Despite uncertainty, event planners remain optimistic about the industry outlook for 2020.
They are concerned about rising space and food costs, a lack of negotiating leverage, a possible business slowdown and "surprise fees" from venues.
Yet despite those concerns, both planners and suppliers are generally positive about the prospects for growth in the meetings and events industry this year.
That's a key conclusion of the most recent Meetings Outlook report from Meeting Professionals International (MPI).
Though some outlets have focused on the glass-half-empty aspects of the findings, they nonetheless acknowledge that, as one respondent put it, “The need for and the benefits of face-to-face meetings aren’t going anywhere, and the industry will continue to survive and thrive.”
Here are four key insights from the MPI report.
Hiring Remains Strong
Though most of the firms responding project no change in overall staffing levels over the near terms, twice as many businesses plan to hire more full-time staff as to cut workers.
Furthermore, three times as many plan to add contract workers instead of subtract and four times as many plan to increase part-time staff as to decrease it.
These figures reflect the general belief among respondents that while the industry growth rate may be slowing a bit, it's still growing.
Business Conditions Are Favorable
Though the projections are down a bit from quarterly reports over the past few years, the overall outlook for business conditions remains positive.
Nearly half of respondents called the business outlook "favorable," and two-thirds view it as either "favorable" or "neutral."
The reports quotes Karen Shackman of Shackman Associates New York stating, "Meeting groups are opting out of boardrooms and ballrooms in favor of unique venues that are more casual, visually striking and sustainable. A recession of ideas is a bigger threat to the meeting industry than an economic one."
Another respondent, from the financial services sector, says his firm’s meetings and events continue “enthusiastically attracting outside attendance, regardless of geography.”
Attendance Forecasts are Looking Up
A majority of event professionals predict increased attendance for live events at live events in the coming year and just a quarter believe guest counts will decline.
The outlook for virtual events is even more positive, with 55% predicting higher attendance and just 7% projecting fewer guests.
The report also notes that environmental and sustainability concerns will affect both the types of events people attend and the venues and destinations chosen to host live events this year.
Some Expected Concerns Are "No Worries"
Social issues will play some role in site selection this year, though not all concerns are equally concerning.
As noted above, a venue's commitment to sustainability—such as local food sourcing, recycling, energy conservation, and waste reduction—matters in site selection.
In addition, planners are split on the impact of gender and racial equality in choosing venues.
However, some factors expected to affect site selection won't sway most decisions this year. More than half of respondents said that commission rates will affect their choice of venue "a little" or "not at all."
70% say gun laws don't matter. And 90% are indifferent to cannabis laws when making destination decisions.
Overall, A Positive Outlook
Though responses to some questions about the prospects for meetings and live events this year weren't quite as optimistic as in recent quarterly MPI surveys, the overall outlook reflected in the most recent MPI Meetings Outlook report is positive.
Respondents predicted increased hiring, (generally) positive business conditions, and higher event attendance.
The bottom line, as the report notes, is that "the economy is not going to slow down anytime soon," and "the business of meetings is continuing at a healthy pace."