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The years following the global financial crisis of 2008
brought hard times to the meetings industry. Drastic budget cuts meant that
companies had less money to allocate to live events, and even if they had the
funds, some customers or clients couldn't afford to travel. Now, thanks in part
to a stabilizing economy and improving corporate performance, it appears that a
recovery in meetings demand and spending is underway, according to new BTN research
as well as testimony from several major hotel chain executives and third-party
According to a Business
survey of 172 corporate travel and meeting managers fielded from December 2013
to February 2014, 39 percent of respondents indicated their organizations' 2013
meetings expenditure increased from 2012, and 40 percent predicted another
year-over-year increase in 2014. About 11 percent of respondents reported a
decrease in meetings expenditure.
Executives at several event
technology and management companies, including BCD M&I,
QuickMobile and Cvent, told BTN of increased business during
the past two to three years. "We've seen that people are starting to put
on more meetings, the number of attendees per meeting has gone up, and the
requests for proposals for spend and hotels has been trending back up,"
said Cvent vice president of marketing Eric Eden.
management firm Meetings
& Incentives also reported an increase in the number of conferences held by
its clients annually, swelling to 637 in 2013 from 450 in 2011. "We've
seen meetings spend rise pretty dramatically with our clients; about 18 percent
a year over the last two years," said Meetings & Incentives director
of strategic meetings management and analytics David Sachs. The average number
of attendees per event for M&I clients also increased nearly 50 percent
within the same timeframe, he said.
Meetings management firm BCD
M&I, a sister company to BCD Travel, had clients who put in place travel
freezes at the end of 2012 and expected meetings to decrease.
"In some of those cases,
meetings did not decrease as they had anticipated, even with internal budget
cuts," said Charlene Rabideau, BCD M&I's vice president of account
management and operations. Since 2012, BCD M&I has seen a year-over-year
increase in its annual number of meetings managed and corporate business
overall, which Rabideau attributed to strong customer growth the past few years.
several hotel chains during earnings conference calls in February cited
improving group performance. Hyatt Hotels reported a 3.9 percent year-over-year
increase in group room nights in 2013, with the average daily group room rate
up 2.4 percent, and Marriott International claimed a 7 percent year-over-year
increase in group bookings in 2013. Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide
reported that group booking pace is up for 2014, and Marriott's booking pace
for 2014 is running 4 percent higher than last year, with its corporate group
booking pace up nearly 10 percent. Research firm TravelClick also reported that
booked group room nights for 2014 across the top 25 North American markets is
up 3.8 percent since last year, with the group booking pace up about 10
Studies conducted by other
organizations also showed a thriving meetings industry, including the industry
umbrella association Convention Industry Council. While CIC's "Economic
Significance of Meetings to the U.S. Economy" report focused mainly on the
association space, its data showed that during 2012, 1.83 million meetings were
held in the United States. They were attended by 225 million participants, an
attendee increase of 10 percent since 2009. Overall, meetings in 2012
contributed more than $115 billion to the U.S. gross domestic product, nearly a
9 percent increase from 2009.
increase seems to be technically driven by economic performance," said
Tony Wagner, vice president of CWT Meetings & Events, Carlson Wagonlit
Travel's meetings-management arm. "As the economy grows and there's more
confidence in a company's earnings, you tend to see the number or size of their
However, some executives struck
a more cautious tone, reporting that while overall corporate meetings spend is
up, per-meeting spend has remained stagnant. "Meetings budgets are still
scrutinized like there's no tomorrow," Meetings & Incentives' Sachs
said. Other event management companies reported stable increases in business
and more client investment in meetings, but have
A 2012 survey conducted
and sister publication Meetings & Conventions indicated that 36 percent of
295 meetings-professional respondents had in place a strategic meetings
management program at their organization, taking a comprehensive approach to
managing meetings and monitoring meetings spend across their entire organization
or business unit, with a much higher percentage having at least some aspects of
an SMM program in place.
This year's BTN survey of 172 corporate travel
and meeting professionals revealed that companies are looking to centrally
consolidate those SMM programs in order to better track companywide spend and
return on investment.
scandals involving profligate spending at some meetings like the U.S. General
Services Administration's incident in 2012, to the introduction of the U.S.
