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Having accepted an invitation to join a panel discussion at this week’s MPI Insights: Economic Outlook For Events meeting, my anxiety levels started to heighten the closer we got to the event. I started to question how much of a valid contribution I could make. I am no economist. However, I wasn’t invited to explain why China’s economic growth is slowing, or how the Eurozone could avoid further crises or why oil prices are tumbling. The programme already offered two speakers to address these economic issues.

My challenge was to contextualise these events for the meetings and events industry; the challenges we face, how we respond and evolve and what opportunities might present themselves.

The panel was strategically positioned by keynote speaker Jack Kennedy from Markit. Jack eloquently delivered a series of statistics and forecasts; business investment in the UK up by 7.8% post crisis; vacancy levels are on the rise; the Eurozone has seen the most growth for the last quarter of 2015 in four-and-a-half years; marketing budgets are increasing, with a 3.8% rise in available event spend (Bellwether report).

After lunch, David Goodger from Oxford Economics seemed to support Jack’s analysis. His most notable contribution was that the doom and gloom concerning the Chinese economy is overdone. He believes it’s currently as bad as it will get. David’s specialism is tourism economics and travel trends. The Oxford Economics group also report that business travel is increasing (especially in the UK) and that in the current geopolitical landscape, domestic travel is seeing the most growth.

Blog: Benchmarking the meetings market

On balance, despite some economic clouds (a faltering last quarter in the US and strain on global growth from emerging markets), the speaker’s messages were moderately positive and their data seemed to support our corporate opinion.

However, I also wanted to focus on feedback from delegates. The objectives of the meeting were for the 90 attendees to benchmark their organisation and to hear and provide thoughts and opinions about the year ahead. The programme was well crafted to support these objectives and gave participants ample opportunity to contribute during facilitated discussion and networking breaks. Attendees were also offered the opportunity to poll their 2016 vision which I found to be most insightful. I shall explain why . . .

Before sitting on this panel, I consulted my colleagues at Ashfield Meetings & Events about how 2016 was shaping up. The general consensus was that (1) we would see a moderate increase in our client budgets, (2) our position in January 2016 was similar to that of January 2015 and (3) technology would be a growth area for the industry. As with the panel discussion, there were differences of opinion, but collectively, we are targeting steady growth this year.

I am particularly interested in the third point concerning the use of technology at our events, which is relevant to some current client projects I am delivering. This subject generated a fair amount of discussion. The highest polled response was ‘we will use more but not much more’. I’d say this is a fair assessment. I particularly liked (MPI’s Vice-President: Education) Jackie Mulligan’s phrase, ‘technology with a purpose’.

We are delivering events at a time when attendees demand to be more engaged, to shape the direction of meetings and to experience an event, not just attend. This brings opportunities for meeting stakeholders to learn from the technological footprints of an event. The key for agencies and planners is to ensure that the two aspects are woven in the solution we offer our clients. The businesses that will do well in 2016 will be the innovative ones.

My takeaway messages from the day was that there will be opportunities for businesses to develop and grow. Despite increased competition in our market place, geopolitical uncertainty and sluggish economic growth, we believe client spend is gradually increasing and we are quietly confident for the year ahead.

I look forward to next year’s meeting and debate on what 2017 will look like. It will be fascinating to see how our predictions for 2016 played out.

Andrew Moore is Client Partnership Director at Ashfield Meetings & Events.

Blog: Benchmarking the meetings market

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