & Events.

AmEx M&E's "2018 Global Meetings and Events Forecast," which draws on the responses of more than 600 meetings and events professionals from around the globe, anticipates meeting sizes to grow about 1.8 percent in North America. "Despite a number of disruptions, whether it's weather, manmade, or terrorism-related issues, we've seen meetings and events continue to grow and the level of investments both from buyers and sellers continue to increase," adds Jouaneh.

Budgeting & Benchmarking
But while growth seems likely, across the board, industry watchers are expecting budgets to tighten and prices to rise in 2018. Hoteliers responding to AmEx M&E expect to see the cost per attendee to increase between 0.8 and 2.2 percent. Carlson Wagonlit Travel's "Meetings & Events Future Trends" report projects that hotel prices will rise 3.7 percent, and expects to see a push from suppliers to move corporate buyers to more dynamic rate pricing.

Beau Ballin,
CWT Meetings & Events

"Hotel occupancy rates are at record high numbers," says Beau Ballin, senior director of business development for CWT Meetings & Events. "However, sharing-economy lodging options may keep average daily rates flat."

He suggests advance planning and avoiding last-minute registration in order to drive cost savings, and adds that planners should look for multiyear agreements within a family of properties to drive long-term savings and receive greater concessions.

More broadly, Ballin urges planners to focus on cost savings and cost elimination (among the suggestions he makes: eco-friendly actions such as replacing water bottles and eliminating paper forms and badges).

The most popular cost-cutting measures respondents to Successful Meetings cited were reducing food and beverage budget (55 percent of planners), offering fewer optional activities (30 percent), and avoiding resort or beach destinations (27 percent). A majority of respondents (52 percent) expect to see the seller's market continue through 2018, with just 10 percent anticipating a turn to a buyer's market. Additionally, "providing quality meetings on limited budgets" was cited by 59 percent as a top issue for running effective meetings in 2018, followed by "proving ROI for meetings" (54 percent), and "negotiating with suppliers" (42 percent).

"You're seeing budgets only increase marginally year-on-year, but at the same time the expectation for that investment -- whether that be the number of meetings or attendees -- continues to increase," says Jouaneh. "You're seeing the desire to do more with that investment, coupled with more discipline in how corporations are managing that investment and the processes that they've implemented the last number of years in terms of approvals, justifications of meetings and events, and the processes they've built around meetings and events spend."

To help with this, AmEx M&E's forecast includes an entire section about benchmarking and the growing role it will play. Jouaneh expects this discussion to present an opportunity to put greater focus on getting the most value from an event, drilling down to a meeting's objectives and "managing meetings and events almost as an investment portfolio," as he puts it.

"In order to continue delivering on business objectives, meeting professionals will need to have candid and transparent conversations with all of their partners and vendors, who can and will help them to design experiences that both meet budget and drive value," says Jessie States, CMM, manager of professional development for Meeting Professionals International (MPI), whose "Meetings Outlook" for Fall 2017 projects that air travel costs will grow by 3.8 percent, room rates will increase 3.6 percent, and catering costs will go up 3.4 percent. "Ensuring that providers truly understand the goals and objectives of every event so that they can help meeting professionals make sound design and financial choices will enable organizations to continue to positively impact their businesses despite nominal increasing -- or flat budgets."

Security & Safety
With the seemingly nonstop onslaught of natural disasters and manmade attacks, there is one area that has dominated the conversation when it comes to planning meetings and events: security and safety.

As MPI puts it in its Forecast: "Given the seemingly constant stream of headlines about Atlantic hurricanes, earthquakes in Mexico, forest fires in the West -- as well as news of terrorist attacks, protests beset by violence, mass shootings like the one at an outdoor concert that killed 58 people in Las Vegas, and tensions with North Korea -- many meeting professionals are bringing more emphasis to 'meeting defense,' or protecting their meeting."

According to States, the only areas planners are consistently seeing their budgets increase is in new line items for safety and security. Indeed, 55 percent of those responding to Successful Meetings' survey stated that managing safety and security risks will be key in 2018.

It's clear there is room for improvement. MPI's "Meetings Outlook" finds that fewer than half of planners have specific plans in place for various security or safety issues -- 46 percent have plans for natural disasters, 45 percent for active shooters, and just 31 percent for cyberattacks.

"Meeting professionals must treat their safety and security plans as living documents that change based not only on destination and venue, but on event type, content, speakers, audience makeup and size, stakeholders, media coverage, and likely threats," says States.

"Recent events in North America and Europe have raised the profile of some threat types -- active shooters, vehicular violence, stampedes, protests -- and meeting professionals, if they have not already done so, will be adding these to the list of threats they prepare for."

BCD Meetings & Events also spotlighted event security as a major trend for 2018 in its inaugural "What's Trending" report, created in conjunction with its sister company, Advito.

BCD Meetings & Events' Cat Butler
believes tailoring an event to attendees'
needs will only grow more important

"Over the last few years we have seen an increase in the requests to have physical security at venues and event spaces across the world," says Cat Butler, director, event solutions, event program management for BCD Meetings & Events. "More recently, we are seeing clients prefer to have guests go through a security area on arrival, have their bags checked, and for the uniformed security guides to be visible."

She acknowledges that this preference is about perception, and that it's going to become increasingly important to strike the right balance between creating a feeling of safety without creating unnecessary anxiety.  

"We expect, as this subject comes even more to the forefront of planning a program, companies will start to share documentation with their security teams on what activities are taking place," adds Butler. "Their security personnel will start attending site inspections. It would be a great shift if the assigned event management agencies have better and more open communication during pre-planning and on site with security."