“Next year should be about growth, not about recovery,” notes Kristi White, chief product officer at Knowland, a provider of meetings-market intelligence. She’s referring to 2023 being the year that the industry surpasses 2019 meetings volume, but the sentiment could be applied to the outlook across the board: By many measurements, the meetings sector is expected to surpass prepandemic levels next year and just keep growing.
But we’ll face some roadblocks along the way — inflation, supplier staffing challenges and the threat of recession among them. The stress level of meeting professionals is high, notes the American Express Meetings & Events 2023 global forecast — but the stress is significant because planners and suppliers are so busy, and for that reason there’s a great deal of confidence being expressed in the strength of business for the coming year. For the most part, the “cautious optimism” of the previous two years has given way to full-on optimism.
In fact, on an optimism scale of 1 to 10, 77 percent of the participants in the Amex Meetings & Events survey rated themselves an 8 or higher with respect to their outlook for the health of the industry in 2023. And more than six in 10 of the 417 planners who responded to the latest Northstar/Cvent Meetings Industry PULSE Survey were more optimistic about the outlook for meetings in September/October than they were two months prior. Only 16 percent expressed less optimism.
“There’s a tremendous understanding of the value of having in-person meetings,” says Gerardo Tejado, senior vice president of global value development and general manager of meetings and events for American Express GBT. There’s a clear emphasis on the importance of internal meetings, he adds, as companies look to restore culture and improve communication dynamics among disparate teams.
Attendance is actually exceeding prepandemic numbers among the hotel-based meetings Knowland tracks, more than 60 percent of which are corporate. But by other broad industry measures, overall attendance is lagging 2019 levels and that’s likely to continue. Fifty-five percent of respondents to the latest Northstar/Cvent PULSE Survey expect their overall attendance in 2023 to be at 90 percent or less of prepandemic numbers, with a 29 percent plurality expecting to reach between 76 and 90 percent of 2019 levels.
But optimism is again evident here, as more than two-thirds (68 percent) of participants in the Amex forecast expect their attendee numbers to reach prepandemic levels within the next one to two years. In North America and Europe, 88 percent of respondents believe attendance will bounce back in five years or less, while that percentage is even higher in Asia Pacific (97 percent) and Latin America (94 percent).
Turning Up the Volume
The number of meetings taking place climbed back to nearly 90 percent of prepandemic levels in September, according to Knowland, and based on its Meeting Recovery Forecast, overall meetings volume will surpass 2019 levels in mid-2023. A number of the top 25 markets will hit full recovery in May of next year.