2023 Roadmap: Planners Share Their Concerns and Strategies

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Planners predict challenges ahead for 2023  Uncertainty lies ahead in 2023, say meeting pros on Prevue’s Editorial Advisory Board. Here are their top 5 challenges.

Planners are gearing up for a challenging road ahead for meetings and events in 2023. “Our business is like watching the weather reports on the nightly news—a series of global high and low pressure systems all spinning around the earth and converging,” says Doug Wheeler, principal, Summit Performance Group and connectUNIVERSAL. The highs come from the fact that business has recovered from COVID, but this is colliding with the lows of a pending recession, labor shortage, inflation, compression, the war in Ukraine and concerns about China.

We recently reached out to Wheeler and other members of Prevue’s Editorial Advisory Board to ask about their concerns for 2023—and what they are doing about them.

1. Greatly Increased Costs, including for F&B, audiovisual and meeting room rentals, is everyone’s top concern. To combat this, “We’re trying to plan earlier,” says Deidre Young, CMP, CGMP, meeting manager, Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, Defender Services Office. “Usually the agency starts planning in July or August for the upcoming fiscal year that starts in October.  This year we started in July.  For FY24 we are going to start planning in January 2023.” Young is also looking at reducing the number of breakout rooms, slightly increasing the size of each breakout group  by two additional participants, and getting a blanket purchase agreement for audiovisual equipment and support. “We own several pieces of AV equipment, but it takes a lot to bring it onsite, set it up and return it.  We also have to be concerned about maintaining and replacing equipment.”

Adds Sherri K. Lindenberg, senior vice president, marketing communications, Crump Life Insurance Services: “With many event-related costs still rising and supply chain challenges continuing, it’s hard to predict and budget months or years out.” For Crump Life business meetings, “we’ve worked to minimize AV costs by having smaller breakout sessions without projectors and screens, and ensuring that the time spent in the sessions is interactive versus listening to a single presenter talk, which we can do virtually. We’ve also worked to find sponsors to provide hospitality snack packs to attendees on arrival and trimmed our mid-morning or mid-afternoon snack.” For Crump Life incentive programs, “we’re re-evaluating the activities we offer attendees to more tightly manage the cost structure and scaling back on the number of options. This also aligns with feedback about people wanting more free time.”

Kimberly Bean, event strategist, KBT Creative Support Services, points out that most 2023 contracts are locked in, but future meetings and events will require line-item reviews and potential budget cuts. “Inflation is rising in all aspects of meeting planning,” she says. “Sleeping rooms are more expensive, catering is requiring a larger part of the budget, staffing is still a challenge and offsite venues are charging a premium.  Budgets must either absorb this increase or companies must plan for smaller conferences.”

2. Infectious Disease Control. Young cites a resurgence of Covid and how to handle onsite diagnosis as one of her top challenges for 2023. For Leslie Zeck, CMP, CMM, HMCC, director of meetings, International Association for Dental Research and American Association for Dental, Oral, and Craniofacial Research, “Our biggest concern as a scientific association is that there is still so much uncertainty due to the ongoing spread of infectious diseases around the world. We are still projecting lower attendance and are requiring mask wearing, air filtration/open windows and social distancing to avoid ‘super spreader’ events.”

3. A Seller’s Market is presenting a host of challenges. “We have noticed since Covid that luxury hotels do not want to offer buyouts,” says Lisa Coakley, co-owner and planner, Paramount Planners, LLC.  “They are holding the space for their transient clients. They also won’t offer a chunk of rooms over weekends for groups—their preference is definitely for luxury leisure over group business.” She is also finding it difficult to add rooms to 2023 contracts. For Young, the seller’s market has created a lot of competition in the marketplace for booking meeting hotels and venues. As noted above, she’s planning earlier to lock in contracts.

4. Hotel Staffing Shortages. “Hotels seem so short-staffed in sales and housekeeping,” says Coakley.  “We are not getting responses from most hotel sales and some convention services managers (CSMs) in a timely manner, therefore making it difficult to get budgets in place and to be productive in the booking and planning process.” She cites instances of close to a month to receive final hotel billings, and delayed follow-up from hotel sales staff that she believes is due to lack of staffing. “The sales people are working full days and into the evenings,” Coakley notes.  “I usually get return e-mails days later and very late at night from both sales and CSMs.” As well, “now that housekeeping has come back, it is just not consistent—which is an issue for groups. We have found that in many hotels, housekeeping can’t handle groups nor can they handle amenity deliveries.” While Paramount Planners has always set up meetings with managers in housekeeping and every other hotel department during site inspections and pre-con meetings, they now insist on speaking with the general manager as well. Plus, says Coakley, “we book extra conference staff to be on top of those departments and oversee them because the planner gets pulled in too many directions while on site.”

5. Dealing With Uncertainty. Unexpected wild cards are a given of our times. “Balancing the unknown and uncontrollable,” as Lindenberg puts it, is a big concern for 2023 meetings and events. The best way to react to uncertainty, advises Wheeler, “is to stay educated on world events, share your professional insights, knowledge and suggestions with clients and partners, work closely with suppliers, be nimble, be flexible, be pro-active and most importantly, stay positive.”

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