by Michael J. Shapiro | November 28, 2018
The meetings business remains strong and shows signs that industry professionals will successfully adapt to change, according to the IBTM World Trends Watch Report, released Tuesday in Barcelona, Spain, at the beginning of the three-day industry event. "Global growth continues to be mostly positive overall," said Alistair Turner, managing director of Eight PR and Marketing, referring both to the meetings industry and the world economy at large. "But there are quite a few 'howevers.'" 
Turner, who co-wrote the report with longtime Trends Watch author Rob Davidson, managing director of research for consultancy firm MICE Knowledge, referenced the many variables that could present challenges to the still strong market -- a U.S.-China trade war, uncertainty surrounding Brexit and soon-to-plateau world economic growth among them. 
"While we are undoubtedly living through an age of uncertainty, there are some real opportunities for the industry," Turner pointed out. "It's evident that there is growth in both industries and economies around the world, and this is feeding genuine confidence within meetings and events."
The report takes a deep dive into the state of the industry in regions around the globe, accompanied by an outlook for the coming year. Davidson and Turner emphasize the role of technology in this year's report, paying particular attention to the industries that are expanding as a result of new advances. The role new applications and systems are playing in the financial, automotive, and pharmaceutical and health-care fields in particular is helping to create additional opportunities for meeting professionals, say the authors. They note that the need to meet face-to-face and maintain open communication and education is crucial as these industries embrace change.
The United States continues to lead all markets in terms of association business, the report found. Protectionist rhetoric and policies haven't had a discernible affect on meetings business, "but we'll need to wait and see" whether that remains true in the years to come, Davidson said. "We're bombarded with these messages nearly every day in the news," he added. "We've heard an awful lot about trade disputes and backing out of treaties. This kind of stuff tends to have an effect. International planners look at this when making booking decisions."
Meanwhile, lead times in the States likely will continue to increase in the coming year, the report found, as meeting space is still at a premium. Group sizes are up significantly in both the U.S. and Europe, and are likely to continue to grow.
In China, a focus on growing meetings infrastructure in secondary and tertiary cities is particularly noteworthy, Davidson said, where state-of-the-art convention centers are being built in less than 12 months to accommodate new business.
Planner confidence remains high for the coming year, according to both Meeting Professionals International and the Professional Convention Management Association, Davidson and Turner noted. That said, security and duty of care are paramount among planner concerns the world over and will likely continue to be so for the coming year. 
Find the full report here.