2022 State of the Industry

By Henry Fitzgerald

FLORIDA, December 16, 2021 (themeetingmagazines.com)


Kevin Brewer, Principal, LEO Events, and Michael Dalton, SVP, Strategy, LEO Events


Many meetings and events industry experts were optimistic that 2021 would see things improve quickly after a dismal 2020 caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. As the vaccine rollout started in earnest early in 2021, those feelings were amplified. But the pandemic lingered and the recovery stalled, in part because of the Delta variant and unexpected supply-chain issues pushing back many of those recovery projections.


So where do we go from here? Industry leaders remain hopeful, saying a strong rebound is just around the corner. We asked several of these leaders for their thoughts on how the industry can continue to recover in 2022.


Kevin Brewer, Principal, LEO Events, and Michael Dalton, SVP, Strategy, LEO Events


Q: As the U.S. eases out of the COVID-19 pandemic, how does the meetings and events industry rebound?


MD: Oh, the industry is rebounding — has rebounded. Now, the challenge is how to meet demand while successfully navigating current conditions. The pandemic occasioned what will be lasting change in how we produce meetings and events — and in the expectations of our attendees, clients, vendor-partners, employees and contractors.


Q: What challenges will corporate meeting planners face in 2022?


KB: Everyone is seeing the same demand and asking, “How do I fulfill that demand and still provide quality service?” Crew members have always been vital to the success of any event, and current labor shortages provide a powerful reminder of that fact. Producers and planners are now paying more for labor, which is, in turn, increasing costs considerably.


Q: Is the nationwide supply shortage something that is affecting LEO Events? Your clients?


KB: Supply issues are temporary and will resolve, and the resolution of that is in sight. The labor issues will continue to be challenging for some time and may be our biggest obstacle, but the opportunities that come from a changing industry are everlasting. To continue to grow, we’ve got to investigate innovative ways to cope with supply chain and labor issues.


Q: What were your initial thoughts about how long the industry would be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?


MD: We never doubted that people’s need to gather, connect and communicate would only grow stronger as the pandemic surged. The question was how, when and where. The pandemic very quickly became impossible to predict, and we all hoped to be clear of it by now.


KB: The desire and the need to meet face-to-face, while affected by the pandemic, never changed, and it will always be there. While our core competencies are still the same, the company we were in the first quarter of 2020 compared to the company we are today has changed in many ways. Our overall offerings have grown tremendously through innovation and the creation of opportunity. We’ve changed how we do things and how we look at things, and it’s not all bad. In fact, we needed to look at how we did things — it’s been a necessary reset in many ways.


Q: What is the biggest hurdle other than the pandemic facing the industry right now?


MD: Ongoing uncertainty about whether to produce a live event — and if so, to what degree — creates a domino effect that knocks down all our conventional methods of planning and production. The decisions that need to be made are taking longer to make, and that eats away at our lead time — which had already been getting shorter and shorter, pre-pandemic. Everybody is under new pressure affecting timelines, costs, staffing and, ultimately, the quality of the experience. We know people are going to be more selective about the events they attend, and they’re going to be more contemplative about why they are making that effort. Up until now, our industry’s focus has been on the ability to produce any event at all. But as the threat of COVID wanes and the remaining challenges are related to the “how” rather than the “if” — the job will once again be to produce the best event.


Q: How are 2022 meeting budgets different from 2021? 2020?


KB: Economists don’t expect supply chain pressures to ease significantly until [well into] 2022 or even 2023. The pent-up demand and lost revenue of 2020 are continually increasing the price of live events. We’re finding that production costs have increased 30% to 40% compared to pre-pandemic events, and health and safety measures can now account for 10% to 15% of a total production budget. Deposits are higher, transportation is more difficult to obtain, and supplier response times are double what they were in 2019.


Q: Did LEO Events host a meeting or event in 2020 or 2021?


