Stat: American Express Looks at the Future of Europe's Business Travel Scene

According to the American Express Meetings & Events 2015 Global Meetings Forecast, European business travel professionals will need to “do more with less” in the coming year. Despite a predicted modest average increase of 1.2 percent in meeting numbers, overall meeting spend, individual meeting budgets and attendee numbers are expected to decline in the UK. 

UK budgets are set to decrease slightly by 0.7 percent and overall meeting spend is projected to decline by 1.1 percent. This is in sharp contrast to the 4.8 percent increase in meeting spend that was predicted for 2014. 

After a predicted 4.5 percent increase in the number of meetings in 2014, the UK is expected to enjoy only small increases across all meeting types in 2015. Advisory board meetings are expected to see the highest increase, growing by 3.3 percent, while attendee numbers for this meeting type are expected to grow by 1 percent. Attendees of most other meetings, including sales and marketing, internal team meetings and conferences, are expected to see small declines of 1.6 percent, 0.6 percent and 1.2 percent respectively.

“Meeting planners in the UK will have to make the most of squeezed budgets next year. While the UK economy is improving, meetings activity is set to be more subdued in 2015, with only a small increase over the number predicted for 2014,” Lisa Thompson, director, UK, American Express Meetings & Events, said in a statement. “Reductions in individual budget and overall spend in the UK are predicted, so meeting owners are feeling the pressure to get creative and extract maximum value from their meeting budgets. Planners are expected to deliver the same quality of experience as in previous years, despite group hotel and group air rates continuing to rise.”

Group hotel rates are expected to rise across Europe, with the highest increase of 2.8 percent predicted in the UK. Despite this, London remains the top European meetings destination, followed by Paris and Barcelona. 

Some companies from the UK are organising more meetings in the European Union, in part to boost participation from Central European attendees without pushing travel costs too high. There is also a trend towards holding meetings at airport locations, driven by the mandate to keep meetings short and maximise the productive time available for attendees.

“Meetings globally and in the UK play a critical role in a return to business fundamentals in 2015, a trend which should help drive the long-term health of the industry,” Thompson continued. “This is due to powerful drivers, such as compliance, global expansion, and standardised processes that can help to reduce risk and elevate the visibility and strategic importance of meetings programmes within companies.”

European Technology Trends

Technology is playing an increasing role in events and meeting planners in Europe, particularly in Spain and France, are driving experimentation with newer and more diverse technology. Event planners are offering everything from social media to connect attendees, to tablets to facilitate interaction with speakers or hosts. The pressure to innovate is leading to the development of meeting-specific apps in some countries. However, virtual meetings are yet to capture the hearts of meeting owners in Europe with 15 percent of those surveyed citing that virtual and hybrid meetings are not viable alternatives to live meetings. A growth in hybrid and virtual solutions is expected within Europe, but not in the immediate future. 

European Group Hotel and Group Air Rates on the Rise 

As occupancy rates rise in many European countries from the combination of leisure, business and meetings demand, suppliers are predicting increased group hotel rates, and meeting survey respondents are no different as survey results point to increases for 2015.

With regards to group air, stiff competition among airlines within the major European countries is helping to mitigate the impact of higher demand, but group air rates are still predicted to increase 1 percent in Europe. 

European Destination Trends

Some European companies are continuing to pursue regional meetings rather than hold large events that draw attendees globally. When it comes to planning the destination of a meeting, European planners continue to cite “perception around resort destinations” as being an area of concern, and a 1.6 percent increase in the use of non-traditional meetings facilities is predicted for 2015. A large proportion of European meetings – some 87.4 percent – are predicted to take place in cities in 2015. The economic crisis appears to have provided a silver lining for some specific city destinations, with Southern European cities which were hit hard by the downturn, such as Madrid, Athens and Rome, becoming more attractive to meeting owners looking for lower rates. 

The trend toward choosing four-star over five-star hotels continues. In France, this situation is prompting some new hotel properties to take an innovative approach by launching with no star rating at all, in order to avoid being excluded from hosting meetings for compliance reasons. 

Top 10 European Cities Based on Meetings & Events Activity

Based on the activity of American Express Meetings & Events clients, the list of top 10 European cities has once again remained stable and contains a list of familiar and traditionally popular meeting locations. All top four cities have retained their spots from last year’s forecast. Berlin has traded places with Brussels as a slightly more popular location, now in fifth position.

1. London
2. Paris
3. Barcelona
4. Amsterdam
5. Berlin
6. Nice
7. Brussels
8. Rome
9. Frankfurt
10. Munich

Insights and Best Practices

Forecast participants also provided insight into the priorities for 2015 meetings and events planning around the world. Key areas of consideration for 2015 include: 

Empowering Digital Event Solutions – Meeting professionals now have the opportunity to rethink meeting design and content delivery to capitalise on digital solutions and engage the audience in new and exciting ways. Four solutions – attendee management, event mobile applications, social media solutions and hybrid meeting solutions – can increase the prevalence and importance of digital event solutions.

Planning Meetings & Events in Emerging Countries – The meeting business in emerging countries has grown significantly in recent years, as these economies have increased in importance. There are five aspects to meeting planning that are imperative for planners to focus on in order to ensure their meeting goes smoothly in an emerging country: security, technology, transportation, food and beverage, and payments. 

The Benefits of Attendee Travel Management – Best practices and customer feedback have demonstrated that integrating travel planning with meetings management can provide substantial benefits related to experience, cost, and duty of care. Integrating air travel as part of the overall planning process can benefit meeting planners and attendees alike. Air travel is an integral part of the logistical, financial, and experiential aspect of an event. In particular, group air planning can benefit a meeting at all stages, from destination evaluation, budgetary savings, and agenda optimization to improved communications, increased productivity, and risk reduction.

Event Production Trends and Insights – As technology and the role of mobile apps, virtual/ hybrid meeting tools and more play an increasing role in meetings and events, event production agencies can serve as a guide to integration into the overarching event experience. Meeting owners should consider if the use of technology is appropriate for the event experience and if it can serve a real purpose and not act as a distraction.