Doing more with less is how we at American Express Global Business Travel summed up our expectations for the European meetings and events industry in 2015, in our American Express Meetings & Events 2015 Global Meetings Forecast. This year, we anticipate that overall meeting spend, individual meeting budgets and attendee numbers will decline in the UK, even though a modest increase in meeting numbers of 1.2 per cent is predicted.
While this may seem like sombre news, this environment nevertheless poses opportunities in addition to challenges. Meeting planners will need to be more thrifty, but with creativity and insight, it will be possible to extract maximum value from meeting budgets. A number of the trends identified in our forecast offer food for thought for meeting planners, who, armed with this insight, can take action to make the most of the resources available to them this year.
1. Group hotel rates are expected to increase – but hotels are becoming more flexible
Despite the fact that meetings budgets are tightening, our forecast predicts group hotel rates to rise across Europe, with the highest increase in Europe of 2.8 per cent predicted in the UK. It’s interesting to note that, despite this, London remains the most popular European meetings destination based on our clients’ activity, followed by Paris and Barcelona.
However, we are increasingly seeing hotels provide ‘value dates’ (or days on which companies can hold events at a better rate) to fill gaps around confirmed business. We’ve also seen more attention being given to enquiries coming through sourcing systems, with some hotels even adding resources specifically to deal with enquiries through this channel. Meeting planners might continue to use sourcing technology to better manage their spend with hotel suppliers.
2. New technologies provide an opportunity to innovate
Technology is playing an ever-greater role in the meetings and events sector, and organisers are driving experimentation: event planners are offering everything from social media to connect attendees to tablets to facilitate interaction with speakers or hosts. In some countries, the pressure to innovate is leading to the development of meeting-specific apps.
Meeting professionals now have the opportunity to rethink meeting design and content delivery to capitalise on digital solutions and engage the audience in new and exciting ways. Attendee management, event mobile applications, social media solutions and hybrid meeting solutions can all increase the prevalence and importance of digital event solutions. Event organisers should consider how the technologies available to them could be used, if appropriate, not only to enhance the content and audience experience, but also for efficient event management.
3. When it comes to destination, some are looking further afield
A large proportion of European meetings – some 87.4 per cent – are predicted to take place in cities in 2015. To help make the most of budgets, meeting planners could look beyond the traditionally popular cities of London, Paris and Madrid for meeting destinations. Southern European cities that were hit hard by the economic downturn, such as Madrid, Athens and Rome, may offer lower rates, while still offering the traditional benefits of a city, such as transport connections and a wide choice of catering options.
We’ve observed that some companies from the UK are organising more meetings in the European Union, in part to boost participation from Central European attendees without pushing travel costs too high. There is also a trend towards holding meetings at airport locations, driven by the mandate to keep meetings short and maximise the productive time available for attendees.
In the UK specifically, while London remains strong as a destination among our clients, we are seeing more requests for meetings to be held in Birmingham, Manchester, Oxford, Windsor and Cardiff. Meeting planners looking to make their venue budget go further could look outside London.
A changing landscape
2015 is set to be a very different year from 2014, which saw a predicted 4.8 per cent increase in overall UK meeting spend. In 2015, budgets are predicted to decrease by 0.7 per cent. Against this backdrop, the trends outlined above could become more pronounced as meeting planners look for ways to do more with less.
Meetings and events continue to play a crucial role in a return to business fundamentals, and it’s an exciting time to be part of the global meetings industry, as innovation in the sector gathers pace.
This was first published in the March issue of CN. Any comments? Email Zoe Vernor