MD: We did. When the lockdown and cancellations hit in the spring of 2020, we took that time to refocus our strategy, staffing and services. We’re proud to say we have continually executed live, hybrid and virtual events for both long-standing and new clients. In 2020 and 2021, we have produced hundreds of virtual events. And now we’re producing a full slate of live, virtual and hybrid events. For nearly 20 years, we have produced AutoZone’s National Sales Meeting — and we continued that with great success this year. In September, 1,500 in-person attendees and 1,500 virtual attendees gathered for a week of education, recognition and networking in Memphis, Tennessee. We are also proud to have produced the 43rd Ryder Cup Opening Ceremony at Whistling Straits for a globally televised audience.


Q: What encouraging signs or trends do you see ahead for the meetings industry?


MD: While budgets, supply chain and staffing are the biggest pressure points at the moment, corporations and brands are listening and responding to consumers who, increasingly, expect focus and action on important social and environmental issues. That, in turn, shapes how meetings and events are planned and produced — not only on the supplier side, but also in agendas, content and experience.


KB: Diversity, equality, inclusivity and sustainability will continue to be major focal points for corporate events in 2022 — and many would agree that focus, and meaningful action, is long overdue. We’re beginning to see a shift in communication from Supplier Diversity Managers who are reaching out to certified women or diverse-owned businesses, like LEO Events, for event and production services. This helps create a relationship-based approach to the procurement process and is a huge step in the right direction for companies looking to build more meaningful and diverse supplier connections.




Roger Dow, President and CEO, U.S. Travel Association

Roger Dow, President & CEO, U.S. Travel Association


Q: As the U.S. eases out of the COVID-19 pandemic, how does the meetings and events industry rebound?


A: Business travel is not expected to fully recover until 2024, but we are hopeful and working to accelerate that timeline. First, travel leaders must set an example and lead the charge back to hosting in-person meetings and events. The Let’s Meet There coalition has been working to communicate the safety and value of holding in-person meetings again. U.S. Travel is also advocating for Congress to provide temporary tax incentives to help spur demand, such as tax credits to venues, event organizers and small businesses to help cover the cost of running an in-person event, as well as temporary deductions of entertainment business expenses.


Q: What challenges will corporate meeting planners face in 2022?


A: One obstacle is that budgets for corporate travel have changed, and with it, a shift in the number of business travelers taking to the roads and skies for professional travel. It will take some time to build back up to pre-pandemic levels, though a clear relationship exists between personally connecting with clients and colleagues and overall business success.


Q: What were your initial thoughts about how long the industry would be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?


A: In March 2020, we never could have imagined that COVID would shut down the world for as long as it did. The reality is that we must now find a way to manage it for the long term. Our hope is that, in the months and years ahead, we continue to effectively contain the virus and continue the safe resumption of all segments of travel.


Q: What is the biggest hurdle other than the pandemic facing the industry right now?


A: One of the biggest challenges we are facing is the visa processing backlog for international visitors. Of the top 20 countries for inbound travel to the U.S., only five countries have all U.S. embassies or consulates fully open for visa processing, according to analysis by U.S. Travel. On average, countries that are not a part of the Visa Waiver Program currently face unacceptably long wait times in excess of 14 months for a visitor visa appointment. This makes it exceedingly difficult for visitors to plan for business or leisure travel to the United States. Additionally, officials must also ensure frontline Customs and Border Protection and Transportation Security Administration officers have necessary resources to safely process an increasing number of arrivals.


Q: How are 2022 meeting budgets different from 2021? 2020?


A: Generally, meeting budgets should increase as our industry and the overall economy continues to recover. This should be a priority for businesses. Those who host and attend in-person professional meetings and events gain a significant competitive advantage over those who remain virtual or forgo business travel altogether.


Q: Did U.S. Travel host a meeting or event in 2020 or 2021?


