Meeting Trends in 2004

By Heather Baldwin

This coming September 11 will mark three years since that devastating day in 2001. Several meeting and business travel trends, begun in response to the events of that day, are expected to continue to have an impact this year. So says Michael Gehrisch, president and CEO of the International Association of Convention & Visitor Bureaus (, an international trade association representing more than 1,200 professionals in 500-plus convention and visitor bureaus worldwide. Here Gehrisch summarizes these trends for sales managers planning meetings.

Restricted Business Travel. According to a late-2003 Accenture survey, 56% of companies have restrictions on employee travel, including limiting airline and hotel choices. Nearly 60% of companies report use of low-cost air carriers in the past six months. Though the economy may be getting better, the cost-savings mantra has become ingrained in many corporations’ mindsets. In general, there appears to be a permanent resetting of corporate travel business.

Convention Center Expansion. Traditional meeting and convention destinations in first-tier cities will, for the first time, see significant competition from second- and third-tier cities thanks to an increased supply of convention center space and the resulting discounting of this space. Some large destinations are offering rates at all-time lows. Convention and visitors bureaus will continue to stress services and products beyond the convention center, in effect selling the essence of what lies within the entire destination – factors that come into play when determining the attractiveness of a city to a meeting planner.

Meeting Site Decision and Planning Cycles. Shortened meeting-planning cycles will continue to be a trend due to the sometimes mistaken belief that savings can be achieved by booking at the last minute and fear of attrition charges. Shorter lead times are expected to be a long-term trend, certain to last beyond 2004. Reports indicate that, for smaller meetings, U.S. planners are booking 15 to 60 days in advance rather than the customary 90 to 150 days. The lead time for larger meetings has gone from 3 to 6 years to 1 to 3 years. This tactic increases pressure on bureaus booking business and complicates sales goals and previous booking patterns. In some cases, says Gehrisch, it also leaves far less room for negotiation by meeting planners.