Tuesday, December 11, 2012

2013 Continues Trend To Local Meetings

Each year American Express conducts a survey of meeting planners and hotel and facility executives across the globe to try and detect trends related to this segment which represents a little less than one in every ten visitors or one in a thousand if a community is still obsessed only with conventions.

In a respite for communities that still haven’t diversified into pursuing much larger segments of visitors who travel for leisure is that in North America, those surveyed think the number of meetings and attendees and the number of days per meeting will remain flat next year.

This will be taken as a positive for a segment that has been in overall decline for nearly a quarter of a century or more and is predicted to continue that slide over the long term.

A slowing of trends such as less spending per meeting and an ever-shorter lead time between when site selection begins and a meeting occurs are further signs that the economy is rebounding.  Further indication is that group rates charged by hotels are expected to jump by more then 4% and airfares for groups will jump as well.AMEX 2013 Meetings Forecast

However, group demand for hotel rooms will be down for every type of property except mid-tier and the demand for non-traditional meeting facilities will continue to increase, so the rate increases are due to competition for guest rooms by other segments of visitors.

Face-to-face meetings are in decline but not in danger of extinction.  However, according to the report, they are becoming more hybridized with the virtual.  Even face-to-face events are now challenged by the fact that more than half of attendees are bringing three to four devices with them.

It isn’t only advertising that more and more people are tuning out.

Of even more significance to communities is that the trend to more “local meetings,” especially in North America, continues.  This means meetings of all types are rotating less to other states and regions or across the country.  This has led many places and facilities to struggle to justify why planners should select sites even 60-90 miles from where they are based.

This is why it is even more critical that community-destinations, as well as states, begin to track and market to day-trip visitors as well as meeting attendees, something forward-thinking destinations such as Durham, North Carolina, did in the late 1990s.

The proportion of attendees who commute to meetings has long-ago eclipsed overnight stays and unless given good reason to stay or return the next day, these delegates are easily lured back to their office instead.

The big winners in terms of venues, whenever a community does land a meeting, continue to be non-traditional sites such as restaurants, museums, galleries, theaters, nature facilities and universities.  The percentage of meetings shifting to these alternatives from traditional venues such as hotels  and convention centers, continues to grow.

Convention hotels and convention centers are fighting over a rapidly shrinking “piece of the pie” when it comes to meetings, leading many destinations strapped with mega-facilities to cannibalistic tendencies such as offering subsidies to lure meetings far in excess of their potential value to a community overall.

Masking long-term trends, the tendency of planners now to seek community venues closer to home and with less lead time will give many places a false sense of security by making it seem that demand is growing.  The fact that 90% of planners plan to hold meetings closer to home will give the illusion to some communities that there are actually more meetings being held.

This is one reason it is crucial for savvy communities to insist on “full-accounting” models related to meeting and other cultural facilities, rather than further enabling the charade by some administrators and elected officials of relying only on operating expenses.

For community-destination marketing organizations it is more imperative than ever not just to carefully measure each segment in isolation, but to net out lost-opportunities potential in overall benefits to their communities when high-growth segments are bypassed in order to obsess over segments in decline.

The need for this type of strategic thinking and full-accounting became apparent fifteen years ago and today it is imperative.

Communities which are still obsessed with and/or co-opted by internal politics and “economic rent-seeking” special interests and find themselves trapped in a facility-driven over-focus on visitors attending meetings probably can’t be bothered to read, digest and adjust to reports such as this.

However, those that do will join a growing number who have found much greater prosperity for their communities, while achieving and maintaining fair market share of meetings, by strategically juggling visitor segments with the greatest overall yield and long-term potential regardless of whether they involve day-trips vs. overnights or meetings vs. leisure.

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