From the outside, the job of putting together the CMI 25 might look as busy as the Maytag repairman’s. Our annual list of the 25 largest independent meeting planning companies working with the U.S. corporate market seems to evolve little year over year. But while names on the list remain by and large the same (there’s just one new face this year), a dive into the 2018 company profiles reveals news and trends that tell a story of a changing industry.
As ever, you’ll learn that CMI 25 companies are adopting new technologies, rolling out thought-leadership white papers, winning awards, and taking leadership roles (congrats to Maritz’s Steve O’Malley, who’s been named chair-elect of Meeting Professionals International). However, this year more than others, consolidation is the trend that stands out. At least six CMI 25 companies were involved in acquisitions in the past year: BCD Meetings & Events acquired Grass Roots Meetings & Events; Creative Group bought The Performance Group of Northern California; BI WORLDWIDE acquired Bunchball, a gamification solutions company; ITA Group acquired market research and strategy firm Chadwick Martin Bailey last fall and Hartmann Studios in August; and in two huge deals, American Express Global Business Travel—the parent organization of American Express Meetings & Events—acquired both Banks Sadler and Hogg Robinson Group. Additionally, Fourth Wall Events and WorldTek Events merged and together purchased CMI 25 company McVeigh Associates, with the threesome now known as McVeigh Global Meetings and Events.
Mergers and acquisitions are often a sign of a mature industry, as established operators buy up competitors in an effort to strengthen their positions through better negotiating power, new technologies, and broader service lines. It also can be a sign that times are tough. Strong companies want to get more competitive and cost-efficient, while target companies often agree to be bought when they know they cannot survive alone.
It’s a remarkable year when nearly a quarter of the CMI 25 companies are involved in an acquisition, but perhaps it fits in the context of the broader meetings and hospitality industry over the past few years, where the hotel world has gone on a shopping spree—Marriott and Starwood; AccorHotels and Fairmont, Swissôtel, and Raffles; Hyatt and Miraval; Benchmark and Gemstone; Wyndham and La Quinta—and the business-to-business media/event space is also consolidating fast, including the acquisition of UBM by MeetingsNet’s parent company, Informa, and ITE Group’s purchase of Ascential Events in July.
What are the likely results of a consolidation trend among independent meeting planning companies? In some cases, clients will find a more robust suite of services, a broader base of industry expertise, and greater negotiating power with larger companies. But it seems to me that meeting planning is also an industry where small companies can continue to thrive. Personal service, creativity, and innovation are at the heart of the success of meetings and incentive travel programs, no matter how big or small the planning company.