Buyer Q&A: Staffing Shortages Remain a Challenge for MICE Industry

Doug Wheeler, principal, Summit Performance Group LLC—who we spoke to as part of our “Buyer Q&A” series—believes high room rates, F&B pricing and other expenses will return to a more normal level as we continue to move towards a “post-COVID” landscape. As such, he expects his events budget to increase in 2023 and 2024 but level off after that. See more of our conversation below.

What are some trends in the meeting and incentive industry that you have seen in recent months? Do you think these trends will last? How are you adjusting to those trends?  

The industry is coming back strongly after COVID. Room rates, food and beverage pricing and overall expenses are very high right now as the industry is celebrating an uptrend in business. Rates and availability are compressed as organizations still seek to get together in-person after COVID. Resort fees abound and service charges are very high. Contracts are stricter, including cancellation, rooms and food/beverage attrition and Force Majeure clauses. 

We are trying to negotiate on our clients’ behalf as much as possible and suggesting that they be as flexible in securing dates and function spaces. It is a major education opportunity for companies such as ours to educate clients on how best to navigate these times. 

I think, overall, pricing and availability is somewhat cyclical and will return to a more normal level as time passes and things get back to normal. Obviously, this will depend upon the overall economy and global events. 

How are you structuring your meeting strategy moving forward in terms of virtual events vs. in person events? Are Hybrid events here to stay? 

Much of the demand for virtual meetings has abated in the near term; however, I think that many smaller, regional programs will cancel face-to-face programs to save time, human resources and costs and accomplish these programs through a virtual platform. I believe that hybrid is very important for association programs and offers a revenue opportunity for organizations charging a fee for attendees. 

As the global hospitality industry bounces back, there are lasting impacts including hiring challenges, closures within destinations and service-level changes. Are these challenges still affecting your sourcing needs? If so, how are you handling this with your teams? 

We have experienced the following “post-COVID:”

  • Delay from sales teams in responding to our business inquiries.
  • Inconsistent services, less face-to-face on-site services, some replaced by automation. 
  • Housekeeping challenges in various properties. 
  • Several DMCs advising that some venues, restaurants and attractions have closed and/or that they are experiencing challenges in providing transportation and other staffing support that existed pre-COVID. 

Do you foresee your event budget increasing or decreasing moving forward? 

Increasing in 2023 and into 2024, and I believe leveling off after that. 

What are the top three most important elements you look for when securing a supplier or venue?  

Location/air access; quality and reputation of venue and supplier; and flexibility of overall contracts. 

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