Don’t forget your shades

Three studies released at IMEX-America in Las Vegas in September painted an optimistic outlook for the future of the industry. CWT Meetings and Events’ 2020 Future Trends Report pegged growth in the meetings and events industry at 8 percent in the coming year despite looming geopolitical economic headwinds. Hotel and airfare spends were both projected to increase by more than 1 percent.

Looming Shadows

The authors of the CWT study pointed to the protracted trade war between the United States and China, the future of Brexit, protests in Hong Kong and concern over the impact of climate change for feelings of general uncertainty in the global business community heading into 2020. However, CWT M&E is still projecting that 30 percent of marketing budgets will be spent on live events in 2020.

Similarly, American Express Meetings & Events’ 2020 Forecast predicted moderate growth. “Reports of economic and political instability have not dampened the outlook of the meetings industry. Meeting professionals are bullish about 2020, as steady growth across all meeting types is predicted for the fifth consecutive year,” the report concluded.

In addition to the emphasis on experiential elements and interactive technology, the American Express Meetings & Events report predicted that compliance management and safety and security measures would receive added attention. It also forecast a lack of available space.

On the Bright Side

The CWT report called out the evolution of mobile event tech as a positive influence that will result in greater personalization and participation. A growing younger audience is demanding authentic experiences, and socially and environmentally friendly initiatives.

Since 2017, event websites have grown 52 percent year-over-year. The number of people using their mobile devices has seen a significant increase as well.

Researchers at CWT M&E believe the use of chatbots, machine learning and AI will soon contribute to even greater personalization for attendees in the future. Those same event apps can also serve as a way to measure the level of engagement with those attendees during an event, by linking an attendee’s social media accounts, allowing them to engage quickly and easily.

The report found that online booking tools are not used by planners as frequently as they could be, despite the number of tools that have cropped up in recent years. As planners begin to realize online booking’s many advantages, their usage could increase within the next few years, the report predicted.

Much of this digitization is being spearheaded by millennials, the group that is projected to become the largest group of business travelers by 2024. Centennials (or Gen Z)—those born in 1996 and after—are unique in that they are the first group that hasn’t known the world before the internet, smartphones and apps, so they may be much more comfortable around tech than the generations that came before them.

Their expectations of what they can complete on their phone is heightened as well, with 75 percent of Gen Z-ers expecting to be able to complete their travel bookings all on their smartphone.

Cool Incentives

With an increasing focus on improving company culture and creating relationships between employees and leaders, incentives—while they’ve always been important—are one of the fastest-growing type of events.

The Incentive Research Foundation (IRF) 2019 Trends Study found “a great deal of market volatility with some of the largest U.S. stock market swings to date,” something that can have a profound impact on incentives, rewards and recognition programs.

Net optimism was measured at 3 percent. The report, which was a partnership of Society for Incentive Travel Excellence (SITE) Index, IRF Outlook and Financial & Insurance Conference Professionals, and conducted by Oxford Economics, showed that internationally, almost a third of planners (32 percent) said the national economy was having a positive impact on programs, while 29 percent saw it as having a negative impact. North America was notably more positive in comparison to the rest of the world.

Attendees want a morale booster, something that they can call a “life-changer,”according to the CWT report. That quest for deeper meaning is leading to many planners dropping the touristy outings and allowing attendees to live like a local, visiting locations on the fringe. Lesser-traveled destinations, such as Nepal, Namibia and Montenegro, are predicted to see more action in 2020 as a result.