2013 American Meetings, Inc. “Meetings Outlook”.

Expanding China, Sunshine Physician Reporting in Pharma, and a slow and steady economic recovery will all impact the meetings industry next year.

By Andy McNeill & Todd Bludworth

As we move towards the 4th Quarter of 2012, it’s time to start looking forward and searching for trends in the meetings industry. Each year, we analyze and summarize what hoteliers, travel and meeting industries professionals are saying and doing. That, in addition to monitoring the economic indicators from around the world, assists us in forecasting and budgeting for the upcoming year’s meetings and events.  Doing this has become an increasingly important value for our clients with the financial uncertainty over the last few years.

What we are seeing are overall positive signs. The meetings industry is a good forecaster for the overall economy as most meetings and events are planned four to six months out on average. Currently, we are not seeing any signs of a downturn, with bookings for 2013 matching those of 2012. With the economies of North America showing steady improvement, significant growth is not expected and should help assist in keeping the meeting line items spending of accommodations, food and beverage, promotional products and other soft goods in line. However, according to Carson Wagonlit, a major supplier of air travel, increase consumer demand of airline tickets will cause an uptick in airline fees of 2.8%.  Plan accordingly when budgeting your airline spend.

Latin and South America continue to grow, especially on the incentives front. Look to Costa Rica and Argentina for great value and getting more for your money. Fueled by the economic growth, hotels in Brazil are outpacing price increases compared to others in the region, and will not provide as much value as tier 2 countries.

If you are looking for value, look to Western Europe. The European debt crisis has created uncertainty in markets such as Ireland, Spain and Greece. Tourism boards in affected countries are implementing huge pushes to fill room blocks.  For example, Ireland is promoting an event called “The Gathering” to encourage family reunions to fill unused hotels rooms from lost corporate group space on the Emerald Isle.  If you have an incentive program for 2013, Ireland will provide tremendous value for your dollar.  London’s post-Olympic boom will bring down prices in the city, though still more expensive than lower tiered cities in the region.

Moving down to the Middle Eastern and African countries, economies are relatively steady, which should keep any price increase in hotel, travel and soft goods modest. Plan accordingly. Dubai and Abu Dhabi hotel booms are back on track. For companies looking to have meetings in these regions, hotels are outstanding and very western friendly.

The Asia-Pacific, which has kept pace with North America, will continue to see modest increases.  According to Zacks, China is set to fuel a recovery in global tourism, and by 2020 is expected to be the world’s most popular travel destination. Both Starwood and Marriott generate their second largest revenue chunk from China.  Apart from China, India is another hot spot for the western hoteliers. India possesses a compelling investment proposition with its rising importance as a global business hub, where the demand for moderate-tier as well as upscale branded hotels is expected to considerably outpace the supply. “

Finally, 2013 will show growth in some industries and contraction in others. Consumer product and technology based meetings will continue to slightly pace ahead of the economic recovery, though cost containment is still a strong focus. The Sunshine Physician Reporting Act goes into effect in the Pharmaceutical and Medical Device industries. Companies have had over two years to prepare, but meeting spend will be scrutinized like never before. The great unknown is the physician response to the reporting. Will it affect their decisions to attend meetings? We have seen little negative indicator in 2012 as data was required to be collected (but not reported for this year). It did not affect recruitment. Continue Medical Education (CME) continues to see a restriction in grant approvals, which is down as much as 15% from 2011. Medical Education conferences are looking to other avenues, such as registration price increases, and cost containment to overcome the deficit.

Overall, 2013 looks to keep pace and may even grow faster than the prior year. Meeting buyer confidence is understandably guarded, but we are definitely seeing a sign of encouragement as the global recovery continues to take hold.

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