Physician Payments Sunshine Act, which requires pharmaceutical companies to
report per-attendee spend, there are many reasons why some organizations are
trying to better track and report spend by centrally consolidating their
strategic meetings programs.
However, while the benefits of
consolidating SMM programs can be significant, the process is anything but easy
and can involve a vast range of departments, including human resources,
marketing, procurement, training and internal communications and information
technology. This year's survey demonstrated a clear divide between those
companies that are in the advanced stages of SMM, collecting better quality
data and putting it to use, and those in the early phases attempting to
consolidate their program to gain a handle on spend.
Roughly 34 percent of
respondents said their company has consolidated the meetings purchasing
process, 29 percent reported consolidating meetings data and 31 percent have
centralized the planning process. Large companies are more likely to have
developed advanced SMM programs, due to higher meetings budgets, as are
pharmaceutical companies because of strict industry regulations. Still, most
organizations have yet to centralize any part of the meetings process, with
more than half of respondents reporting no consolidation at all.
"More and more customers
are looking to take a more enterprisewide approach to managing their meetings,
but many are still in the infancy stages," said CWT M&E's Wagner. "What
we have seen is what we'd call a parallel path based on maturity of a customer."
Mature customers include those larger companies that have had an established
SMM program in place for a while, he said. These organizations have already
begun to see the benefits of centralized SMM in the form of cost savings and
better data collection.
"As procurement becomes
more involved, companies want to take a more consistent approach and implement
a more consistent process," Wagner said. "They want to reduce the
number of vendors from a management standpoint and see an increase in data
quality and leverage." CWT's clients also have begun to align hotel
sourcing strategies across transient and meetings properties. "There's a
big difference between business and transient, and we're seeing that
negotiation come together."
Rabideau also witnessed more cooperation in managing transient and meetings
travel, noting a 2012 GBTA study that found 43 percent of travel managers were
planning live events for their organizations and 38 percent were responsible
for developing their companies' strategic meetings management programs. "We
see more integration of travel and meetings happening," Rabideau said, "and
the oversight of the two commodities has become more important in order to find
opportunities to leverage the programs."
Companies whose meetings
programs still are in the early stages are just beginning to track basic data,
for instance how many meetings are happening across a company and how much they
cost, and making the information available in order to reduce expenditures. "It's
OK to start simple," Eden said. "You don't have to jump into the deep
end. It's OK to have a phase plan."
The particulars of centrally
consolidated SMM programs vary by company, but they generally include central
sourcing and budgeting functions, leaving the actual planning and execution to
individual departments. "One of the things we noticed right away, by centralizing
our meetings and trying to get more of them to come through the travel
department, is that we can leverage contracts and we know what's being
committed," said Cheryl Benjamin, travel manager at manufacturer Dart
Container Corp. "We don't want to take over the meeting planning, we just
want to be involved in that contract and that financial obligation." Not
only does this format help Dart cut costs, it also helps the company "source
smarter," she said.
explained that by the time a meeting is presented to her team, it's already
been discussed with a vice president or department director, so
upper-management approval is implied. However, other companies have more formal
approval processes in place. Nearly 56 percent of BTN survey respondents reported their company's
meetings policy placed limitations on contract-signing authority, and about 30
percent required senior-level approval.
Some companies have put in place
per-meeting spending thresholds and delineate which meetings require authorization.
"The average [threshold for approval] is $25,000," explained Meetings
and Incentives' Sachs, adding that the amount varies by organization. "From
what we've seen, corporations still give choices. The one piece that tends to
be taken away [from an individual department] is the sourcing and hotel
In addition to approval
processes, some companies control spend by limiting the venues or locations
where a meeting can be held. Approximately 52 percent of respondents indicated
they are required to use onsite meeting space when feasible, while 25 percent
must use preferred meeting suppliers, and about 30 percent reported utilizing
videoconferencing when applicable. "We hold a blend of in-person and
virtual meetings," Benjamin said. "We don't always bring people in if
we don't have to, and we're installing videoconferencing equipment in our
How a company consolidates its
SMM program and what restrictions it enforces is mostly dependent on company
culture, explained Rabideau. "We've seen everything from very loose
[restrictions] to ‘strongly encouraged,' " she said. "Meetings are
not typically mandated, so strongly encouraged is probably the most aggressive.
