For professional associations and meeting planners, membership does have its privileges

As 2017 gets underway, what are the top trends to watch out for if you’re in the meeting planning industry? SmithBucklin—a leading association management and services company—released Circuit, its 2017 trend report that examines what issues professional organizations face in the coming year. Here are key takeaways that could impact the travel, trade show and hospitality industries.

Is 2017 a buyer’s or a seller’s market for hotel supply growth?

SmithBucklin cited conflicting reports forecasting “that hotel supply growth may outpace demand in 2017, indicating that the association event industry could be shifting from a seller’s market to a buyer’s market for the first time since 2009” or that more hotel mergers and consolidations “could further strengthen their ability to control pricing.” Accurately predicting the future is practically impossible, but here’s how you can prepare for uncertainty:

1. Plan ahead
2. Be flexible
3. Strategically prioritize
4. Leverage your partnerships

Ironing out the details early on in the process, booking during the week and being open to unorthodox solutions will help you stay ahead of change.

Trade shows to grow 3 percent through 2019

According to the 2016 Center for Exhibition Industry Research Index Report, trade shows will sustain a yearly 3 percent growth for the next few years. While that expansion is welcome news, attendees’ expectations will also grow. Specifically, “exhibitors and sponsors will continue to demand more energy, increased traffic, greater engagement, and enhanced networking and business opportunities.”

SmithBucklin advises organizers to collect and analyze attendee behavior data to design a more sophisticated trade show and offer enhanced experiences. One advancement readily available to planners is tracking smartphone and social media activity at the trade show and using that data in real time to respond to attendees’ interests.            

From smartphones to virtual reality

Smartphones have become an integral tool for everyday life, whether it’s work or play. Internet use on mobile devices went from 40 percent in 2012 to 68 percent in 2016, and is predicted to hit 75 percent in 2017, reports Zenith of the French ad agency Publicis Groupe SA. For the meeting planning industry, smartphones provide an easy way to keep clients engaged and deliver content.

The next step for mobile technology is virtual reality and augmented reality. We are reaching the point where this technology is becoming more affordable and attainable, which means that meetings and conferences could see practical applications in educational programs, product demos and speeches.

For millennials, experiences matter

Study after study has shown that millennials want more experiences and less stuff. According to the Eventbrite study Millennials: Fueling the Experience Economy, 72 percent of millennials want to increase spending on experiences. Market research by Mintel also predicts that consumer spending on vacations and dining will jump 27 percent between 2015 and 2019.

What does that mean for those whose business is to plan meetings, seminars and conferences? It translates into developing experiences that meet demand and exceed expectations.

In addition to planning experiences around popular cities and activities, industry professionals “who make an effort to engage members with experiences they cannot find anywhere else will likely find that these opportunities will resonate with all generations, not just Millennials, especially if those experiences are centered on the business of an association and its members.”

Connecting the dots

A primary focus for associations is audience growth and retention. The most effective recruitment and engagement efforts reflect the diverse interests and characteristics of members. They also identify subgroups where those needs and desires overlap and develop intra-networks to customize benefits.

Meeting professionals can harness this data by identifying patterns and tailoring programming, activities and travel to meet these specific needs. As the report states: “The days of an association being able to provide a year’s worth of value to members through one annual meeting are over. Members expect year-round interaction with their association.” Meeting planners do, too.