CWT projects +8% growth for the meetings and events sector in 2020, but warns of gathering geopolitical and economic headwinds

13 September, 2019

CWT Meetings & Events (CWT M&E), the global meetings and events division of CWT, says the USD840 billion industry is poised for an +8% growth in 2020 despite looming geopolitical and economic headwinds, according to its 2020 Future Trends Report.

The report notes the protracted trade war between the US and China is creating “general uncertainty in the global business community” heading into 2020. Adding to the anxiety is the future of Brexit and “its cascading impact on the European Union”. Over in Asia, the protests in Hong Kong that started in June “have put businesses on alert,” as continued unrest in the city is bound to impact demand across the region. “Growing concern over the impact of climate change is also increasingly clouding business sentiment,” the report acknowledges.

Despite these issues, there are reasons to be upbeat, according to Kurt Ekert, president and CEO at CWT. “The need for live events is becoming more relevant than ever before,” he said, with up to 30% of marketing budgets expected to be spent on live events in 2020.

“Face-to-face meetings are critical to establishing connections between brands and their customers, and employees and their companies, especially during times of uncertainty. Knowing how to manage risks globally while putting together an authentic and measurable experience for all participants will be key for success in this space in the coming year and beyond,” he explains.

The Future Trends Report identifies key developments in the industry in 2020, including digitalisation, with event websites being created at a rapid pace—up 52% year-over-year—as more customers utilise these sites to drive increased engagement. Mobile devices are also adding new functionality with apps that go beyond setting travel itineraries to allowing organizers to create a higher degree of personalisation for attendees.

CWT M&E estimates the number of event apps created since 2017 has jumped +83%, while the percentage of attendees downloading apps rose from 50% in 2017 to 74% year-to-date in 2019.

This emphasis on digitalisation is being driven by changing demographics as Millennials are poised to become the biggest group of business travellers globally from 2024 onwards. Right at their heels are the so-called centennials (born 1996 onwards), the first group that can claim to be digital natives as they have never known a world without the internet, smartphones and apps.

“This younger group of travellers is all about experience, authenticity and participation,” says Derek Sharp, senior vice president and managing director, CWT Meetings & Events. “Not content to merely ‘attend’ events, Millennials and centennials use technology to actively ‘participate’ in the experience - pre-event, during the event, and post-event.”

He explains that organisers are needing to respond with innovations “that put a premium on the ability to personalise experiences, coupled with ways of measuring the resulting engagement”.

When it comes to experiential events, including incentive travels, the report shows a move towards experiences that feel authentic, where travellers can immerse themselves in a destination like locals and not as high-end tourists. Hand-in-hand with this trend is the growing attraction of off the beaten track destinations versus the usual tier one cities.

But, the report highlights that this has raised some safety and security issues with 42% of travellers subjected to pre-travel risk assessments as part of the travel approval process, a +5% increase year-over-year.

Socially and environmentally responsible incentives also rank high for 2020, fuelled by this next generation of participants who view climate change as an increasingly pressing issue, according to CWT M&E’s findings. These sustainable initiatives include replanting trees and other efforts to care for the environment - and leave a lasting legacy long after an event concludes.

The report also acknowledges that as global meetings and event programmes become more centralised, new technologies in the form of artificial intelligence and bots are transforming how these programmes are managed across multiple regions and markets. Organisations are taking advantage of these innovative tools to derive more visibility and real-time data and feedback, it says, “As technology shrinks timelines and response times, the result is a streamlined process that ultimately leads to better adoption and a changing mindset around meetings,” it explains.