Hot take: “Meetings space could prove hard to find short‐term”

Ian Flint, managing director of corporate travel consultancy Inform Logistics, reveals what meetings will look like in the next three years, what this means for event planners – and what the effect will be on procurement. 

What will meetings look like in the next 12‐36 months?

Ian Flint

Ian Flint

Barring any unexpected Covid developments and government mandates, businesses are starting to shape their meetings plans for the future rather than mundanely continuing policies of the present. The next normal is going to be different and will take some time to take shape. Events will appear very different in the short‐term and it is not unreasonable to expect more cutting‐edge virtual participation choices, and smaller domestic in‐person meetings complementing larger events as part of a two to three year strategic plan.

During a discussion with two company directors, they made it clear that for them, importance will be placed on attendance justification and the return on investment from organising a meeting. This will also shape the future of meeting planning objectives within some companies and determine how meeting practices will achieve quantifiable business objectives.

2021 is the year of transition as governments try and accomplish a high level of vaccination and outline their plans to relax travel and event restrictions. The return of in‐person events to former levels will not happen overnight, though most meeting and event planners I know are optimistic that the booking of in‐person events will increase in the last quarter of 2021 and first quarter of 2022 with the number of small and large meetings reaching comparable pre‐pandemic levels by 2023/24.

If I take present indicators, then meetings in the next 12‐36 months will look a mixture of virtual, hybrid and small in‐person events to begin with, increasing to large scale meetings over the next two years as confidence grows.

What does this mean for meetings managers?
Meetings managers have to juggle knowledge skills to maintain a comprehensive meetings programme. In real terms, this means that there is a need to understand existing meetings technology and apply new technologies for the successful deployment and management of meetings. This includes attaining and evaluating meetings data to monitor and improve meetings and their effectiveness.

Many meetings managers I know are concerned about budget restrictions imposed by their companies in the face of possible transportation difficulties; hotel conference room and accommodation availability and staffing problems; and security/COVID safety requirements. All carry their own cost implications and risks. There are ways round this through strategic and dynamic negotiation, and those with a higher requirement for large meetings such as healthcare, pharmaceutical, IT and finance companies etc. are finding their way round these problems with the help of meeting specialists and technology.

Most however are positive about the future of meetings and their success and are looking forward to the challenges of the future and when there is a return to some normality.

What does it mean in a procurement capacity?
As demand strengthens, meetings space could prove hard to find if one is thinking short‐term. In addition, some companies that have a greater demand for meetings have either kept their long‐term bookings for 2022/23 or postponed their meetings and are now wishing to reinstate their bookings for a later date. This will create its own tensions and affect availability.

Because meetings requests for the booking and rebooking of meetings are accelerating, it is important for businesses to have a clear short‐, medium‐ and long‐term plan to ensure a successful meetings strategy that falls within an acceptable budget.

Ian Flint is chairing a masterclass session at Business Travel Show Europe (30 Sept ‐1 Oct, ExCeL, London) called Navigating the new normal for meetings procurement on Friday 1 October at 11:20am.

Business Travel Show Europe takes place 30 September to 1 October at ExCeL London (and on Swapcard with complementary virtual content and networking) alongside The Meetings Show. Registration is free for both events.

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