by Michael J. Shapiro | October 15, 2018
Global meetings activity is expected to grow in 2019, but budgets are only forecast to see small increases, according to the newly released 2019 Global Meetings and Events Forecast from American Express Meetings & Events. This will be the fourth consecutive year of higher attendance and spend.
The new forecast points to industry consolidation and the rise of disruptive suppliers as competing forces for the average planner, putting more pressure on negotiations but also opening up more alternative choices. Surveyed planners agree that a significant international focus on data privacy and compliance has grown out of the EU's General Data Protection Regulation, with concerns made only more intense as a result of the industry trend toward personalization and the use of artificial intelligence and technology, such as facial recognition.
 
"2019 will be a growth year for the meetings industry, with activity expected to increase across all meeting types and regions," said Issa Jouaneh, senior vice president and general manager at American Express Meetings & Events. "The challenge before planners is mastering this volume, while working with the reality of expenses increasing at a higher rate than meetings budgets. Strategic meetings built around defined goals that prioritize the attendee experience and embrace technology will continue to elevate meetings as a business tool despite these challenges."
 
In terms of specific regional concerns, North American planners once again are being tasked to improve the attendee experience and return on investment while working with relatively small budget increases. Budgets are predicted to inch up by just 0.8 percent, while group hotel rates are expected to grow by a comparatively robust 2.4 percent.
 
In Europe, too, budget increases are projected to be modest -- just 0.7 percent -- and exceeded by group hotel rate growth of 1.6 percent. Meetings activity is on the upswing throughout the region, led by Germany and Spain, where the numbers of meetings and attendees are expected to rise -- notably, for product launches and customer advisory-board meetings.
 
While group hotel rates are expected to rise by just 1.1 percent in the Asia Pacific region, planners there face similar budgetary challenges, which is causing a quarter of respondents to look to second-tier destinations as a way to lower costs. That's particularly significant when compared with the just 3 percent of planners who indicated last year that they would do so. Investment in meetings type varies considerably by country, with Japan favoring incentives, China prizing senior leadership meetings and Australia looking to focus on product launches.
 
Meetings activity continues to grow in Central and South America as well, with conferences and trade shows on the rise in Brazil specifically. Rio de Janeiro is increasing in international popularity as a meetings destination, as are the Mexican hot spots of Cancún and the Riviera Maya, as well as the capital, Mexico City. Technology adoption also appears to be gaining significant traction; more than three-quarters (76 percent) of regional respondents noted they expect to use more virtual meetings technology over the coming year. Costs should be fairly contained, with hotel rates expected to grow by less than 1 (0.96) percent.
 
The full forecast can be found here.