The Future of Meetings

By Heather Baldwin

“FutureWatch 2004,” an annual outlook report by Meeting Professionals International (MPI) and American Express, finds the global meetings industry is anticipating a healthy year-over-year performance with planners and suppliers both forecasting an average 4% growth in spending and revenue. After some tough years, that’s good news for the meetings business. Time to break out the champagne?

Not quite. While the projected spending growth is a good sign that meetings are picking up steam again, many of the dynamics that evolved during the down years are presenting some new challenges. For example, cost-cutting and simplification initiatives have resulted in more standardization, less personal contact and more automation, which in turn has led to increasing concern about commoditization of the meetings business. The document reports that 11% of planners – up 4% from last year – and 13% of suppliers expect commoditization to have the greatest affect on the meetings business this year. Combine those numbers with expanding use of Internet technology and it’s no wonder MPI says commoditization will be an ongoing trend to watch.

So just how fast is the use of the Internet growing in meeting planning? In 2004 meeting planners say they expect to use the Internet 20% more to research meeting venues, building on a noteworthy increase of 23% in 2003. Planners also expect to use the Internet 6% more than last year for actual meeting bookings, surpassing 2003’s year-over-year increase of 5%. Not surprisingly, 83% of supplier respondents report broad investments in Website enhancement as well as enhanced use of wireless and guest room technologies. New A/V equipment also will enjoy a robust usage hike, as will online booking/planning systems and customer relationship management (CRM) technologies.

This emergent reliance on and use of IT has resulted in two other trends with which meeting industry professionals are grappling. First, with so much information and booking capabilities at their fingertips, organizations feel comfortable allowing for less lead time, causing planners and suppliers to work more quickly. Attendees also are migrating to the Web to book outside of room blocks, a trend that is placing a strain on attrition agreements.

The “FutureWatch 2004” survey, conducted by Association Insights, an independent market research firm, can be downloaded in its entirety from Approximately 16,370 of MPI’s estimated 18,000 members were invited to participate via email with overall participation representing nearly 14% of MPI’s planner members and 12% of its supplier members.