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October 13, 2014

American Express Forecasts "Return to Business Fundamentals" for 2015

Issa Jouaneh

According to the American Express Meetings & Events 2015 Global Meetings Forecast, meetings are expected to play a critical role in a return to business fundamentals in 2015. Following a period of economic recovery for the meetings industry as well as new budget pressures in 2014, 2015 meeting budgets are likely to show positive movement, either through growth or less of a decline than was seen previously. This is due to powerful drivers such as compliance, global expansion, and standardized processes that can help to reduce risk and elevate the visibility and strategic importance of meetings programs within companies. New for this year’s edition, the 2015 Forecast breaks down predictions by meeting type to provide more insight into the purpose of meetings and where business priorities lie.

RELATED: American Express Looks at State of Global Business Travel

“The meeting industry overall appears to be very much ‘back in business,’ in particular as a key component of sales and marketing strategies for many organizations,” Issa Jouaneh, Vice President and General Manager, American Express Meetings & Events, said in a statement. “The last few years have given focus to meetings and events in a way that has driven a more disciplined approach around approvals processes, increased scrutiny on spend and a larger focus around accountability and expected outcomes for meetings."    

"The growing relevance of [regulations] and compliance as a driver of meetings management...was a surprise for me," Jouaneh told International Meetings Review just before the report was released. "When you look at outsourcing, information security, data privacy and anti-corruption regulations, meetings have become a high-priority area. Organizers are assessing their options and putting programs in place to mitigate risks." At the same time, oversight and control of expense management are also high-priority, he added. "Organizers are closely tracking expenses and event report in order to ensure that they have the right metrics [and] putting processes in place to ensure that they have the right internal approvals." 

By Region

In North America, the positive sentiment for 2014 continued with a slight 0.3 percent increase in meetings activity expected in 2015. At the same time, many meetings have been reduced in size over the past few  years, increasing the demand for meetings at airport properties, as meeting  owners try to maximize the productive time available for attendees. Overall, there is a continued push to stay close to home and host meetings where the largest number of attendees live. Attendee levels in North America seem to have stabilized, with no major changes expected next year. For the first time, respondents were also asked to answer questions on meeting activity, number of attendees, length and more by individual meeting type. Training meetings lead the pack in North America in terms of growth in number of meetings, and in regard to meeting length, the findings revealed that incentive and special events were reported to be the longest meeting by category, followed by conferences.    

In Europe, meeting activity predictions from survey respondents generally mirrors the current economic situation of the individual countries. Across Europe, an incremental decline in the number of attendees in nearly all meeting types are predicted. Germany and the United Kingdom, two regions with positive predictions in the 2014 Forecast, are expecting slight declines in attendees across the board in the coming year, while Spain and France are smaller declines predicted for 2015, compared to previous years. Doing more with less is the mantra of most meeting owners, and their 2015 budgets reflect that. The outlier among European countries in meeting length is clearly Spain, where incentives and special events last on average almost five days, nearly two days longer than the European average. "The four- or five-day meeting has disappeared," Jouaneh said, calling shorter meetings and conferences "more efficient." The change, he added is most likely permanent. 

Meeting activity in Asia Pacific is more mixed, surging ahead in some countries and softening in others. The Chinese mainland continues to experience strong demand as a destination and healthy growth in the number of meetings, while in Australia some meeting cancellations are contributing to a slowdown. A similar softening seems to be underway in Hong Kong. Across the region, attendee levels range from stable to moderately reduced, and meeting owners are leaning toward fewer and shorter meetings overall, freeing up resources to spend on marquee events. Over 85 percent of meetings and events in Asia and 94 percent of those in Australia are expected to take place in large cities in 2015. "The reduction appears to reflect a desire to reallocate meeting budgets," Jouaneh said. "Companies want to be sure they're spending their money on the right people and the right event." 

Central and South American respondents see meeting activity remaining much the same in 2015 as predicted for 2014, but are expected to make the most significant adjustments. Like North America, training meetings appear to be ‘coming back’ in 2015, with the largest increase of 2.4 percent predicted, followed by incentive and special events at 1.3 percent. The dominant effect of the recent sporting events in Brazil is expected to continue through the 2016 global sporting event in Rio de Janeiro. In addition, respondents are predicting a rise in the share of meetings in large cities from 65 percent in 2014 to 72 percent in 2015.    

Below are high-level snapshots of the key 2015 predictions based on a survey of meetings professionals in each region:

The Forecast also noted that in North America, Orlando, Florida slipped to second place this year, with Chicago, Illinois ranking as the number one meeting destination choice among meeting planners. Las Vegas, Nevada; Atlanta, Georgia; and San Diego, California rank in the top five meeting destinations in North America for the second consecutive year. In Central and South America, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and the Riviera Maya/Cancun region in Mexico retained the top two spots for meetings and events. In Europe, all top four cities, including London, UK; Paris, France; Barcelona, Spain; and Amsterdam, the Netherlands, have retained their spots from last year’s Forecast. In Asia Pacific, Singapore took the top spot from Shanghai, China, which ranked number one in 2014.  

Jouaneh said that event planners in Asia and Australia are interested in Singapore for large-scale functions as it is "relatively new" in terms of having the necessary facilities to host such events. Brazil, meanwhile, has been in the spotlight for several years since the announcements that it would host the World Cup this past summer and the Olympics in 2016. Chicago and London, he continued, already have a well-established infrastructure (including airports, convention facilities and hotels), "combined with historically competitive pricing," he noted.

Insights and Best Practices

Forecast participants also shared their insights into what’s top-of-mind for 2015 meetings and events planning. Key areas of consideration for 2015 include:    

Empowering Digital Event Solutions – Meeting professionals can now rethink meeting design and content delivery to capitalize on digital solutions and engage the audience in new and exciting ways. Four solutions – attendee management, event mobile applications, social media solutions and hybrid meeting solutions – can increase the prevalence and importance in digital event solutions.    
Planning Meetings & Events in Emerging Countries – The meeting business in emerging countries has grown significantly in recent years, as these economies have increased in importance. There are five aspects to meeting planning that are imperative for planners to focus on in order to ensure their meeting goes smoothly in an emerging country: security, technology, transportation, food & beverage, and payments.    
The Benefits of Attendee Travel Management – Best practices and customer feedback have demonstrated that integrating travel planning with meetings management can provide substantial benefits related to experience, cost, and duty of care. Integrating air travel as part of the overall planning process can benefit meeting planners and attendees alike. Air travel is an integral part of the logistical, financial, and experiential aspect of an event. In particular, group air planning can benefit a meeting at all stages, from destination evaluation, budgetary savings, and agenda optimization to improved communications, increased productivity, and risk reduction.
Event Production Trends and Insights – As technology and the role of mobile apps, virtual/hybrid meeting tools and more play an increasing role in meetings and events, event production agencies can serve as a guide to integration into the overarching event experience. Meeting owners should consider if the use of technology is appropriate for the event experience and if it can serve a real purpose and not act as a distraction.    


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