Meetings Forecast: The Future is Bright

Even with the effects of sequestration and rising travel costs looming, two new pieces of research show that the meetings and exhibit industries are moving in a positive direction.

If you think sequestration-related meeting cuts and rising travel costs have meeting professionals only thinking doom-and-gloom thoughts about the industry, think again. IMEX America’s Index of Optimism, released last Friday by the IMEX Group, showed that 67 percent of those surveyed are more optimistic today than they were a year ago.

Two reasons for the increased optimism: Budgets and the number of meeting and events planned for the remainder of this year and the first quarter of 2014 are expected to grow. Of the 400 respondents (70 percent buyers and 30 percent suppliers) surveyed in March, 58 percent said they expect the number of meetings and events they hold this year to increase slightly, and 49 percent have seen their budgets slightly increase over 2012 levels. Even more promising is that 8 percent have seen “significant increases” in their budgets over 2012, and 8.5 percent are expecting “significant increases” in the number of meetings they hold over the next year.

“These results tell an interesting story; one that is borne out by experience and the feedback we hear from the market every day. And that is that business fundamentals in North America are strong, and gradually getting stronger, and that the overall trend is upwards, albeit gently,” said IMEX Chairman Ray Bloom in a press release. “Our experience, and that of our North American partners, is that the big picture is healthy and moving in a positive direction …”

The survey also asked meeting professionals about the following:

Buying Influences. Respondents said the top factor currently influencing their buying decisions was “pressures, needs, and requests to reduce costs.” This was followed by “complying with new company meeting and expenses policies,” “continued uncertainty about the global economic outlook,” and “a need to plan green meetings,” “Concerns about being out of the office” and “incorporating social media into meetings and events” were neck-and-neck for fifth place.

Green Meeting Practices. Thirty-eight percent expected no change in their planning or operational practices when it came to corporate social responsibility programs and green meeting practices. Almost 22 percent confirmed that they “know it is critical and are currently developing policies and guidelines,” and 23 percent said they “are aware it’s important but don’t yet have programs in place.”

However, the IMEX Index of Optimism is not the only good news out there for the meetings and exhibition industry this week. A new report released  by the Center for Exhibit Industry Research shows that face-to-face interactions at exhibitions are highly valued by all generations, including younger professionals, and that their top-five reasons for attending are the same. This is good news for meeting planners and exhibitors who were worried that a massive shift in the workforce—due to baby boomers retiring and millennials becoming a larger part of the workforce by 2015—would cause the face-to-face exhibit industry to take a hit due to younger generations favoring online interactions.

While neither of these reports focused specifically on the association meetings industry, I’m curious to hear how close these findings are to what those of you who are planning association meetings and events or exhibiting at them are seeing. Do you have that same positive outlook for association meetings and expos moving forward?

(Wavebreak Media/Thinkstock)

Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editor-in-chief of Associations Now. MORE

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