After the Economic Fall

13/01/2014 - Reproducido con permiso de The Meeting Professional, 2014. © TMP 2014. Autor: Rowland Stiteler. Traducción: Event Planner Spain

As Europe emerges from recession, meeting professionals report steady and growing business—and a glass-half-full attitude.

The latest reports from Eurostat, the statistical arm of the European Union (EU), would seem to herald great news for the meeting industry throughout the continent: The recession is over, at least in terms of how the growth data stack up.

Perhaps the most optimistic piece of data in a detailed and lengthy report released by Eurostat in August is that compared to the second quarter (Q2) of 2012, the economies of the 28 EU countries collectively grew by 0.3 percent.

Anecdotal reports from European meeting professionals in five EU countries show that there is in fact a thawing in meeting industry business levels and expectations of growth in the near future—but the numbers and the expectations for the future must be tempered by several caveats, they say.

"It’s not yet rosy in the garden, but it is certainly looking a lot better than it has been in the past," says Dublin-based Patrick M. Delaney, CMM, CITE (MPI U.K. and Ireland Chapter), vice president of industry relations for MCI, a multinational meeting and event planning company that does business throughout Europe.

Delaney, whose comments were representative of the consensus of European meeting professionals interviewed, says the various caveats to be observed when reading a headline that says "European Recession Over" are significant.

"As opposed to saying that business is rising, it’s actually that it has just stopped falling. So the glass is half full," Delaney says. "There is room for guarded optimism, but the sentiment around Europe is that our industry is still operating in a difficult business environment."

"Clients are still very much looking for value. They are looking for reasons to justify their meetings investment, and they need a well-defined reason of why they are meeting now."

Delaney also points out that the EU is not a homogeneous entity, but a collection of 28 independent nations, all of which have their own distinct national economies—some of which remain in considerable difficulty

The Eurostat data clearly seem to illustrate what Delaney says: The Q2 2013 data compared to that of Q2 2012 from those in Germany and the United Kingdom are up 0.5 percent and 1.4 percent, respectively, whereas Greece and Cyprus are down 4.6 percent and 5.2 percent, respectively.

But even with those wide, country-by-country variances in the economic picture, and the strong atmosphere of caution throughout the meeting industry, there is still a degree of optimism being
expressed by European meeting professionals these days.

Monica Fontoura, CMP (MPI At Large – Europe), director of national accounts for Global Cynergies based in Basel, Switzerland, is in a position—literally—to have a good perspective on how the Europe an meeting industry is doing these days.

"We are located in the heart of Central Europe and are surrounded by Germany, France and Italy, and our clients are from all over Europe," she says. "I think people are more confident in Europe now. Our clients have to do business somehow and they have to have meetings and we see them moving forward with that. They don’t spend as much money; maybe their budgets are a little bit smaller, but there is a return of a certain level of confidence going forward. I am working on meetings for clients in 2014 and 2015 right now and that obviously reflects expectations of a better economic environment."

Belgian planner Brigitte Boone, CMP, CMM (MPI Belgium Chapter), managing director of Admire, a meeting and incentives planning company based in Brussels, says she sees a distinct improvement in business, not just when compared with the same quarter in 2012, but since the beginning of this year.

"It’s been like the economy has been in the refrigerator for a while, but we are seeing indications of thawing," she says. "Most of our business now comes with very little lead time—people are making their decisions at the last minute and being very cautious about their spend, but just the same, demand for meetings is increasing."

While the current economic numbers differ significantly from country to country within Europe, there are still individual success stories within even the countries whose economies are not yet bouncing back.

"We are a little different because we are a new company that just began operation in 2008," says Montse Miranda (MPI Spain Chapter), managing director of Cutting Edge Events, a destination management company based in Barcelona, Spain.

While the Q2 2013 Eurostat economic report on Spain showed the country’s economic activity actually shrank 1.7 percent compared to Q2 2012, Miranda says her company has grown year-over-year ever since it was founded and is expecting more growth in 2014 and 2015.

That is in large part because of the appeal of Barcelona as a warm-weather destination with a strong and growing clientele from northern European countries, most of which are showing increasingly stronger economic reports nowadays.

"A lot of our success has to do with the economic conditions not necessarily in our own country, but the conditions in the countries where our clients come from," Miranda says. "And groups in the countries where our client base is located seem to be feeling confident enough to book travel going forward."

Another company that has grown through the recession is Sustainable Events Ltd. based in
Manchester, England.

"I think there has been a growing demand for what we offer," says Fiona Pelham (MPI U.K. and Ireland Chapter), managing director of Sustainable Events, which was founded in 2004.

"There has been a growing corporate desire for environmentally sustainable meetings and events that they can demonstrate to be ’green.’"

Pelham says her clients are increasingly interested in well-documented ROI for their meetings and being able to demonstrate to their stakeholders that the budgets were prudent. But just the same, there seems to be a growing demand for meetings in the U.K.

"It seems that we have been hearing the discussion of the recession for so long in the media that it’s hard to remember when we weren’t having that discussion," Pelham says. "But we are not hearing that discussion as much anymore, and it has an impact on group psychology that perhaps creates an atmosphere for growth."

Carole McKellar, CMM (MPI U.K. and Ireland Chapter), executive director of Europe for HelmsBriscoe, has seen marked growth in the company’s European business in the first half of 2013.

"You can’t say the recession is over by any means, but you can say it’s easing," McKellar says. "There is an atmosphere of cautiousness in our clients’ spending, and they want to be able to justify their spend to their stakeholders."

But there is an upside to some of what’s been happening, McKellar says.

"Companies have learned hard economic lessons in recent years, and that has led to much greater scrutiny of meetings," she says. "Our clients want a clearly demonstrable reason for their meetings now and a verifiable benefit to the company from the meetings. But when the value of meetings can be proven and the purpose of meetings is well focused, that’s a situation in which our industry can only benefit. It’s an opportunity to prove our worth as planners."

News - Meeting Professionals International (MPI)

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