Editor's blog: the rocky road to recovery

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A road in the Rocky Mountains, USA Photo Credit: Joe Dudeck on Unsplash.com

During the pandemic, uncertainty - and the stress it caused – was a daily torment for association meeting planners who found themselves praying for powers of divination.

While the case rate remained high and deaths were still being counted in the thousands per day, the lifting of restrictions always came with a dreaded caveat: this could be temporary.

Now, with the threat of lockdown gone in most countries, the opportunity for meeting planners to see jobs through to completion is approaching pre-pandemic levels. 

According to a survey of 467 planners in the latest Northstar/Cvent Pulse Survey, cancellations and reschedulings are down to 8 per cent, the lowest since the survey began in March 2020.

This is positive news, and should not be dismissed lightly. 

But this is not the ‘recovery’ anyone wanted. Planners are now caught in the cruel pincers of a labour and skills crisis and rocketing inflation, the latter exacerbated by war in Ukraine.

These twin pressures have seen confidence fluctuate, peaking at the end of March, when 75 per cent of planners said they were ‘more optimistic’, before falling to 48 per cent in June.

Confidence is now less about whether meetings can go ahead and more about the overall economic picture and how that is affecting the quality of experience organisers can deliver. 

Anyone who has waited hours for their luggage to arrive in Baggage Reclaim or wondered why nobody is around to check them into their hotel room, will attest to the staffing crisis.

And while these might seem like first world problems, they could spell trouble for discretionary business travel at a time when budgets are being reined in. 

Concerns about hotel staffing levels and airline service have increased since the start of the year, according to the survey, but cost remains the biggest worry for planners.

These concerns are inseparable.

If this was the year international, in-person meetings were meant to bounce back – the experience will have left many asking the only question that really matters: was it worth it?

There are no easy answers to any of this, and, painful though it is to report, meeting planners must brace themselves for things getting worse before they improve. 

According to the World Bank, international growth is expected to slump from 5.7 percent in 2021 to 2.9 percent in 2022— significantly lower than 4.1 percent that was anticipated in January. And it is expected to hover around that pace over the next two years.  

Striking a gloomy note, World Bank president David Malpass observed that, ‘the war in Ukraine, lockdowns in China, supply-chain disruptions, and the risk of stagflation are hammering growth. For many countries, recession will be hard to avoid'.

What’s needed now is for the meetings industry to pull together to ensure the individual delegate experience is as good as it can possible be, external factors notwithstanding. Organisers, venues, destinations, and other suppliers to the meetings industry need to get creative to make this happen.

Happily, it looks like that creativity is already kicking in, with 60+ per cent of planners reporting that they have been able to reduce costs ‘in areas that will not diminish attendee experience’.

If organisations can deliver the wow factor inside the meeting venue, delegates may be prepared to overlook below par performances elsewhere in the supply chain. Unfortunately for meeting planners that means a continuation of the relentless pressure they endured during the pandemic.

  • A session exploring the mental health impact of the pandemic on meeting and event planners will take place at this year’s The Meeting Show. Is the meetings industry suffering from PTSD? will take place on The London Stage at 9:50am on Thursday, June 30th.
James Lancaster
Written By
James Lancaster

AMI editor James Lancaster is a familiar face in the meetings industry and international association community. Since joining AMI in 2010, he has gained a reputation for asking difficult questions and getting lost in convention centres. Proofer, podcaster, and panellist - in his spare time, James likes to walk, read, listen to music, and drink beer.

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