Report: Meeting Planners Anticipate Attendance Increase

The Future Partners report also found that planners remain concerned about inflation and a challenging political climate. 

Meeting planners are troubled by escalating costs but remain optimistic about growing attendance in the coming years, according to a new survey.

The seventh annual State of the Meetings & Convention Industry report, published last week by research firm Future Partners in collaboration with marketing firms Miles Partnership and Digital Edge, found that meeting planners are concerned about escalating costs around line items like food and beverage (F&B), but also feel they have little leverage when it comes to drawing up contracts: Approximately 25 percent of planners surveyed said they feel their ability to negotiate with hotels will decline. 

Planners are also pessimistic about venues’ capacity to improve service: 17 percent of planners said they expect it to decrease in the next three years. 

64 percent of planners say they expect attendance to increase at their live events in the next three years.

“We got a lot of comments around F&B in the survey,” said Future Partners president and CEO Erin Francis-Cummings. “Part of the underlying anxiety is not just cost and the effect of inflation, but also service levels. They’re concerned that they’re paying so much and then not getting the type of service they expect.”

Despite that challenge, meeting planners are generally upbeat about attendance. Approximately 64 percent of planners say they expect attendance to increase at their live events in the next three years—a 16 percent increase over last year’s survey. 

Francis-Cummings attributes that response to broader data showing more general consumer interest in travel spending. But she notes that the optimism also reflects the fact that younger generations are showing more interest in meetings. 

“There are a lot more millennials and Gen Z going to conferences now,” she said. “Meeting planners need to cater to groups that are different from attendees of the past and the Baby Boomer generation. But millennials and gen Zs are very digital generations—they might think it’s odd that there wasn’t a hybrid meeting option.”

The study also found that concerns around exclusionary legislation and sustainable practices continue to drive decision-making around site selection. Sixty-four percent of respondents said they agreed that “a destination must align with our members’ values in order to host our meetings/events.” Among the top values cited by respondents were diversity in attendees and speakers (60 percent), green practice certifications (56 percent), and social responsibility initiatives (52 percent).

That focus has prompted more meeting planners to research and gain a better understanding of their members and attendees, Francis-Cummings said. And it’s also prompted CVBs and venue leaders to demonstrate how they will support the values of groups traveling into their city.

“[Meeting planners] need the destination to show that they’re welcoming,” she said, adding that many venues are eager to demonstrate that their particular city may be more welcoming than state legislation might show. “In big, diverse states like California, Texas, and and Florida, the local politics can be very different from state politics, and CVBs are looking to communicate and explain that to meeting planners.”

The Future Partners survey is based on responses from 479 meeting and event planners in the United States, conducted in December 2023 and January 2024.

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