A: U.S. Travel held a number of in-person meetings [in 2021] that adhered to stringent health and safety guidance. We hosted more than 2,600 attendees from 52 countries in Las Vegas in September for the 52nd annual IPW — the travel industry’s premier international marketplace and the largest generator of travel to the United States. IPW was the first international, large-scale travel meeting to convene live in the United States since the start of the pandemic. It took a great deal of coordination to pull off an international trade show amid travel restrictions, but it was such an important step in reuniting the world. We also held our spring board meeting in-person in Tampa, our summer board meeting in Colorado Springs, our ESTO conference in Los Angeles in August and the first-ever Future of Travel Mobility summit in Washington, D.C., in October. Our fall board meeting just wrapped in Washington, D.C.


Q: What encouraging signs or trends do you see ahead for the meetings industry?


A: We are seeing more and more businesses hosting in-person meeting and events. IMEX America 2021 just hosted more than 4,000 meeting professionals in Las Vegas, an encouraging sign that the global business events community is ready to get back to in-person gatherings.




Joe Fijol, DMCP, Principal, ETHOS Event Collective

Joe Fijol, DMCP, Principal ETHOS Event Collective


Q: As the U.S. eases out of the COVID-19 pandemic, how does the meetings and events industry rebound?


A: Continuing to rethink how we plan and operate programs to ensure safety and return on investment for company and community. As we experience shortages post-COVID, we’re realizing how important it is to weigh how our activity supports the people and places that make what we do possible.


Q: What challenges will corporate meeting planners face in 2022?


A: Not unlike most industries, availability and rate increases will be an issue. We’re seeing a surge in booking for 2022, particularly in first-tier cities like Orlando and Miami. Planners will need to consider other markets like North Florida or suburban areas outside these cities to find space and manage cost increases.


Q: Is the nationwide supply shortage something that is affecting ETHOS Event Collective? Your clients?


A: Yes, particularly in areas like décor, transportation and staffing. It has increased both costs and planning time, so much so that we’ve had to rework some of our planning and operations processes.


Q: What were your initial thoughts about how long the industry would be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?


A: I think most felt we’d be “back to normal” going into 2022. What we’re realizing today is things like destination selection and availability will be impacted long term. While international travel is returning, demand and cost in the U.S. continues to be high — resulting in planners considering markets like Savannah and Memphis, or areas within a short drive of major markets.


Q: What is the biggest hurdle other than the pandemic facing the industry right now?


A: Labor shortages and cancellations continue to be a problem and result in more time being required to plan and operate programs. Shorter planning cycles have also added to the challenges for hotels and service providers ensure availability of space, services and staffing.


Q: How are 2022 meeting budgets different from 2021? 2020?


A: Although the industry has experienced an overall increase in costs, we’ve seen budgets largely remain the same — leaving planners challenged to do more with less. As a result, we’ve worked to help clients connect return on investment to meetings and events activity to protect budgets and prove value.


Q: Did ETHOS Event Collective host a meeting or event in 2020 or 2021?


A: We hosted virtual, hybrid and in-person events in 2020 and 2021. Although technology can enhance and improve efficiency in certain areas, it was clear that it can’t replicate the energy and impact of being in-person. As this year progressed, we saw a shift away from virtual/hybrid to in-person, resulting in improved attendee satisfaction and engagement.


Q: What encouraging signs or trends do you see ahead for the meetings industry?


A: With large groups proving you can meet safely in-person and vaccination rates continuing to increase, it points to a better year ahead. It is also encouraging that industry groups like IMEX, FICP and IRF are meeting in-person this year.




Michelle J. Heller, HMCC, Senior VP, Strategic Meeting Management, McVeigh Global Meetings and Events


Michelle Heller, CMM, HMCC SVP, Strategic Meeting Management, McVeigh Global Meetings & Events (MGME)


Q: As the U.S. eases out of the COVID-19 pandemic, how does the meetings and events industry rebound?


