Each year, thousands of meeting and business travel professionals head to the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) annual conference to unveil new products, participate in education sessions and discuss the industry’s latest trends. This year’s event, which took place July 16–20 at Colorado Convention Center in Denver, reinforced the value of meetings and events and the continued opportunities they present for companies worldwide.

Here are several key takeaways and emerging themes meeting professionals should know when planning future meetings and events.

Leveraging Meetings Expertise is Essential

Understanding meetings and events spend continues to be a key challenge for companies worldwide. Many organizations are striving to achieve a deeper understanding of this spend to activate investments and ensure full alignment with overall business strategies. Meetings professionals can play a highly strategic role within their own organizations in leveraging their expertise and guiding their clients (whether internal or external) during this process. With great discipline, a strong focus on achieving value and a commitment to transparency, meetings professionals are able to design programs that achieve their company’s strategy and drive decision-making through comprehensive research and meaningful insights.

Integration, Integration, Integration

Meetings and events make up a category of spend that is closely tied to business travel. Today, there are a number of solutions and initiatives that focus on creating more integration between meetings event data, meetings expense data and travel data. While it is unlikely that travel and meetings data will fully converge, there is significant benefit and value for buyers and suppliers to understand the relationship and dynamics of shared resources, whether it is hotels, air or ground transportation.

Small Meetings Offer Big Opportunities

Companies today utilize a variety of solutions and business processes to make small meetings more efficient, however, new methods are emerging to achieve greater efficiency. A number of technology and service providers are innovating in this space, working to provide smarter processes, better access to content, and an overall better experience for small meetings. It will be important for meeting professionals to understand the capabilities and solutions that exist today, and be proactive in testing the feasibility of these solutions within their own meetings program and meetings portfolio.

Appetite for Investment

Across the meetings and events industry, there is a growing awareness and strong appetite for new opportunities that foster innovation and generate greater returns on investment. While we have seen some improvement in the ecosystem among buyers and suppliers over the last five years, more opportunities lie ahead to enable direct access to more content. Organizations are now seeing the benefit of consolidating their meetings and events programs across business units, geographies and business functions. As their visibility of this spend increases, their ability to direct this spend to their preferred suppliers will benefit market leaders and innovators in our industry.

Global Events Take Center Stage

As meetings and events continue to connect business professionals around the world, global events will have a profound impact on our industry and travel more broadly in the future. Today’s world is highly unpredictable. As a result, duty of care remains a priority for companies, no matter where they are located. Meetings professionals must continue to keep this top of mind as they develop their programs and look to create peace of mind for attendees.

It’s an exciting time for the meetings and events industry. With innovation paving the way, business leaders leveraging the fill power of meetings and events to drive business outcomes, and meetings owners leaning on experts to guide their programs, the future is brightly filled with new opportunities to achieve continued success.

Issa Jouaneh is senior vice president and general manager of ‎American Express Meetings & Events.