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Take a Deep Breath: MPI Report Signals Continuing Challenges

Staffing, service levels, and event costs are all trending in the wrong direction, according to Meeting Professionals International’s latest Meetings Outlook survey.

Let’s start with the good news: Four out of five meeting professionals predict favorable business conditions for the year ahead. Unfortunately, the results of Meeting Professionals International’s Summer Meetings Outlook survey go downhill from there, reporting deep challenges around staffing and service levels, event costs, and negotiations.

Staffing and Service
MPI’s quarterly Meetings Outlook surveys, developed in partnership with IMEX Group, reveal growing difficulties in hiring meeting professionals. In each in the past four surveys, respondents were asked, “Are you finding it difficult to fill job vacancies at your organization?” and the trend is not favorable. The percentage of people who said they are having difficulty is on the rise:
Fall 2021: 37 percent
Winter 2021/2022: 60 percent
Spring 2022: 54 percent    
Summer 2022: 69 percent

Tied to staffing challenges are respondents’ perceptions that service levels have dropped. This quarter, almost three out of four planners report steep service declines in restaurants (73 percent) and hotels (73 percent). “Staffing shortages continue to put stress on organizations while also impacting service delivery,” comments Jessie States, vice president of MPI Academy. “For organizers, this means more contingency, risk-mitigation and -management planning, and enhanced communication strategies, while suppliers work to manage short RFP turnarounds, staffing (particularly back-of-house), an increase in unseasoned clients, and tight calendars.”

Rising Costs
MPI asked meetings professionals about the cost increases they’re anticipating in the year ahead, and the outlook is budget-crushing. Food and beverage, audiovisual, transportation, and hotel accommodations are the areas where the hit is expected to be the greatest.
Here is the percentage of respondents who expect to see costs go up in various budget areas (the balance sees prices staying the same or going down):

Food and beverage
• Expecting 1-5 percent cost increase: 12 percent
• Expecting 6 percent or greater cost increase: 78 percent

• Expecting 1-5 percent cost increase: 15 percent
• Expecting 6 percent or greater cost increase: 70 percent

Hotel accommodations
• Expecting 1-5 percent cost increase: 19 percent
• Expecting 6 percent or greater cost increase: 67 percent

• Expecting 1-5 percent cost increase: 24 percent
• Expecting 6 percent or greater cost increase: 60 percent

• Expecting 1-5 percent cost increase: 20 percent
• Expecting 6 percent or greater cost increase: 56 percent

Meeting Space
• Expecting 1-5 percent cost increase: 27 percent
• Expecting 6 percent or greater cost increase: 43 percent

As costs surge, negotiations between suppliers and planners undoubtedly get more tense. Who has the upper hand in those discussions? Most respondents to the MPI Summer Meetings Outlook say it’s the seller. As recently as last fall, Meetings Outlook respondents largely said it was either a buyers’ market (43 percent) or a balanced market (19 percent), but the landscape has tipped. Impressions of the most recent respondents see it this way:
Buyers’ market: 26 percent
Balanced market: 18 percent
Sellers’ market: 57 percent

The seven-page MPI Summer Meetings Outlook report is available in full here.

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