Industry Leaders Share Predictions for 2023
In 2022, in-person events enjoyed a steady comeback, event-related organizations went on hiring and promoting sprees, and industry professionals expressed a tone of optimism that hadn’t been heard since before the COVID-19 pandemic, even during ongoing economic challenges. How is the industry feeling about the future in 2023?
Corporate Event News checked in with several leading organizations for their outlook on the year ahead and which key trends event professionals should be paying attention to in 2023 and beyond.
Paul Van Deventer, President and CEO, Meeting Professionals International (MPI)
Meeting and event professionals will face tremendous opportunities this year as business surges back to levels most haven’t seen since 2019. In fact, the expectation for most event professionals in 2023 sounds a lot like, “We’re back!”
As revealed in our winter Meetings Outlook survey, fully one-third of respondents said their business levels are already back to pre-pandemic levels—and an additional 32% anticipate returning to that level by the end of this year. Additionally, live event attendance expectations remain near all-time highs, with the vast majority (82%) of respondents expecting growth this year.
But while expectations are optimistic, we realize that our industry still faces a number of headwinds, including inflation, the threat of a global recession and workforce shortages. In fact, 58% of Meetings Outlook respondents said they’re finding it difficult to fill job vacancies.
To overcome these challenges, I believe it will be essential for industry professionals to continue flexing their creativity in areas such as event design, strategy and communications, as well as leaning into the historical importance of professional relationships and the planner-supplier dynamic, which has always been a pillar of the innovation and success of this community and industry.
Despite the noted challenges, I’m confident 2023 is going to be a marvelous year for meeting professionals and the in-person meeting and event industry.
Janet Dell, President and COO, Freeman
Following a challenging few years, we have learned that events matter more than ever, and the investment in [events] will continue to grow. In fact, despite economic hardships that are affecting organizations today, a recent survey Freeman conducted showed that 82% of marketing decision makers plan to maintain or increase event spending over the next 12 months. This shows that companies understand the positive effects of bringing people together and how it translates to overall success.
The Millennial generation is now the largest segment of the U.S. population, so it’s important to get inside the Millennial mind to see just how we can get them coming to events—and keep them coming back year after year.
A few key trends to make note of include:
- Event location and timing. According to our research, 68% of event attendees said event location influences their participation for in-person events. Millennials are more focused on experiences and less on entertainment, which means event organizers should think beyond the show floor to all the destination has to offer.
- Networking is critical. Many respondents agree that in-person events are more valuable now than in 2020—and networking opportunities are essential. Because of Millennials, networking has become the most important element at in-person events, taking over exhibits, which was at the top of the list before the pandemic. The pandemic reminded us of the power of human connection, therefore the kind of networking experience also matters, [especially] opportunities to learn from experts and exchange ideas on top issues with peers.
- Sustainability. Prioritizing eco-conscious choices at events makes a difference not only because it’s good for the environment, but also because it’s good for business and it’s increasingly the table stakes of Millennial expectations. We must collaborate across the ecosystem to maximize our impact. It’s also important to get your audiences involved because building sustainable events is a team sport.
Annette Gregg, President, Society for Incentive Travel Excellence (SITE)
I believe we’ll continue to see a bright future for incentive travel. Demand returned quickly in 2022, and buyers within SITE, including corporate planners, are currently sourcing options for 2024 and even 2025-26. They’re finding they often need to confirm selections quicker than in 2019, to avoid losing out on dates and/or destinations of choice.
Programs staying closer to home will likely remain on trend this year, due in part to residual pandemic concerns and the impacts now of inflation and rising travel costs. Further-flung destinations are beginning to attract interest though, especially regions like Western Europe.
Staying closer to home also places added emphasis on truly transformational experiences, with corporate planners needing to program unique activities that shape once-in-a-lifetime memories for trip earners. I can say from personal experience (thanks to my 23-year-old son!) that this will be increasingly important, as millennials and Gen Z expand their presence on teams and become corporate decision-makers.
Sustainability is another trend we’re watching, with data from the 2022 Incentive Travel Index (ITI) suggesting this is higher priority for planners outside of North America. We know companies are generally facing increased demands though, both internally and externally, to better track and better manage emissions.
One final trend we’re eyeing relates to CSR. Qualitative data from C-suite interviews SITE conducted indicated growing interest in incorporating CSR activities during incentives. In all instances, companies including CSR programming were told it was a highlight of the entire trip for many of their winners. Beyond teambuilding, there’s a desire for these programs to authentically reflect the culture and setting they’re in.
Sherrif Karamat, President and CEO, Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) and Corporate Event Marketing Association (CEMA)
Whether its government intervention, strict COVID policies or the Russia/Ukraine war, the world is grappling with trying to tame a seemingly runaway inflation. The result is that central banks are increasing interest rates to stymie inflation, which has the potential knock-on effect of a recession if there is a period of prolonged high interest rates.
