We’ve been tracking the increase in demand for meetings for some time, and the sector continues to chug forward with increased costs and complexity for planners.

Carlson Wagonlit Travel’s 2019 Meetings & Events Future Trends report predicts a 5 to 10 percent increase in meetings demand for 2019, with air and hotel prices rising in tandem.

In North America, for instance, the surge in meetings is expected to bring Las Vegas back into the top spot for events, according to Carlson Wagonlit Travel’s advance booking data, with cities like San Francisco seeing a drop in popularity, likely due to rising costs.

From the hotel perspective, upscale properties are seeing the most demand even as prices increase. Group size is expected to grow 14 percent in 2019.

“Very few markets in my space are not seeing [growth],” said Tony Wagner, vice president of CWT Meetings & Events for the Americas and South Pacific Region. “When you see it so broad-based as this, it continues to see company spend move up the pipeline in the type of property. Luxury and upper upscale properties are of the highest demand. That poses not necessarily challenges but considerations from a planning standpoint. Our customers have to be more flexible if that is what they want because there is more demand.”

High costs are affecting the booking window for events, as well. According to Carlson Wagonlit Travel’s data, the best time to book small group meetings is about a month ahead of time, while large groups should book 75 or more days in advance. Prices will likely increase between 5 to 10 percent outside these windows for planners.

More planners are also experimenting with event technology beyond mobile apps. They’re finally exploring ways to leverage data to improve their sales pipeline before and after events. It remains a challenge for small- and medium-sized events, though, to make the time investment necessary to select and deploy meetings management technology.

“People talked about mobile apps for a while, and now it’s commonplace, it’s an exception if you don’t have one,” said Wagner. “You’re now seeing people really start to act on this idea of events data and really leveraging to improve the experience at an event or in the lifecycle of their sales and customer acquisition process. That went from people talking about it and giving maybe one example of it to becoming a workstream of what they’re actually doing. The more data we can use to improve the content or how marketing and sales leverage that data to turn customers into revenue, the better for the industry.”

Most planners, though, aren’t buying into new attendee-facing technologies like facial recognition and virtual reality. While there are a variety of early-adopters with the funding and buy-in to experiment with new technology, others are avoiding adding this complexity to their operations.

Wagner suggests that a new breed of consultant will emerge to help planners navigate the challenges of deploying new technologies during their events. Many don’t want to take the risk of investing in a costly new technology that doesn’t really improve the event experience.

“The traditional meeting and event planner, their adoption of those types of technologies or risk-adjusted willingness to attach those items was more individual based than the type of company,” said Wagner. “You see a fair amount of frontiersmen out there and testing facial recognition… you obviously advise everyone that this is an experiment to improve the experience of the meeting. When you’re on that leading edge requires some willingness to trial-and-error. For us as a third-party or for meeting planners, you’re going to see another specialist consultant come in almost like there is an event producer today. How do you create a feedback loop for your content? It’s not going to work for every meeting.”

Photo Credit: A meeting at Affiliate Summit West 2018 in Las Vegas. Affiliate Summit / Flickr