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by Michael J. Shapiro, Michael C. Lowe, Lisa Grimaldi, Sarah J.F. Braley | December 01, 2011

In canvassing the experts who keep a close watch on the various business segments that make up the meetings industry, M&C found that their voices all sang a similar song: Overall, 2011 was pretty good, and 2012 should prove to be a little bit better.

While hotel rates will continue on their upward trajectory, this partially reflects an increase in group demand, a trend that portends a greater number of meetings and attendees. Other indicators show that incentive programs are growing again, and the trade show industry, which saw some modest growth in 2011, is geared to rise further in 2012.

Yet, this generally upbeat view is tempered by some real concerns. Most notable among them is the fear that a double-dip recession, still a threat thanks to continuing economic malaise at home and outright financial crises abroad, will wipe out whatever gains have been made. In addition, with few new hotel rooms entering the market, it will become more of a seller's market. Planners not only will need to book earlier to get rooms and function space, they'll also have to figure out new ways to leverage their buying power. Airlift will continue to cost more, as well, for what will seem like an ever-tighter number of seats, thanks to the airlines' reluctance to expand capacity.

The following pages offer a more in-depth look at what insiders say awaits meeting planners in the new year.