It seems like a paradox at times with persistent talk of a recession, while global employment is at an all-time high—leading to a talent shortage. This becomes even more complicated with political populism, supply chain issues and massive energy shortages in part due to the Russia/Ukraine war that is disproportionally impacting Europe.
This has resulted in the following five trends: accelerated digital transformation, inflation and supply-chain insecurity, sustainability, immersive customer experience and talent challenge.
Despite the mixed economic and geopolitical factors, I am cautiously optimistic that 2023 will be a softer landing for the business events space, as more associations and companies use the business events platform to build their sales pipeline, launch new products or sell existing ones as well as increase engagement with their customers and members. Those that are seemingly more successful than others are realizing that COVID-19 has had a profound impact on customer expectations, value and time, and customers will respond to those organizations that are firmly focused on listening to their customers and are agile in responding.
Amy Calvert, CEO, Events Industry Council
We are optimistic that the global business events sector in 2023 will continue to show signs of resilience and growth. With regional performance correlating strongly to geopolitical and health and safety realities, it’s clear that we will need to continue to demonstrate plans and practices closely aligned with evolving risk assessment and mitigation plans while also working on the adaptations and innovations necessary to ensure our sector’s future relevance and vibrance.
Event [professionals] will continue to work closely with their supply chain and partners by investing in the areas noted above. They also will work closely in the implementation of regenerative and equitable practices necessary to ensure our sector’s contribution to massive societal needs and position itself as a force for good—and essential mechanism for economic growth, education and social impact.
There will continue to be geopolitical and economic headwinds in 2023 without a doubt, however, we as a sector are learning to align around those lessons learned over the past few years, prioritizing value creation, shared risk, shared objectives and quality of the experience versus the revival of elements that no longer serve our needs.
Carina Bauer, CEO, IMEX Group
The industry enjoyed a significant bounce back in 2022, with a strong performance driven largely by the desire to meet and do business in person again post-pandemic. 2023 is likely to be another tough year, but for reasons that are clear to us all.
I expect to see resourceful exhibition and event designers rise to the challenge, focusing more strongly than ever on the value proposition of doing business and building relationships face-to-face. I also expect a renewed focus on the value of “live experiences” over pure business transactions. Similarly, live events of all kinds will become intentional gathering grounds for people with the same values to express themselves and expand their global networks. I expect sustainability and EDI (equity, diversity and inclusion) in particular to drive this behavior.
In the year ahead, we should steady ourselves and expect the pace of change to increase even more rapidly, with new ideas, new formats, new launches, mergers, acquisitions and other developments. Technological adoption—I’m thinking about AI here—will also rise, bringing with it industry debates about ethics, machine learning, privacy and more.
I’m interested to see how the [industry] evolves in 2023. Despite what I’ve said, it’s almost impossible to predict a few months ahead, let alone a whole year. The lesson remains: Stay resilient, become even more flexible and be alert to change that can come from any direction.
Steve Hill, President and CEO, Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA)
We welcome 2023 with continued optimism after experiencing a strong comeback for Las Vegas and our [event] partners in 2022. Las Vegas enjoyed hosting a full schedule of trade shows and meetings, but we’re not all the way back to pre-pandemic levels as show attendance is approximately 75% recovered. We believe exhibition sales in 2023 will exceed 2019 levels, and nearly all of our trade show partners report steady growth in convention attendance.
Attracting exhibitors and attendees from key international markets remains a focus for many of our show producers. Visa processing delays remain a barrier to a full recovery of international attendance.
Despite that challenge, Las Vegas kicks off a strong trade show calendar year by hosting CES, the most influential tech event in the world, and 2023 also marks the start of the Las Vegas Convention Center’s $600 million, three-year rolling renovation of its legacy campus to further grow business travel to Las Vegas. [We] remain bullish on the future of the [events] industry.
Dan Hoffend, Executive Vice President, Convention Centers, ASM Global
In addition to our robust convention center collection, ASM Global has an even larger group of stadiums, arenas and theaters with attendance approaching 2019 levels and in some markets, surpassing that year. Convention centers are on a different upward timing. For insight, we looked to the decision-maker. For a concert, sporting event or theater, it’s a participant’s personal decision, [but] if they attend a trade show or corporate event, it’s the company’s call. While the convention center space is climbing out quickly, it started long after the personal decision-making process took off. Convention centers will enjoy eight to 10 months of rising attendance before leveling off.
“Work-life balance” is out—it’s only life. We have now combined work and life in ways that no one could have imagined. Everyone expects entertainment, excitement and the experiential at any business activity they attend.
Spending days in a city without seeing anything but a hotel room and the four walls of a convention center is also out. Gens X, Y and Z are not buying this. They want to see and play in the city they are visiting.
Convention centers have traditionally been big boxes that landed in the middle of a city for a group of mysterious people from somewhere other than the city to gather in. However, we have unused dates. We also have an underserved community that requires support. Several cities are bringing revitalization community groups into their convention centers to create change. They need a place to meet, and we have the space, so let’s support our community growth!
Lori Tenny contributed to this report.
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