The new year, thankfully, is looking a lot less like the past few. With people eager to get back together, conference attendance is poised to grow. And thanks to our increased comfort with technology, more conferences will include a virtual option.
As always, planners’ creativity will be called upon to find ways to save money in the face of rising costs, make their meetings more sustainable and entice attendees to bring the family along. Here are some trends meetings organizations have identified that point to a happier new year.
Planners are feeling upbeat about a bustling future.
If recent surveys of meeting pros are on point, 2023 is going to be bustling, which makes sense after two years of pandemic-related cancellations and interruptions. Results from the 2023 Global Meetings and Events Forecast show that the 580 planners from 23 countries who were surveyed feel upbeat about the future. Almost 75% said they were optimistic about the industry’s health; 67% believed in-person meetings would return to pre-pandemic levels fairly quickly. The planners also said they were seeing smaller meetings already surpass 2019 numbers.
Of course, an increase in demand shifts power back to hotels, convention centers and other meeting suppliers, and meeting planners know it — 64% of those who responded to MPI’s Meetings Outlook said they believe 2023 will be a seller’s market. Forecasters say concerns about business slowdown, fueled by inflation, might keep hotel room rates from rising quite as much as they did in the past year.
Creativity can counter rising costs.
Faced with rising costs, planners say they’ll look for ways to save or make more money. For example, 78% of planners responding to MPI’s survey are looking for new revenue opportunities. In the previous quarter, it was less than half that percentage. Partnerships tailored to the needs of suppliers, who are eager to get out in front of potential clients at trade shows again, could be effective. Another tactic might be to create new revenue streams by marketing conference content. At conferences, especially for nonprofits, volunteers will be more important than ever, helping ensure staff don’t get overwhelmed and paid part-timers aren’t needed.
In some destinations, CVBs will help planners save money with services and materials offered free or for a small fee such as registration assistance, welcome packets and airport greeters. Depending on their business goals, some CVBs may even offer financial incentives to draw meetings. Convention bureaus in Springfield, Missouri, and Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, were among those in 2022 that offered rebates based on the number of rooms booked for meetings that met certain criteria.
Mixed meetings make sense.
After two years in which many, many meetings were virtual, people are ready to zoom away from convening via computer screen. So in-person meetings will return but with a caveat. In many cases in-person meetings will include a virtual option so meetings and conferences will be accessible to even more people. Over half those attending Skift Meetings’ Future of the Event Industry Summit in 2022 said they would be using this hybrid format through the end of the year, and very likely, many will use it beyond.
One good example is GSMCO, the largest social media conference for government agencies, to be held in Reno, Nevada, at the Grand Sierra Resort in May. In-person attendees will enjoy the typical conference agenda: breakout sessions, keynotes, luncheons, receptions, networking opportunities, etc., as online participants watch most keynote, general and breakout sessions in real time, participate in live question-and-answer sessions, attend virtual networking activities and have on-demand access to most of the content for 90 days after the event.
Venues are getting serious about sustainability.
Eighty percent of respondents in a recent business poll said their organizations are serious about sustainability. For inspiration and good role models, organizations might look to corporations and nonprofits known for their successful sustainability efforts — nonprofits like the Sierra Club and Natural Resources Defense Council and corporations like Nike and Fisher Investments. Where are they meeting? How do they reduce their environmental impact when they do meet?
For guidance on venues that are sustainable in both their construction and practices, planners can look to the U.S. Green Building Council, which certifies buildings and even cities that are built sustainably through its LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) program. More than 35 convention centers, 400 hotels and dozens of U.S. cities — many of them mid-size to small, like Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Winston-Salem, North Carolina — have achieved LEED certification. Major hotel brands Marriott, Hilton, IHG and Hyatt have made sustainability part of their corporate cultures.
Bleisure is blossoming.
Most of us have traveled less in the past couple of years, and as we happily get on the road again for meetings and conferences, we might like to tack a short family vacation onto that business trip. The growing interest in what are being called “bleisure” trips and the possibility that bleisure-oriented meetings will be better attended could convince organizations to choose family-friendly destinations for their 2023 conferences.
Bleisure destinations generally have consistently nice weather, fun family activities, outdoor adventures, interesting history and appetizing culinary options. Coastal destinations are often naturals for bleisure — places like Wilmington, North Carolina, where there are pirate-led treasure hunts for kids and craft brews for Mom and Dad, and Newport Beach, California, with 10 miles of beaches, Disneyland 20 minutes away and whale watching from December through May.