Expectations Related to the Planner Industry for 2009.
By Jim Houran
Sunday, 27th September 2009
HSMAI and 2020 Assessment™ recently conducted an online survey that asked conference attendees about their opinions and expectations related to the planner industry for 2009.

A total of 265 attendees completed the survey. This sample size is more than double over recent surveys.

The 2020 Assessment™ team is pleased to present key findings from our recently analyzed survey conducted for the 20th Annual HSMAI's Affordable Meetings® National/ETE Conference & Exposition

The Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International's (HSMAI) Affordable Meetings® National is an exposition and conference addressing all aspects of technology as it relates to tradeshows, meetings, and special events.

Exhibitors represent hotels and resorts, university conference centers, unique meeting sites, convention and visitor bureaus, transportation companies, trade publications, software and audio/visual businesses, and other meeting and convention suppliers. HSMAI's Affordable Meetings® is owned and presented by the Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International Americas region and managed by J. Spargo & Associates, Inc.

MAJOR TAKEAWAYS: Similar to past survey findings, the economy coupled with a negative public and political perception about meetings as frivolous expenditures, is motivating creative and affordable solutions for maximizing business negotiations, client relations and promoting exceptional experiences for meeting attendees.

In today's market, suppliers need to be more responsive and willing than ever to serve clients needs and present special offers. Besides perks that promote a more efficient and productive conference experience, incentives related to hotel points and transportation discounts are rated highly.

Likewise, meeting planners themselves overwhelmingly adopt the attitude of strict responsiveness to client needs, most striving to respond within one hour to requests. While the "always on the job" mentality of meeting planners tends to rely on the latest technological tools for marketing, presentations and networking, there is clearly a "man over machine" mindset when it comes to other elements of meetings and conferences.

Thus, the popular push for more teleconferences or internet-based meetings – even for smaller groups – may ultimately not meet critical needs of attendees.


  • The majority of the respondents indicated that the number of meetings they plan have largely stayed the same as compared to last year: 41% of respondents will plan five or less meetings in 2009, 26% will plan 6-10 meetings, 14% will plan 11-15, 19% will plan 16 or more, 6% plan 1001-5,000 and 4% plan over 5,000.
  • Following from the above, most respondents anticipate smaller event sizes – with most servicing between 101 and 1000 registrants (51%), followed by events of 100 attendees or less (39%).
  • Over all, budgets for events have decreased, and the majority of respondents reported that this decrease is low to moderate (< 10% reductions are majority, followed by reductions in the 11-25% range). The major reasons cited for the budget decrease are the economic downturn followed by a decrease in the number of registrants. The most frequently reported annual budget for meetings was in the $50,000 or less range.
  • Top three areas of focus concerning suppliers are: general venues, promotional items and CVBs. Event planning software shows secondary importance. It seems that attendees want to connect with suppliers who add to their portfolios of meeting locations and can bring value to their sales and marketing efforts. This makes sense given the budget decreases and economic environment.
  • The trend for software makes sense given that companies report increasing reliance on technology in their meeting management and marketing. Respondents also report such technologies often make their job easier. However, 21% of companies have not adopted new technologies or software. It is also interesting that nearly 30% of respondents reported that the incorporation of technology is not making their jobs easier. This surprisingly high figure suggests that there are aspects of meeting planning that technology perhaps cannot replace.
  • Following the above, most respondents indicated that technology is mostly being used for marketing (76%), making presentations (68%) and networking (56%). However, survey results suggest that technology reportedly does not and cannot replace at least six critical elements of the conference experience: (1) ability to socialize and network spontaneously, (2) help attendees put names with faces, (3) more free and open dialogue between attendees and vendors/presenters, (4) more effective training via live and personal interaction, (5) greater attention to others when face-to-face and seamless and (6) real-time conversation that is not interrupted by technological glitches.
  • Respondents indicated that there were three specific social events which added strong value and benefit for conference goers yet were less susceptible to negative political and social stigma related to unnecessary corporate expenditures: Coffee Breaks, Between Session Networking and Lunch. Banquet dinners, free time and cocktail hour were the events rated as the most susceptible to negative public perceptions.
  • Substantial changes from previous surveys were found concerning the top three reasons planners selected a specific venue for an event. Most important, as defined by average ratings, were: Guest Room Cleanliness, Size of the Meeting Space and Location of the Venue, respectively. Price and Customer Service were rated the next highest. Over 50% of respondents rated Green and Eco-Friendly Design and Operations as "Somewhat Important," which is an increase over past surveys and may reflect the current political climate. However, nearly 80% of respondents ranked "Product Immersion" as unimportant.
  • Meeting Planning clearly has a team component. 45% of respondents indicated that site selection usually involves between 2 to 3 people on the consulting side, and when clients are directly involved in site selection, 43% of the respondents said that clients often have another 2 to 3 people working with the consultants. The key decision makers on site selection tend to be the meeting planner, a committee (Executive, Board meeting, etc.) or the president.
  • Promotional items and incentives for event attendees were seen as critical for enhancing customer experience and loyalty. Complimentary meeting rooms, Internet access in meeting rooms, high quality refreshments, hotel points and transportation discounts received the strongest ratings.
  • More than ever, meeting planners are concerned with customer service and responsiveness on the job. Most strive to respond within one hour to any client request (35%) and within one business day at the latest (22%). Likewise, most meeting planners expect their partner vendors or clients to respond to their own requests within one business day (44%).
MORE INFORMATION: For questions or clarifications about this study or its findings, contact: James Houran, Ph.D., President of 2020 Assessment™, +1 (516) 248-8828 ext 264 or jhouran@2020skills.com.

About Jim HouranJames Houran holds a Ph.D. in Psychology and is President of 2020 Assessment™. He is an 18-year veteran in research and assessment on peak performance and online testing.

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