A: With the most recent IMEX & GBTA conferences held in a live format, the industry has clearly, albeit slowly, begun to rebound. Beginning in early fall, client requests for hotel sourcing for 2022 and beyond have come in strongly, and contracts are being signed. At MGME, all furloughed employees have been back to work for some time. We are now actively hiring new employees in all business units within Meeting Planning, Creative Services, Production, Virtual and Shared Services to continue our growth in 2022. One of the most important tasks we have as a supplier is to invest in our staff and their training now; we must be prepared for when the industry rebounds. For continued growth, we remain dependent on our corporate clients’ meeting and travel policies and approval of live events while partnering together to ensure all events are executed within proper health and safety guidelines.


Q: What challenges will corporate meeting planners face in 2022?


A: Supplier service levels and costs [are a challenge]. Due to the reduction in workforce and the loss of revenue, we find that many suppliers are not fully staffed. We have seen significant shortages of staffing levels at hotels and various suppliers. The cycle time for obtaining proposals, pricing and even standard responses has increased significantly, making the event planner’s job more difficult. Communications seem to require more follow up, and project time during pre-planning execution has increased. With these staffing changes, lack of resources and inflation, pricing has increased across the board.


Q: Is the nationwide supply shortage something that is affecting McVeigh Global Meetings & Events? Your clients?


A: Absolutely, yes! We designed and curated a unique gifting experience for an upcoming Senior Leadership Meeting. The amount of time and resources we applied to execute this portion of the event was twice the standard. At almost every corner we turned, vendors advised that the quantity or color of the item selected was unavailable, shipping was delayed and more product would not be developed in time due to lack of resources. This situation is certainly different from what we were accustomed to in the past as event planners — especially working in the New York region and a society where it is often a 24/7 culture in which anything could be accomplished at a moment’s notice. Planners will certainly need to allow more time in project plans to account for this change and ensure clients stay on track with the timelines established during the planning process.


Q: What were your initial thoughts about how long the industry would be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?


A: Originally, we forecasted the 3rd quarter [of 2021] to slightly rebound and the 4th quarter [of 2021] to be near pre-pandemic levels. But, as soon as the Delta variant took hold, we realized that we were not there yet, and the industry would continue down a bumpy road for the remainder of the year. We are forecasting 2022 to be strong and certainly a surge from 2021, with a full recovery expected in late 2023, when spending will return to pre-pandemic levels on par with 2019.


Q: What is the biggest hurdle other than the pandemic facing the industry right now?


A: Resources and staffing will continue to be a hurdle for all suppliers. Global price increases across all segments of air, ground and hotels might not be in line with corporate budgets. Eventually, increase in demands and capacity/hotel availability issues will cause constraints.

Q: How are 2022 meeting budgets different from 2021? 2020?


A: 2022 budgets have a definite year-over-year increase from 2021 and 2020. In 2020, many meeting and travel budgets were frozen while our corporate clients worked to understand the pandemic and its impact. In 2021, we were delighted to see an increase in spending for existing clients, and had the magnificent opportunity to onboard several new clients. But still, clients reserved 2021 business and budget parameters for only their “must have” meetings and events. However, for 2022, we are seeing budgets increase, and the type of events approved and assigned to MGME increase to not only “must have” events, but ancillary events as well.


Q: Did McVeigh Global Meetings & Events host a meeting or event in 2020 or 2021?


A: In 2021, we had the opportunity to plan hundreds of events for our clients in all business sectors from Corporate, Life Science and Association — delivered in live, hybrid and virtual environments. In the live environment, our programs went off without a hitch. We certainly engaged additional resources for pre-meeting COVID-19 testing kits, on-site testing areas, as well as departure time PCR tests when required for international travelers. In the global space with regional travel restrictions, we remained on our toes and pivoted to virtual for some attendees when required. We managed hybrid and virtual events in a variety of excellent platforms ranging in complexity from simple one-off programs and annual Life Science sales rep training programs to complex full global product launches in custom 3D virtual environments. 2021 was certainly a year to work strategically on each event and required additional resources, along with a defined duty-of-care program to ensure the health and safety of our attendees. We are proud to say all our events were a success.


Q: What encouraging signs or trends do you see ahead for the meetings industry?


