Is it time to get bullish on meetings business again?

Is it time to get bullish on meetings business again?

My favorite TV show, “Mad Men,” is back this month for Season 5. And, I was wondering, are groups flocking back on property as well? I get that feeling reading some excellent in-depth research done by Meetings Focus magazine. In a similar vein, Benchmark Hospitality International recently released optimistic meetings business predictions for 2012. I am excited by the prospects of a return to some sense of normalcy in this critical business segment. I sure hope it is true.

The concept of pent-up demand is one we have heard of many times. It works this way: You have a car, and you typically replace it every five years. Now business is a little soft, year five comes around and you elect to hold off for a while. That “overdue” sale is considered pent-up demand. The older that vehicle gets, the higher the propensity for a purchase.

The broader question is this: Does the same concept apply to the meetings marketplace? In other words, do we believe that a company that withholds or cuts back its convention expense budget creates a pent-up demand for future meetings? If this is the case, then the past three years have indeed created pent-up demand for meetings activity.

To shed some light on this, I contacted three colleagues, all senior sales executives in Fortune 50 firms. While they are not directly involved in the arrangements or authorization of specific meeting plans, they each have a good pulse on their company’s activities. They acknowledged a significant reduction in budgeted meeting expenses over the 2009-2011 period. When asked if they felt the trend would start to reverse in 2012, they were somewhat guarded, but expressed some positive thoughts. As it was explained to me, the “new normal” embraces more technology and less face time. Nevertheless, they all acknowledged that they needed to get more team involvement. A small sample, to be sure, but again, another indication that we might be starting to get out of the woods.

I agree with the Meetings Focus research and support Benchmark’s sentiments. But success will not happen overnight. While we are still in the tail end of the “buyer’s market,” the time may be right to start looking at hiring some top flight sales managers. No doubt, they will be in short supply by year-end. Call it pent-up demand or, simply, its about time.