We've had a few clients say they'd use disciplinary action if guidelines are
For many companies just starting
the SMM process, defining the concept of a meeting helps them structure better
meetings management guidelines. "In general, if it's 10 or more guest
rooms on a given night, with or without meeting space, it becomes a group
event," Sachs said. He attributed this rule to a hotel model that
considers any event with less than 10 attendees a catering event, while those
with 10 or more are considered a meeting. For some companies, like Dart, there's
a less-than-formal definition in place. "I'd say if there's 20 to 25
people and if there's offsite meeting space involved, it'd be considered a
meeting," Benjamin said. "With us, it's more, ‘Give me your meetings
details and let's talk this through.' "
The Next Steps
While many companies still are
in the early stages of structuring an effective strategic meetings management
program, Rabideau said more organizations would begin to invest in globalized
meetings programs. "For 2014, we continue to see the trend of centralizing
programs on a global basis," she said, "or we see organizations
beginning to at least dip their toe in the water on what a global program and
policy looks like. People who are managing meetings programs globally are at
least putting a general policy in place, doing some data capturing, general
meeting registration, hotel sourcing, and then allowing the region to do some
of the management locally."
Sachs agreed that going global
is the next big step for strategic meetings management. "We have had a lot
of companies that have done their North American side," he said. "Now
they're all starting to move forward on the global side. The globalization of
SMM in the next year, year and a half, is going to happen and is going to gain
a lot more traction." Sachs said this would lead to more data and "better
information for companies to work with."
Wagner predicted more
organizations would invest in SMM programs that combine marketing and meetings
strategy. "Executives and marketers are expecting more of a return from
meetings," he said. "Because of the technology marketplace changing,
people are reassigning their technology strategies and are trying to build in
more links between their marketing organization and meetings strategy because
these tools are starting to expand their capabilities."
Eden also predicted more synergies between meetings and marketing management. "A
pretty high percentage of events that companies do is around marketing,"
he said, citing a 2014 Forrester Research report that concluded that, on
average, 20 percent of marketers' budgets is committed to live events. "Companies
always need to win more customers and sell their existing customers more
products and services, and in-person events are one way marketers do this."
Sidebar: Technology's Evolution
Technology continues to
become increasingly crucial to strategic meetings management, making it
possible to source and evaluate data once unavailable to companies. "You're
seeing more and more customers integrate technology into the meetings
experience now, and there's more and more data being gathered," said Tony
Wagner, vice president of CWT Meetings & Events. "I expect us to start
seeing companies leveraging data not around spend, not around who is attending
and how many events they're attending, but how they're interacting."
Wagner expects companies
with mature strategic meetings management programs soon will be able to easily
and regularly monitor attendee reaction to speakers, educational sessions and
other meeting components. "That type of data is now being gathered, but
isn't necessarily being acted upon as a meeting owner."
Key to that
technological growth has been the rapid development of meetings apps, which in
some cases have fully replaced printed meeting agendas.
Event apps have gone
from being an added bonus to something that is expected, explained Robin Jones,
chief marketing officer of meetings app and technology provider QuickMobile. "If
you isolate the mobile event app category, it's in a mass adoption stage,"
she said. She reported that QuickMobile has seen demand double year over year "in
terms of inbound interest through to apps delivered and companies added to our
Many of QuickMobile's
customers have stopped utilizing one-off event apps and now invest in platforms
that allow them to create apps year-round, Jones said.
organizations two years ago would go out and buy an app for a flagship event,"
she said, "but what we're seeing now is, keeping with SMMP, a need to
consolidate that spend, get economy to scale and get a better pricing structure
for a company's overall mobile landscape."
Instead of singular
event applications, QuickMobile customers more often are employing the company's
multi-event application platform, through which they can create custom mobile
apps for any event as needed. "It's gotten much more traction than we
anticipated," said QuickMobile CEO Patrick Payne. When the company first
introduced the platform at the end of 2012, officials predicted less than 20
clients would utilize it by the end of 2013; instead, Payne said more than 100
customers currently leverage the platform.
This report originally appeared in the April 1,
2014 edition of Business Travel News.
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