By Gerardo Tejado, senior vice president, global value development and general manager, Meetings & Events, American Express Global Business Travel
As we look to 2023, it’s an exciting time to be in this industry. In-person meetings and events are roaring back – and at the same time, we can take lessons learned during the last few years to make positive, long-lasting changes to the way we work. Dramatic improvements in technology and a renewed focus on sustainability, wellness, and inclusivity provide a clear path forward for the industry.
Our survey respondents are “very optimistic” about the future: two-thirds expect that the number of in-person events will return to pre-pandemic levels within one to two years. In North America, where respondents reported the highest percentage of completely remote workforces, internal and small and simple meetings have already surpassed 2019 levels. This has been true within our Meetings & Events business: we have seen the number of meetings during certain months and locations exceed 2019 levels, and our clients’ small and simple meetings have increased by 25%.
With many companies around the world operating with remote workforces or hybrid office environments, the need to bring employees together has never been greater nor more widely recognized. According to Stanford economics professor Nicolas Bloom, the shift to work from home (WFH) is the largest shock to labor markets in decades and has seen a six-fold jump compared to pre-pandemic WFH trends. In-person meetings and events have proven to be the most effective way to drive employee wellness and retention, instill company culture and corporate values, improve team bonding, and increase professional development. Prior to the pandemic, internal meetings were often an afterthought for many organizations. This shift in priority offers a clear opportunity for the meetings and events industry to expand its impact and reach.
From an activity perspective, survey respondents in every region anticipate that in-person meetings, as well as the number of attendees at those meetings, will increase across the board; 87% of meetings are expected to have an in-person component – that’s 6% higher than predictions for 2022. Virtual and hybrid meetings are expected to be less of a focus for all regions except Asia Pacific, where nearly half of its meetings and events will be hybrid and one-sixth virtual. Meeting spend is expected to increase globally and, according to survey respondents, will largely be driven by their organization’s growth plans. The average cost per attendee is also expected to increase globally, by 1.5% for small and simple meetings to 3% for conferences and tradeshows.
A sign of a thriving environment is the unanimous desire among clients, meeting planners, and suppliers to simplify and streamline the planning process. Everyone is at capacity and searching for time efficiencies. Within our Meetings & Events business, we see a continued trend for short booking windows with lead times 25% shorter than in 2019. We expect to see continued innovation and automation for small and simple meeting bookings, the request for proposal process, and other repetitive tasks. Attendee experience technology continues to be in demand as meeting owners aim to meet attendance goals, connect in-person and virtual audiences, and deliver unique experiences.
The industry is getting serious about sustainability and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) in 2023. Many organizations have publicly committed to it, and they now need to cascade their sustainability goals to their meeting programs. We can expect the levels of climate reporting on meetings and events activities to grow. From choosing destinations that promote sustainability to selecting sustainably certified venues, organizations are implementing robust strategies and processes to minimize their event emissions and report on their progress to internal and external stakeholders. From a regional standpoint, Europe continues to be the leader in sustainability practices.
Eighty-seven percent of survey respondents say their organizations or clients actively strive to incorporate DE&I into their meetings and events. Using minority-owned suppliers is the number one way globally that organizations incorporate DE&I into their meeting programs. In our special section “Designing Inclusive and Safe Events,” we explore ways to make meetings and events safer for women and minority attendees.
Our interview panel stressed that strong supplier relationships are more important than ever these days. It’s a seller’s market and that will likely continue into 2024, as space, air, and food and beverage availability are expected to remain constrained while suppliers deal with labor shortages, ongoing supply chain issues, and inflation. Clients who are flexible and clear on what the goals are for their meetings are more likely to achieve their objectives.
We are pleased to see a renewed respect for the value of meetings and events as understanding of the sector’s critical role in building culture and driving business continues to grow. This respect, combined with the industry’s depth of knowledge and experience, signals a bright future indeed.