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A new survey by American Express, the Professional
Convention Management Association and travel marketing firm Ypartnership shows
that meeting planners are taking a turn into more positive territory, marked by
meetings attendance and budget growth, following budget cuts, cancellations,
declining attendance, bad publicity and faltering bookings that have beset the
meetings industry since late 2008.
The survey also shows some lingering effects of the
downturn, including ongoing cost-consciousness, a slow embrace of remote
meetings technologies and some remaining, though waning, issues with
perceptions of excess.
The survey, released in June and based on responses from 505
planners, about 56 percent from associations and 44 percent from corporations
or independent firms, is a study in contrasts with a nearly identical survey
unveiled a year earlier at the height of the downturn and a sign the meetings
industry is on its way to recovery.
"We're seeing cautious optimism," said PCMA
president and CEO Deborah Sexton. "It's not back to the early 2000s, and
whether or not it ever goes back to that is probably debatable. We still have
some bumps in the road ahead of us. We're figuring out as an industry how to
work in and around those bumps in the road."
Compared with 2009, the bumps this year are fewer, shallower
and more easily navigable, the study shows. Whereas 41 percent of more than 500
planners were coping with economy-prompted cancellations last year, only 6
percent said they expected to postpone or cancel meetings this year due to "current
economic conditions." Last year, only 9 percent of respondents expected
the number of meetings to grow in 2009, while this year 25 percent see the
number of meetings growing. One-quarter of the respondents see their budgets
for off-site meetings increasing this year, compared with the only 8 percent
that saw similar growth in 2009.
Though full-on recovery and a resumption of the growth
halted in 2008 remains to be seen, Sexton and others said the trend line is
moving in the right direction, where 2010 is expected to be better than 2009,
and 2011 better yet.
Ypartnership chairman and CEO Peter Yesawich, at the PCMA
Education Conference in Montreal in June, said, "We have the wind at our
back. Not only are the numbers rising, but they're rising at a greater rate 12
months down the line," he said. Versus 2009, planners expect attendance to
rise a net 23 percent this year and 38 percent in 2011, the survey found.
"What is coming back fastest is demand from the
corporate market," Yesawich said, noting that 43 percent of corporate
planers will increase the number of bookings next year, compared with 21
percent of association planners. "That was the first to drop, it dropped
the farthest and, as it turns out, it's the first to come back. As you can see
here, it's coming back with a vengeance."
Meanwhile, the reduction in cancellations this year and next
is saving planners a significant amount on penalties, as respondents on average
expect to pay only $7,600 in cancellation fees for meetings booked in 2010 and
$3,500 for meetings booked next year. "A year ago, the typical
professional planner in America was prepared to pay over $81,000 in cancellation
fees to get out of contracts," Yesawich said, but new figures represent "a
remarkable shift in their opinion."
Though the worst of the downturn may be over, attitudes and
practices established during the recession would continue to linger, he said,
noting "a degree of conservatism that prevails on the part of professional
planners in America still."
This story originally
appeared in the August 9, 2010, edition of Business Travel News.