Business Meetings & Events in 2023


Quick, Quick Takes on Travel - Vol. 5, Take 1

On March 10, 2017, Professor Robert Kelly became famous when his BBC TV interview on South Korean politics went viral due to his children, Marion and James, and later his wife, Jung-a-Kim, interrupting the broadcast with perfect comic timing. Around the world, people truly enjoyed the video – a snapshot of humanity – while still being terrified that it would ever happen to them.

Fast forward to 2022: Now we all have seen husbands in robes during Zoom calls grabbing coffee in the background and dogs with bones grasping for attention in the foreground. No one feels terrified about it anymore and, in my opinion, the business world is a better place because of it. It is one of the small but profound silver linings after a devastating pandemic period that is now virtually behind us.

This video came to mind while I was packing a suitcase for my last business trip this year. It triggered reflections on the evolution of business travel and changes in the meetings and events spaces during the past couple of years. It was only 12 months ago that Christmas parties were cancelled due to the new Omicron variant. Visitors to London’s World Travel Market 2021 needed proof of vaccination and had to be masked to enter the event. WTM 2022, however, was a vibrant event with record attendance. Only some random hand sanitizer stations reminded the visitors of the horrifying pandemic of the past.

So, what else has changed and what can we expect for 2023 in the meeting and events space? Although COVID-19 is not top of mind anymore for planners or attendees, the pandemic has dramatically shifted the landscape.

While planners are eager to go back to in-person meetings, attendees are saying not so fast. Around 36% of attendees in the U.S. still prefer hybrid meetings according to MMGY Global’s Portrait of U.S. Meetings and Convention Travelers™. Attendees are now more discerning in deciding which meetings and events to attend than before. Do they really need to travel to London for a meeting that – as they learned during the pandemic – could take place via Zoom or Microsoft Teams? Do they really need to attend six live conferences every year while four live conferences and two virtual conferences would achieve the same networking and learning goals?

Virtual and hybrid meetings, although significantly less popular than in the past two years, seem to be here to stay. Planners might have mixed feelings about this – the business model for virtual and especially hybrid meetings remains quite challenging – but attendees like to have a choice.

The barriers to attend meetings and events are now defined by costs, travel disruptions and quality of life choices; inflation has triggered higher costs of flights and accommodations. Staffing shortages are still causing flight cancellations and delays at airport security, immigration and baggage handling. And attendees are now weighing the priorities of attending a business event and comparing this with time spent with their families. There are real-life examples of meeting attendees bringing their children to a business event.

A higher number of meeting attendees than before indicate concerns about the safety and security of the meeting destination. And the politics of the host destination now play a more vital role in attending an event than previously, with 48% of U.S. attendees and 41% of U.S. planners saying the “politics of the host destination” impacts this decision for them.

Finally, sustainability has reached top-of-mind attention among planners and attendees alike. The sustainability of a destination and its meeting venues has become a critical factor for planners and attendees in their decision-making. Around 44% of European planners indicate that they select venues and accommodations that meet sustainability goals according to MMGY Global’s 2022 report, Portrait of European Meeting and Convention Travel.

All in all, the pandemic might be over but the meetings and events industry is still evolving. Many of these changes are, in my opinion, for the better. A silver lining: Robert Kelly does not have to be ashamed for spontaneous appearances of his children in video calls, and I just closed my suitcase leaving out a pack of fresh masks and COVID-19 tests.

Progress I would say.

Cees Bosselaar
Managing Director
MMGY Travel Intelligence Europe