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Inflation, Recession Fears Drive Changes in Planning Departments

The latest MPI Quarterly Meetings Outlook sees more contractor usage, less staff travel, a hunt for new event-revenue streams, and other adjustments going into 2023.

The effects of inflation are bringing a shift in tactics among meeting departments and meeting-planning agencies, according to the just-released Fall 2022 Meetings Outlook from Meeting Professionals International.

Significantly higher prices for goods and services over the past year have triggered a rapid rise in interest rates to curb consumer and business spending, bringing a strong possibility of recession in 2023, according to Goldman Sachs and other financial analysts. But in the near term, steeper prices, strong leisure demand, and competition for meeting space have 64 percent of MPI's 232 survey respondents calling the current event-booking environment a seller’s market, with just 19 percent calling it a buyer’s market.

The turbulent economic situation is having some notable effects on the way respondents operate. For instance, far more are looking for new revenue opportunities around their meeting activities (78 percent) than they were just three months prior (34 percent). Further, 27 percent said that business travel has been reduced for their staff, versus 19 percent who said so in summer 2022. And 28 percent of respondents said that they are hiring contractors rather than more full-time staff, versus 19 percent who said the same three months before.

Among the tasks being given to contractors most often: venue and supplier sourcing for upcoming events. One responding planner noted that “there has been so much transition, change, and turnover that relationships we used to rely on to ensure efficient planning of our events are gone. ... Everything takes longer. This has meant increasing our sourcing outreach, often trying twice as many potential vendors just to get one who might be able to support the event.”

Meanwhile, 41 percent of respondents are looking to add full-time staff, but 62 percent of that group are still having difficulty finding the right candidates. In summer 2022, 69 percent of respondents who were looking for full-timers said they were having such difficulty. With a potential recession on the horizon, though, the difficulty in hiring full-timers now might actually reduce the possibility of planning departments conducting layoffs in 2023.

Layoffs? Well, consider this: 37 percent of respondents said that the recovery of their business to pre-pandemic levels will not happen until 2024, up from 22 percent who said that one year ago. Only 32 percent of respondents said that their business has returned to pre-pandemic levels—and there’s no guarantee that it remains there.

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