2016 has been a year full of events. From the outbreak of Zika virus to the threat of terrorism, to Brexit and U.S election. All has left their mark on all aspects of daily life and business, not least for the meeting & business travel industry. Let's take a look back at what were some bigger topics of the meeting industry in 2016.
Europe is still the place to go
According to the IBTM Trend Watch Report 2016, Europe accounted for 13 of 20 most visited countries, and 15 out of 20 most popular cities for association conferences in 2016. The report also shows Berlin, Paris, Barcelona, Vienna, London, and Madrid were among the most popular destinations for international association conferences. The reason for the uprising demand for meetings in Europe is the increase of budget properties and the willingness to offer tempting rate promotions from European hotels.
On the planner side, 2016 remarked the development of "kick-off meetings"- the meetings held at the beginning of the financial year to inspire employees - as noted in the Advito Industry Report. Thanks to the economic stability within the Eurozone, companies were more willing to organise business travels, while at the same time maintain the budget by introducing more lower-priced hotel options, shorter travel routes, and combining multiple meetings into single events.
According to MeetingPackage.com Report, small companies with less than 50 employees organised 12 to 40 meetings a year in average in 2016. Meanwhile, larger companies with 50- 200 employees tended to hold fewer meetings, around 10 per year.
Outside of Europe, USA was the most attractive country for meetings, events and association conferences, with 925 meetings recorded in 2016 by IBTM. The IBTM report also noted the emergence of Asia market, with both demand and supply grow steadily. To be more precise, demand for meetings has been increasing fast in China, Thailand, and Vietnam.
The rising of lower-tier meeting facilities
2016 word of the Year in meetings & association conferences is "budget". Incentive spending in 2016 has still been recovering from the financial hit in 2008, recorded at 3,165 USD per person, with 2.69 percent increase from 2015, based on the Meetingsnet/IRF survey. Also noted in the survey, companies are extremely careful with how much they spend. As a result, travel buyers are finding out that corporate hotels are reluctant to negotiate discounts. Furthermore, Hotels are becoming stricter and more willing to discuss terms of cancellation or in food & beverages.
While rates have slightly increased in Europe, there was a boom in budget properties throughout the globe. In Europe, Accor Hotels has expanded its "budget awareness" brands with Ibis. In Asia, China has been experiencing a boom in lower-tier hotel openings, with domestic chains Huazhu Hotel Group, Jin Jiang Inn and Home Inn leading the way. These chains take emphasis on reasonable prices and reliable standards which make them corporate-friendly. Moreover, Independent hotels are becoming easier to book and manage as TMCs integrate content from non-GDS sources and offer it to their clients.
For meeting planners, our report noticed that the primary sources of information about meeting room availability & prices were mainly from the Search Engines (24.6%) or Venue's own website (21.8%). Interestingly, most of the planners (83.8 percent against 16.2 percent) seemed more willingly to buy a bespoke meeting package than send separate enquiries to venues. However, one notion is that searching information for your next meeting is still very heterogenic in terms of communcation channels. There are no big "go-to" brands from where customer would start searching information like in other verticals of travel sector (e.g. TripAdvisor, Booking.com, AirBnB, etc.).
Hotel rates are increasing
Thanks to the growing demand of European venues, hotel rates in 2016 have been steadily rising in most cities, especially great strongholds such as London, Amsterdam, Zurich, Geneva, and Germany's largest cities. We also noticed from the reports that despite the direct effect by terrorism, rates and demands for corporate clients in those destinations have not necessarily fallen but aspects related to security and compliance have quite naturally created traction. According to IBTM World Trend Report, Paris was the second most favourite city for association conferences in the world, with 186 meetings taking place, only behind Berlin with 195 meetings. As a result, hotels in Paris preferred to offer rate promotions for corporate clients than reduce the rates. However, demand for "safe" hotels is high, and, if anything, their rates have gone up.
Even though with the new openings, the supply of hotels in Europe has found it difficult to keep pace with the rising demand, especially for larger events. Clients have found many times their bookings falling short due to the lack of spaces. Limited availability means venues are pressuring clients to confirm booking quickly and they even offered stimulus such as better terms and conditions, plus other extra incentives.
Bright picture for Association Conferences
According to AIPC (International Association of Convention Centres), 2016 has been a prosperous year for association conferences and meetings and association conventions with exhibits; each accounts for 64% of all meeting segments. In regions like Asia or North America, Association conventions take account for 92 percent and 75 percent respectively.
Related to increased competition in the supply chain, AIPC report also remarked that hoteliers were willing to bring on more investment in technology, change their marketing approach, and work closely with DMO & CVBs to respond to increased competition. In 2016, more than 38 percent of AIPC stated that they had increased the level of incentive and subvention activities.
2016 has been the year in which the bar for security has been raised exceptionally high. Terrorist attacks in main European cities such as Paris, Brussels, or Berlin, and in Turkey have caused concerns for meeting bookers. In France, the leisure market has gotten a bigger hit than business travel. In Istanbul, due to the uncertainty of the political stance, average rates dropped 16 percent.
On the flip side, venues now understand the need to develop crisis management for meetings. 52% of AIPC members answered that they noticed the need to enforce safety and security in and out of the meeting spaces. Those enforcements include close cooperation with police and fire departments, invest in CCTV and surveillance, stricter event restrictions and more on-site security.
On the political landscape, this year has remarked some significant changes on the way businesses operate domestically and globally. In a year of so many changes, we take the term "Brexit" as an emblem for the immediate effects of those changes on the meeting industry. According to Advito, the UK decision to leave the European Union added major uncertainty to the European outlook in the second half of 2016. Business and consumer confidence took a dive, the U.K pound depreciated and settled at 10% lower than the Euro. The future outlook, however, doesn't look too grim. Before the referendum, the U.K was leading European growth in demand for meetings. After the vote, U.K companies may even be more inclined to hold meetings in the U.K, rather than travel to Europe. Also, experts predicted that currency weakness would make the U.K more attractive options for European meeting planners, and there have been slight signals in terms of increased off-shore bookings to UK.
In the long term, it is less certain of what are the consequences of the Leave vote for meeting buyers. For example, a U.K out of the Common Market will lead to more taxes and foreign VAT for U.K companies in other EU countries and vice versa. This will remain to be seen.
2016 has been a successful year for the meeting industry, especially when it is still in recovery to the pre-2008 state. Revenue growth has been accelerating overall worldwide; the economic confidence is high, with emerging Asia has shown robust growth. On the other hand, with the political uncertainty and terrorist threat, business will try to hold the cost down and choose local destinations over abroad.
- IBTM Trend Watch Report 2016, Dr Rob Davidson. IBTM World 2016
- 2017 Industry Forcast, Advito. Advito 2016.
- 2016 MeetingsNet IRF Annual Incentive Travel Survey, Incentive Research Foundation. MeetingsNet/IRF 2016.
- 2016 Member Survey: Diversification & Adaptation, AIPC. AIPC 2016
- MeetingPackage.com Customer Survey. MeetingPackage.com 2016.