Despite the return of a little welcome optimism, 2012 was a tough year for the corporate event planning industry and while I hate to say it, it looks like 2013 will bring more of the same. As much as we all prayed the economy would magically heal itself over the festive season, it looks like the continuing global malaise will mean flat budgets for another year (though some predict the turnaround is approaching, and as the year progresses we’ll begin to see larger budgets return).
In any case it’s clear to see that in the short term cost will continue to be the key consideration in the world of corporate events. The focus will continue to be on doing more with less rather than pushing the boat out with high profile, high cost events.
However, while considerations of the economy will continue to loom over the industry that doesn’t mean we’ll simply batten down the hatches and wait for better times. In fact, despite flat budgets there are exciting things to come in 2013 that may dramatically change the way we think about meetings. Here are just a few things in store for us in the coming year.
Think Local & Green
Rising costs of both flights and hotels will lead us towards a more local and regional focus for meetings, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. For one thing, a tighter geographical focus will help bring businesses closer to their local communities, reinvesting in their own towns and cities in a way that can be nicely spun as a conscious choice to support their regions. This local focus may finally allow an opening for real development in the green arena. A reduction in long distance travel will slash the carbon footprint of any meeting, and smaller audience sizes will open up a whole new range of venue choices that could include sustainable use of local green spaces. Finally, smaller conference venues and hotels may be more easily convinced to adopt green policies than larger, more traditional venues.
This green push will be part of a growing trend towards reputation management in the events industry. As businesses struggle to stay afloat in this harsh economy they’ll be looking to use any tool they can find to stay above water. A nod to the environment, even in something as small as a local event, will be valuable currency in the coming year.
Asia Will Rise
The American Express Meetings & Events Forecast for 2013 has picked a clear winner for corporate events in the coming year. Asia is predicted to see 6.4% growth in 2013, with North America flat, Central and South America down slightly but Europe down by a full 2.3%, a slowdown presumably caused by the ongoing financial turmoil in the Eurozone.
For international planners the rise of Asia as an events hub will open up a whole new region, and Asian hubs such as Beijing, Hong Kong and Bangkok will offer a cost effectiveness of venues that simply isn’t possible in the western world (especially Bangkok, one of the cheapest events locations in the ASEAN).
Social media will play a growing role
Partly due to growing costs and shrinking budgets, and partly due to the fact that we are all tethered to our smartphones, tablets and laptops, social media will continue to exert a growing influence over our events. For the budget conscious this trend is a Godsend, offering an inexpensive way to encourage interaction between attendees both before, during and after meetings (and broaden the content offered in the meetings themselves). Social media will allow us to reduce our reliance on traditional venues and free ourselves from stifling costs.
Face to face is still king
As much as the younger generation disdains what many see as an outmoded system, face to face meetings will continue to be the focus in 2013 and well into the future. Social media and other technological tools will grow in importance, but at the end of the day it will be many years before all-online events will gain strength. The current generation are ill-equipped to benefit from such events, and while the younger generation were raised in a virtual world they will have to wait until they are in the majority before the trend will turn more fully to the virtual.
However, it will be important to cater to both groups in the coming years, which means that content and collaboration must be made available in both the virtual and physical space. The continuing development of event-related apps, social networking and event-based virtual games will help planners stay on top of the drive to greater involvement of technology.
2013: a year for innovators
In short, 2013 will be a year of challenges. The ongoing pressure to cut costs and offer an attractive ROI will mean that corporate event planners will be expected to make their dollars stretch to the moon and back. Lead times will continue to be all too short and budgets will continue to be far too small, but for those with the imagination to think outside the box the coming year will offer plenty of opportunities to shine.
The future is uncertain, but if one thing’s for sure it’s that the winners in 2013 will be the innovators.