7 Major Trends Poised to Rattle the Meetings Industry in 2018

Predictions are notoriously tricky in our industry; with so much rapid change. Without the benefit of a crystal ball, many prophecies have the tendency to miss the mark. So, I was pleasantly surprised that my predictions at the end of 2016 were fairly accurate - all of my top five came through with interesting developments, both positive and not.

With that in mind, I am taking a stab at it again with my 2018 predictions below. Let's see how this list fares at the end of 2018!

Industry consolidations
There are no signs of a slowdown when it comes to mergers and acquisitions in the meetings and events world. Given the uncertainty of shifting business-revenue models, disruptive influencers and new competition alongside newer and more efficient technology entrants, many legacy companies are seeking to find market-share dominance to preserve leadership positions and influence. The new year will be no different than 2017 and previous years.

Disrupters continue to enter the marketplace
If you think you may catch a break from disruptive suppliers, innovations and technology in 2018, forget it. The acceptance of sharing-economy suppliers who banked on slick and easy-to-use technology to make their case directly to leisure and corporate travelers proved that our industry is open to expansion and disruption. Look for Blockchain, a bitcoin wallet provider and software developer, to make inroads into the payment area, including virtual cards; similarly, note that an invigorated Eved (a B2B digital payment and spend-management software solution) has added new executive management to its ranks to institutionalize the brand with companies, procurement and finance execs in the meetings/events industry. Look out also for the expansion of artificial intelligence, bots and other technology-driven innovation into our marketplace. This latest round of self‐enabled tech is meant to replace humans doing manual and menial tasks, reduce errors, drive down overhead costs and add efficiencies. Still don't believe it? Ask yourself, would you rather book and reserve things by phone, email or eRFP when you can ask Siri, Cortana or Alexa to do it for you via simple voice command? The day is coming - perhaps not in 2018, but sooner than later.

Focus on duty of care
Duty of care remains the one area in which meeting planners, organizers and suppliers seem to be fumbling, because there are no clear guidelines as to who owns what component of any contingency plan. There also is a lot of "that's not my area of responsibility" attitude when it comes to duty of care. In this age when an act of terrorism or pandemic outbreak can happen anywhere, in any city and in any situation, the meeting industry cannot afford to be lackadaisical. We can look to best practices established by our corporate travel departments and security firms like iSOS and iJET, which can assist with duty-of-care planning, support and execution. Finally, a survey GoldSpring Consulting conducted in 2017 revealed that a shockingly high number of respondents not only do not have any duty of care program in place, but even those that do haven't even tested their plans! A plan alone is not an effective safeguard if you don't test it on a regular basis.

General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) implementation
The new guidelines and penalties for lack of adequate data governance from the European Union already are in effect, but companies and individuals affected by it are given until May 25, 2018, to demonstrate progress in compliance. The U.S. will no longer be safeguarded by diluted opt‐in‐for‐a‐fee options like Privacy Shield (which replaced Safe Harbor). The EU has thrown down the gauntlet to all nations, including the U.S., and has established a standard baseline for data governance for all members, including the U.K. despite Brexit. Sadly, most U.S. companies are in denial, as are many planners who constantly say, "this doesn't apply to me" or "this is not my area to oversee, it's the IT department." At the end of the day, the buck stops with each company that touches personal data for anyone - staff, client or any entity from the EU and U.K. The penalty fines are enormous: 20M euro or 4 percent of gross annual turnover, whichever is higher. The threat of such penalties should provoke some action and at least investigation on the part of meeting and event leaders into how they manage their programs using third-party suppliers. If you haven't already, you should be talking to your legal counsel, data-privacy officer or office as to company standards, templates, checklists, etc. to prepare for GDPR. You also should start a dialog with your suppliers and be clear about what your company guidelines and policies are with regards to GDPR. Document it all and get it signed off to protect you and your company.

Attention on small/simple meetings
Small/simple meetings have been largely ignored by strategic meeting-management program leaders, as their primary focus were on larger, more complex, and costlier meetings and events. But this past year saw some innovative leadership by executives like Charles De Gaspe Beaubien of Groupize and Ron Shah of Bizly. In 2017, both companies made strong cases for self‐service or minimal-service tech options that could facilitate logistics and track data, and they based their solutions on the actual workflow of many users in this area – e.g., administrative assistants as opposed to full-time meeting planners. The new year will see more mainstreaming of these small/simple meeting solutions as SMMP leaders looks for incremental pockets of meeting spend that they can minimally oversee and include in their data metrics without having to add staffing or provide training classes for new technology systems. Also keep your eye out for hotel disrupter HRS, which has experienced a successful foray into the transient hotel-sourcing space. They will soon introduce their Meetago solution to the U.S. marketplace, targeting the small/simple meeting space. They have already been busy beta testing their direct inventory-access solution in the European marketplace.

U.S. government impact
Continued U.S. government changes, including many regarding policy and regulations, have had wide‐reaching effects, and our industry is not immune. The recent contentious political climate along with its uncertainties will continue to impact managed travel and meeting and events in 2018.

Industry education competition
So many associations are trying to reinvent themselves and are performing relevance checks to try to increase their membership ranks. Many, however do not recognize that their biggest competition for relevance and value for information and industry education is the Internet - Google, YouTube, LinkedIn, etc. When you can get free information 24/7 and 365 days of the year, you have to make a stronger case for the costs of association membership, certifications, networking opportunities and other value‐added benefits. The true competition really isn't other associations stealing your members, it's a new Millennial generation that is expert at getting information and online education for free via the Internet. It's time to create new strategies, marketing campaigns and a true evaluation of services, education and learning methodologies that reflect the new generation and shifting ways in which we do business travel and meetings in the 21st century.

Happy holidays, and see you in 2018!

Kevin Iwamoto is senior consultant at GoldSpring Consulting. You can follow him on Twitter @KevinIwamoto.