A: We have seen our clients agree that face-to-face meetings have a need, and their level of importance has been acknowledged. After 1-1/2 years of virtual meetings, many of our clients are eager to get back to live meetings in 2022, albeit with a bit more caution and planning. For certain meeting types, virtual meetings and events are here to stay as a mechanism for cost savings, but we are happy to see that clients believe that live meetings are imperative for building relationships and developing human connections.




Renee Radabaugh, CMP, President & CEO, Paragon Events Inc.

Renee Radabaugh, CMP President & CEO, Paragon Events Inc.


Q: As the U.S. eases out of the COVID 19 pandemic, how does the meetings and events industry rebound?


A: This is interesting, especially as we sit here watching another variant come through — it’s almost like Groundhog Day. What we saw in the middle/end of Q3 [of 2021] was immense excitement to get back to live, and it almost felt like a weight had been lifted. We started booking incentives and seeing corporate meetings come into play. We were seeing fewer attendees, but the quality of the conference and the goals and objectives people were setting were much richer from an experiential perspective. I believe that’s because they know they need to feed the senses beyond the audio and the visual. We have to create events that will leave a lasting impact and make people feel comfortable with in-person experiences.


Q: What challenges will corporate meeting planners face in 2022?


A: Those who didn’t have the experience of virtual are going to have a very large gap when it comes to the needs of hybrid meetings. We need to continue evaluating how we’re speaking to the audience and engaging them. We also need to prepare for the different learning styles of attendees, because there are people who won’t come back to live events as quickly as we would like, which is going to be impacted by budgets, comfort levels and any of these potential variants.


Q: Is the nationwide supply shortage something that is affecting Paragon Events Inc.?


A: The supply shortage absolutely is affecting us because we’re seeing costs related to food/beverage and transportation rise, and there’s an overall lack of availability for products. As you look at promotional products and even printing, you have to really think ahead because the supply chain may not have the inventory in place. We’ve found the order cycle is anywhere from three to 10 weeks longer than what you would’ve had previously to get your branded products in.


Q: What were your initial thoughts about how long the industry would be affected by the COVID 19 pandemic?


A: At the very beginning, back in February 2020, we decided to retain all of our staff and quickly pivot. We were saying things like, “How long can this last? Maybe three months? Five months?” Then at the six-to-nine-month timeframe, we realized this was likely going to extend throughout 2020. We continued on our virtual journey and experienced some stop/starts for a few fairly aggressive clients who wanted to look at 2021 for live. We went through all these cycles of rebooking, cancellations and extending our contracts. We were looking at ways to take a contract that was due to execute in the fall of 2020, then pushing it to 2024 because the client had 2021-2023 in the queue already. It was a lot of forecasting without having any historical data to follow. So, the short of it is, if you had asked me in 2020, I would have said it would last maybe six months. Right now, we’re all experiencing the “new normal” and I don’t even think we know what exactly that is yet.


Q: What is the biggest hurdle other than the pandemic facing the industry right now?


A: I believe the biggest hurdle is helping people understand the true cost of meeting production. Beyond the general expenses of hotel rooms, food and beverage, travel and the supply chain shortage, the real cost of meetings and events is the human element of it. You know, as you educate your team members, and you become more elevated in your core skills, the cost of an event goes up. Your most expensive assets are the brains and the hands that go into producing a high caliber, data driven, successful event. The marketing and communication side of it is extremely important and relevant right now. People don’t always think about the messaging in the beginning — they bolt the marketing and messaging on after they’ve decided to do the event, when it should be part of the turnkey plan.


Q: How are 2022 meeting budgets different from 2021?


A: I think there was a big surprise in 2021 due to the cost of virtual platforms and technology. They also came with the curve of re-educating the consumer to understand that it wasn’t just a WebEx or a Zoom meeting, and that virtual programs needed to be elevated in order to create rich experiences. Along with the sticker shock from platforms, there was also a factor of the amount of labor it takes to produce a virtual meeting. Where we could execute a live event with 500 people and maybe five staff members, it took up to 15 staff members to assist with a virtual event of 500 people. 2022 budgets will likely follow a similar pattern of sticker shock because people haven’t had a live budget, in many instances, since 2019. Especially in the case of hybrid, where you’re basically running two events at the same time, you’ll have a greater depth of need when it comes to equipment, services and staffing in the 2022 realm.


