Business News

Small Meetings Revive While Trade Shows Toil

Skift Take

Although small meetings are close to 2019 levels, larger gatherings are down over 23 percent.

Small and mid-sized enterprises (SMEs) are planning more meetings and events than any other customer segment, with SME bookings reaching 84 percent of 2019 levels, compared to 76 percent from all customer segments in the second quarter of 2022, according to the 2023 Global Meetings and Events Forecast by American Express Global Business Travel (GBT).

In its forecast, GBT predicts in-person meetings will grow by 3.3 percent globally in 2023, compared to 2022, while small meetings by 4.2 percent. Internal meetings will experience the biggest increase at 4.5 percent.

In contrast, larger gatherings, including exhibitions, are taking longer to bounce back. According to the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR), there is a drop in the number of attendees from 2019 of 23.2 percent. In addition, actual revenues dropped by 18 percent, while net square feet in the third quarter was the metric that contracted the least at 14.4 percent from the second quarter of 2019. These findings were released during Expo! Expo!, the annual meeting and exhibition of the International Association of Exhibitions and Events (IAEE)’s taking place Dec. 13-15 in Louisville, KY.

The forecast of Lodging Analytics Research & Consulting is rosier for trade shows in the coming year. It points to convention center bookings increasing by 13 percent in 2023 compared to 2022. President and co-founder Ryan Meliker predicts that “hotels will have better pricing power over group business travel,” predicting that companies will be more likely to send staff to trade shows rather than shorter transient business trips.

The Impacts of Remote Work

The common thread is a feeling that remote work is accelerating the need for in-person meetings as these gatherings build camaraderie and connection and, in many cases, bolster retention. Bringing staff together for training and team building is no longer optional.

In addition, companies recognize the vital role in-person meetings play in strengthening culture, onboarding staff, increasing employee engagement, and communicating corporate values and goals. 

Skift Meetings got a sneak peek of a Knowland and ConferenceDirect survey coming out later this week. One of the questions in the survey is, “What are the top three trends you expect to stay in place beyond Covid? According to the survey, using technology to enhance the attendee experience remains a top trend. The other trends identified include a focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion, a more casual meeting atmosphere, blended business and leisure travel for a meeting, and smaller meeting sizes with fewer attendees. 

Economic Headwinds Ahead 

There may be obstacles for small meetings to overcome. Jennifer Nelson, senior director of global strategic events at American Express Global Business Travel, said economic headwinds are a challenge for business travel. “SMEs will need to be more strategic in business travel and meetings and events planning for 2023 to get the value of being in person while staying within budget,” said Nelson. “Companies that aren’t making business travel part of their remote work strategy risk not only overpaying for travel and meetings and events but, more importantly, they are overlooking the opportunity to make the travel and meetings experience part of their company culture and recruitment strategy.”

For successful meetings and events in 2023, Nelson recommends looking at first, second, and third-tier locations. “SMEs that are more flexible with location typically secure more favorable rates and see the highest savings,” said Nelson. Booking venues as early as possible also helps, as some suppliers add surcharges for last-minute events, and there tends to be less availability.