It’s time to break out your event wardrobe. 2023 is shaping up to be a busy year for in-person gatherings.

According to the 2023 Global Meetings and Events Forecast from American Express Meetings & Events, the number of in-person business gatherings is happening at a greater volume than expected. Two-thirds of the 580 meetings and events professionals who participated in the survey believe that the overall number of face-to-face events will return to pre-pandemic levels within one to two years.

Small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are leading the charge. According to Amex GBT’s Q2 2022 Earnings Report, SMEs are planning more meetings and events than any other customer segment. In the second quarter of 2022, SME transactions reached 84% of 2019 levels, compared to 76% from all customer segments.

Sixty-five percent of respondents also indicated that meetings and events budgets will be higher for 2023. This will help cover the volume of meetings slated for next year as well as rising prices. According to the forecast, meeting and event expenditures are expected to go up due to higher labor, food, and other fixed costs, along with the impact of inflation.

To understand how SMEs can offset these rising costs, we spoke to Julie Flynn, senior manager, business development, Meetings & Events, who works with SME clients.

Look at several venues in several locations

Where you stage your event will have a major impact on the budget. Therefore, Julie recommends looking at multiple suppliers in multiple cities to boost your negotiation capability and drive down the cost of the venue component.

She said SMEs that are more flexible with the location typically secure more favorable rates and see the highest savings. “For example, we have a client that was sourcing a 700-person program in Chicago. They wanted to be downtown but ended up going for an airport property because they were able to get a better rate.”

The client also saved a ton on transportation costs by choosing a hotel near the airport.

“I know for myself when I go to a conference,” Julie said, “I probably have $200 in Uber rides. So, choosing the right venue location can help save money.”

You can also reduce transportation costs by selecting a hotel that is within walking distance of other event activities, like an off-site dinner.

When scouting locations, consider air travel costs too. Julie said it doesn’t make sense to choose a hotel that is 20% less if getting there translates into high airfares.

“If all your attendees are on the East Coast, Florida would be a better pick than California. If you have people from all over the country, you may want to find somewhere more central, like Dallas or Denver,” she said.

Plan in advance

In today’s world, some organizations are hesitant to book meetings far in advance, but it can cost you if you wait too long. Julie says some suppliers and vendors have begun implementing surcharges for last-minute events. There also tends to be less availability in terms of venues and vendors when you’re cutting it close.

“Planning in advance gives clients more options, more opportunities to look at different vendors and locations,” said Julie.

She noted the sweet spot generally is between nine to 12 months ahead of an event, depending on the size of the program.

Partner with a meetings and events provider

Taking advantage of the services and solutions of a meetings and events management provider like American Express Meetings & Events can drive significant cost savings. There is a complimentary service called Meetings Expert in which our meeting pros from American Express Meetings & Events help negotiate all aspects of the hotel contract – including guest rooms, conference rooms, and food and beverage – for events that require at least 10 guest rooms. Based on an analysis of internal data, we see that clients typically save almost 18% on meetings when using this service.

Through our Travel for Meetings program, which arranges group air travel for attendees, we can pass on American Express Global Business Travel’s (Amex GBT’s) negotiated rates to clients. When they follow our best practices, we see that companies can save between 15% and 20% on air travel.1

You can also benefit from having one of our skilled negotiators on your side.

“Our people have expertise executing all different kinds of programs all over the world. That wealth of knowledge and level of exposure can be extremely helpful. They know how to negotiate and get better prices on things like food and beverage, meeting rentals, and audiovisual. They also understand what’s essential and what can be cut from a program,” Julie said.

Move toward a consolidated travel and meetings program

As noted in the 2023 Meetings and Events Forecast, companies with a consolidated travel and meetings program enjoy a wide range of benefits that positively impact the company’s bottom line, including improved reporting, contracting, time and resource efficiencies, savings, and visibility on spend.

“The visibility we get by having it all under one umbrella can drive client-wide savings and consistency. I’ve seen some clients that have achieved 20% to 30% on their savings when they’ve done this,” Julie said. “Essentially, the more holistically we can view the volumes a company puts out into the industry, the better equipped we are for negotiations.”

Julie added that from a cost avoidance perspective, consolidation can help you optimize your program, enabling you to strategically look at your needs (e.g., what meetings need to be held in person versus virtual, what meetings could potentially be combined) and make decisions that could lead to substantial cost savings.

Have clarity around your needs

When you have deep insights into an event’s objectives, attendees, itineraries, etc., you can be more strategic with negotiations and other cost-saving tactics.

For example, Julie says, if there are 200 people attending a conference and half are a 30-minute drive from the venue, you could save a bundle by arranging complimentary parking. For another company that has employees flying in from all over, however, having comped parking wouldn’t add much value.

Julie cited another example in which a client wanted grab-and-go lunches for all attendees on the last day of the conference.

“When we looked at the final flight manifest, we noticed that a lot of people were leaving basically at the time that the lunches would be served,” she said. “We also saw that a lot of people were driving in. We thought, ‘People aren’t going to hang around to pick up the lunch. It’s the end of the week. They want to go home.’ So, we ended up cutting down their food and beverage numbers and saving quite a bit, purely just from understanding crowd flow.”

The more information an organization can share about its event, the more creative our meetings planners can be with cost-saving angles.

“We have the most success when a client is open and transparent around its budget, intent, and past experiences,” Julie said. “When we have clients that are true partners in that way, we can understand the budget and financial constraints they’re up against and target specific savings opportunities versus making blanket decisions across the board.”

For more insights into the trends impacting your meetings and events program in 2023, download our forecast. To find out more about how we can reduce your meetings and events costs, contact us today.

1 Clients can save between 15% to 20% on group air travel based on the following factors: They have access to Amex GBT-negotiated fares; they have the correct application of client-negotiated fares; their travelers are always looking and booking the lowest logical airfare available; they are selecting the most cost-effective destination/route; there’s effective coordination and negotiation when changes or disruptions happen, and there’s meeting policy enforcement.