Q: Did Paragon Events Inc. host a meeting or an event in 2020? 2021?

A: As far as client events, we ran around 85 programs over the last two years. We were about 75% to 80% virtual, with the rest being live or hybrid. Our live events were much smaller, under 100 or 150 attendees, so nothing like the large scale, in-person events we had experienced in 2019. Our team has become well-versed in virtual programs and platforms, but we’ve also been careful to keep our skills for live events sharp because we’re eager for them to fully come back and know we need to be ready when they do.


Q: What encouraging signs or trends do you see ahead for the meetings industry?


A: The most encouraging sign I’ve seen is an enthusiasm for experiences. People are really craving those hands-on, memorable experiences now more than ever. I’ve found the trend is more people being interested in the place rather than the space. Meaning, people want to know what it is they’re going to be able to do in that location. Whether it’s going to Nashville and listening to Country music, or going to the Bahamas and swimming with the dolphins, or going to Costa Rica and seeing beautiful waterfalls. People are much more on the experiential hunt. And that feeds into my previous statement about the marketing and communications piece. People eat with their eyes before they taste. So, moving forward, it’s important to look at the experiences, whether it be a corporate event or an incentive program. This applies to virtual too.




Brian D. Stevens, Chief Executive Officer, ConferenceDirect

Brian D. Stevens, CEO, ConferenceDirect


Q: As the U.S. eases out of the COVID-19 pandemic, how does the meetings and events industry rebound?


A: Vaccination rates are critical. We need more people to be vaccinated and then get the booster shot.


Q: What challenges will corporate meeting planners face in 2022?


A: Lack of staff and uncertain attendee numbers.


Q: Is the nationwide supply shortage something that is affecting ConferenceDirect?


A: Yes, we cannot get simple and complicated things: simple things like paper products, complicated things like trucks and items made overseas.


Q: What were your initial thoughts about how long the industry would be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?


A: Originally, I heard 18 months. I think that it’s another 18 months now.


Q: What is the biggest hurdle other than the pandemic facing the industry right now?


A: Recruiting and training new staff.


Q: How are 2022 meeting budgets different from 2021? 2020?


A: Budgets are cut and people are uncertain of their attendees. It’s hard to forecast. We had a revised forecast for 2021 three times.


Q: Did ConferenceDirect host a meeting or event in 2020 or 2021?


A: We did in-person only. While we used virtual for a general session speaker or two which, by the way, worked well, the attendees are in a trade show, which we prefer to do in-person. We did it in September and it was half the size, but got great reviews. We required vaccination and masks at our company under doctors’ orders.


Q: What encouraging signs or trends do you see ahead for the meetings industry?


A: People want to meet. Some people are so excited that we see very high registrations in the area where people are independent; example: real estate people, hotel owners, independent contractors, and some medical societies where they are their own bosses. I would like to say that the larger the company, the more restrained from face-to-face meetings. Small business owners who need new product, ideas, training, and selling their services or products are getting out. I heard a large hardware franchise had a record meeting [recently]. We are going to see video fatigue, and people want to get back to business. People are needing to feel connected. The reason many people are resigning from their companies is the lack of connection with their company. We feel bullish about 2023, but we need more safety and fewer “breakthrough” cases. C&IT


About ETHOS Event Collective


ETHOS Event Collective is a Destination + Event Management Company that helps meeting and event planners stay ahead of increasing demands while supporting the people and places that make the experiences we create possible. We call it Purposeful Planning and it's how we ensure results for both company and community long after a meeting or event has ended. To learn more, visit www.ETHOSEventCollective.com.




ETHOS Event Collective Media Contact:

Barrie Hanlon

barrie.hanlon@ethoseventcollective.com


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