Optimism is growing among meeting professionals. The 2022 Global Meetings and Events Forecast, an annual report produced by American Express Meetings & Events, a division of American Express Global Business Travel (GBT), found that they are feeling more confident and well-equipped to plan high-quality meetings and events and adapt to any ongoing uncertainties. The global survey of meetings and events professionals found that 67 percent of respondents believe in-person meeting levels will return to their pre-pandemic numbers within one to two years.

In-person meetings and events are projected to grow in 2022, with 81 percent of events expected to have an in-person element. Another indicator of industry growth is the 64 percent of global meetings and events professionals citing increased budgets for next year. However, GBT reports that the industry is neither expecting nor planning a return to business as usual, and instead professionals intend to take lessons learned during the pandemic to improve the value, effectiveness and sustainability of future events.

“While we are all eager to see the pent-up demand for meetings and events fully realized, we recognize that recovery will not be a straight line, and we can’t get there by simply repeating what we’ve done in the past,” says Gerardo Tejado, GBT’s senior vice president of value development and general manager of meetings and events. “As we look to 2022, we expect the optimism, resourcefulness and innovation we’ve seen in the sector over the past two years lead to a new era of thoughtful, tech-forward, responsible M&E strategies.”

The report found that the value of internal meetings has been recognized by organizations, with internal and training meetings projected to see the largest growth in 2022. Despite the rise of in-person meetings and events, virtual and hybrid formats will continue to play a key role, according to global survey respondents. Hybrid meeting formats will continue to gain traction as they help expand reach to wider audiences, create a built-in virtual contingency plan and increase return on investment. An increased number of attendees is expected across all event types and formats.

The environment will be a priority for most meetings and events programs in 2022—83 percent of respondents said their organizations take sustainability into account when planning meetings and events. The sustainability practices most cited by respondents were minimizing paper usage and applying energy-saving and waste reduction measures for their 2022 meetings.

Looking at specific regions, GBT found that meeting professionals in North America are strongly optimistic about a recovery in 2022. At the time of the survey, 74 percent ranked optimism level as eight or higher, on a scale of one to 10. The region was the leader in resuming in-person meetings and events, with 31 percent already doing so in June/July of this year and at the time were most likely to have in-person events scheduled for 2022 (54 percent).

In Europe, meeting professionals are guardedly optimistic about 2022—59 percent had an optimism level of eight or higher on a scale of one to 10; the lowest of the four regions. However, 48 percent of European events in 2022 are expected to be in-person-only, the second-highest region after North America. And although respondents predict a slower recovery than in other regions, 86 percent are confident that in-person attendee numbers will return to pre-pandemic levels within five years.

Meeting professionals in Central and South America are the most optimistic about the industry’s prospects for 2022, with 87 percent ranked their optimism level as eight or higher on a scale of one to 10, while 82 percent believe their career options are good to excellent. The region’s projection for in-person components for events is slightly lower than the others, at 76 percent—however, 81 percent of respondents expect in-person attendee numbers to return to pre-pandemic levels in the next one to two years, the highest regional result.

In the Asia-Pacific region, meeting professionals are fairly positive about the health of the industry in 2022. Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) said they would rank their optimism level as eight or higher on a scale of one to 10, and 58 percent believe their career options are good to excellent. They expect 81 percent of 2022 events in the region to include an in-person component. And 62 percent of respondents in the region expect in-person attendee numbers to return to pre-pandemic levels in the next one to two years.