By Dirk Baerts
The year 2016 continues to bring unprecedented opportunities for the meetings and incentives industry in Canada. While new opportunities exist, meeting planners and travel organizers will also face increased challenges. Canada is an attractive destination for international business meetings thanks to its high level of service, easy access, business culture, as well as competitive pricing. According to ICCA, Canada ranked 9th in the world in 2014 for most international meetings held. Destinations like Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal continue to rate as top-tier venues for business meetings. Canada is also a very affordable destination compared to its competitors on meetings and incentives market.
Several trends in 2015 helped to make Canada an even more appealing destination for meeting planners. Low gas prices and favorable exchange rates resulted in a seven-per-cent growth in the number of international travellers. More consumers from South Korea, India, Japan, Australia and the U.S. chose Canada as their travel destination in 2015. The meetings and incentives market represents 15.1 per cent of all Canada visitors and 20.4 per cent overall travel expenses in Canada, and it is expected to continue this growth throughout 2016.
Exciting news, right? Keep in mind that these new opportunities for event planners also present nuanced challenges. Some of these challenges are universal and will impact meeting planners, regardless of the location of their meeting, domestically to Canada or abroad.
In 2016, companies will have even higher expectations from meeting planners without a significant increase in budgets. Planners will have to show more ROI with their programs beyond the now-common new leads or sales goals. Organizations will also be putting greater accountability on their meeting planners to ensure that programs correspond to the strategic goals of their organizations. Companies are factoring in goals like professional development, increased networking opportunities and social good.
HR resource challenge
Small meetings and events are often organized by people with different roles and responsibilities who take on event management as an additional task. Many sales representatives are involved in organizing exhibitions, customer events and trainings. Over the past few years we have seen an increase in small meetings which means more pressure on such “ad hoc” event managers who will have to manage the entire event planning process, including corporate travel. The world of travel is the world of constant change. Failure to adapt to these changes and smartly manage them can cost companies a lot of money—money that could otherwise be invested in business growth. According to an article in Fortune, in 2014, more than 28 per cent of flights were delayed and business travellers need to be notified immediately about any changes to their itinerary. In 2016, technologies that automate this process will be moved to the forefront. Mobile apps informing travellers about weather changes, air traffic and international events have become indispensable companions for business travellers. It will be more and more difficult to be a successful meeting planner without such tools.
Shortage of hotels
While the number of meetings and events will grow, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the hotel facilities will grow proportionally. That will result in a higher demand for hotel rooms and venues. Meeting and event planners will have to compete with their peers from other organizations and fight for the best venues and prices.
With a growing number of events, the biggest emphasis will be put on the quality of the events and attendees’ experience. In 2016, meeting planners will have to find new and better ways to improve the experience for attendees. These ways include mobile hotel bookings, using travel and navigation apps, and social media channels. The reality is that in 2016 meeting planners will have to work across three generational demographics (Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Millennials), each with different consumer behaviors. The success of a meeting planner will depend on their ability to develop an attendee engagement plan. Do you have a clear communication with attendees after their travel booking is completed? Is this communication always relevant? Are you sure that your attendees are happy with your services and will come back again? When you communicate with your attendees, whether it’s to inform them about the recent changes in their itinerary, offer additional services, or improve their travel experience, you need to provide them with the relevant content at every point of their journey. It is extremely important to deliver the appropriate message at the right time.
Corporate compliance guidelines
In 2016 the corporate travel approval process will be getting more complicated. That makes event management and participation in the events more difficult. For the meeting planner it will mean finding new ways to optimize and automate the process of approval, as well as travel budget management and reporting. In this ever-changing fast-paced environment technology will become the main if not the only assistant for meeting planners and travel managers. This year companies and organizations will have nowhere to hide from the encompassing effects of technological changes. Organizations that don’t keep up will fall by the wayside.
Technology can give us power, but there are many other factors that go into successful travel and meeting planning. At Egencia, we believe that the future of the meetings and incentives industry will belong to flexible companies with smart travel management programs that are capable of finding new opportunities in technology-driven changes, rebuilding their business-processes, improving operations, and generating higher profits.
About the author
Dirk Baerts is managing director at Egencia Canada Corp., based in Mississauga, Ontario, where he is responsible for the company’s travel management services in Canada and for Egencia’s Meetings & Incentive operations in North America. Egencia helps travel managers and event planners all over the world meet all the challenges of 2016 and make business travel better by connecting the things travellers need – content, technology, service and reporting – all in one place. For more information, visit www.egencia.com.