“It seems like third-party planners are perceived as a necessary evil by hotels—I’m always told how valuable I am to them, but I find that if I’m not careful, they can undermine me,” said one planner in a recent AIBTM survey. The survey, which went out to Smart Meetings readers in February, focused on the state of the industry and the hardships facing planners. The results covered a broad spectrum and were full of insights useful to meetings professionals.
When asked about the No. 1 thing keeping them awake at night, respondents singled out the state of the economy. With a sluggish 2.2 percent increase in GDP over the past year and an unemployment rate of 7.6 percent, this should come as no surprise. Another point that came up repeatedly was a jump in meeting costs, including room rates and services. As one planner put it, “The cost of extras, such as service charges, taxes, surcharges, resort fees and Wi-Fi, is constantly increasing.” Said another: “I am really concerned about increasing costs, special requirements and taxes—my clients are really getting tired of the [add-ons].” The survey also included valuable insights about site selection. Thirty percent of respondents said they choose a meeting destination primarily because of cost savings, while 38 percent pointed to accessibility and location.
When asked what aspect of their meetings they are cutting in the face of reduced budgets, many planners cited travel expenses and F&B— it’s becoming increasingly important to choose centrally located sites to save on travel costs, and the easiest item to scale back on is F&B menus. “In the past, meetings were an opportunity for companies to jet off to a different landscape and explore new cities,” says Mike Lyons, AIBTM’s exhibition director. “Now, people are paying more attention to accessibility and are more conscious of budget concerns.” In other words, long cross-country flights and tasty salmon carpaccio spreads might be things of the past.
Despite gloomy economic worries and frustrations over increasing costs, the survey contained some good news. A whopping 89 percent of respondents said they expect their current level of meetings to remain the same or increase in the next year. Lyons wasn’t shocked to hear this. “Face-to-face meetings are the catalyst for business growth and shortened sale cycles,” he says. “More than ever, business is about building face-to-face relationships, and that will never change despite social media, online meetings software and streaming media.”