A Look into the Future: Trends and Developments of the Meetings and Events Industry

This post is my submission for the IMEX Power Of 10 Student Essay Competition

The meetings and events industry will not be the same in ten years time. The quickly growing Asian market, people’s thirst for experience rich trips, business and leisure, and the unbelievable speed with which new technologies evolve will change the meeting, as we know it. The process of professionalization of the events management profession accompanies these developments, which is necessary, as new challenges such as terrorism or higher expectations demand a higher degree of expertise.

The first world fair took place in the late 19th century in London, which is also when the first professional associations where founded. The meetings and events industry has changed and evolved evermore since then. In the following the economic, social and technological trends will be discussed and why we will still be meeting in ten years time.

The current economic climate is rather unstable. Numerous case studies and journal articles written before 2007 dealing with the economic trends of the next five years are now out-dated as the financial crisis caused an eruption in the world’s stock markets that put the world’s economies to the test. Countries such as Greece, Portugal, Spain, Ireland, Italy and even the USA were and still are facing huge financial challenges. However, in the long run the credit crunch will be just a small dip in the world’s constantly increasing GDP. According to a study by Yeoman (2008) the global GDP will rise by 129% until 2030 indicating that people will generally earn more rather than less money, however, this trend is predominantly caused by the thriving economies of China and India and the fact that, also in western societies, the gap between rich and poor is growing.

As for any other industry these dramatic economic changes imply challenges as well as opportunities for the industry. The Asian market has to offer new destinations for events and conferences. If in the 20th century tourism between Europe and the US was increasing, the 21st century will be coined by increasing traffic between West and East. The economic advancement in the East will result in the professionalization of their meeting facilities. If in addition to that air travel becomes more efficient and affordable, which is likely, a four-day business conference in Beijing, Tokyo or New Delhi instead of Paris, Budapest or Berlin might become reality. Not only will we have to adapt to the business culture and etiquette of these new destination, but also visitors from Asia traveling to Europe and the USA will influence our culture.

A study by Mair and Thompson (2009) has found that location, networking and cost are the top three factors motivating professionals to attend conferences and conventions. Their research shows that between 1985 and 2007 this has not changed significantly; which allows us to assume that these factors will still be relevant in ten to 20 years time.  Assuming that a trip to India, China or Japan will be economically sustainable and that professional associations such as MPI, PCMA and IFEA will still be competing for attendees, then an annual meeting in Hong Kong sounds much more exciting than a meeting in London.

Exotic conference destinations offer a much more exciting and culturally diverse experience for the attendees. Pine and Gilmore (1999) are well known for their theory on the ‘experience economy’. They state that the demand for adventure, excitement and action during vacations and business trips is increasing. Reasons for that development are higher disposable incomes and consumer’s growing time consciousness. Getz (2008) argues that the expectations of an event rise parallel to the distance the attendee has to travel, which would set the bar for an event in the growing Asian market high. However, the professionalization of the event management profession through international guidelines such as the event management body of knowledge (EMBOK) and the increasing number of universities offering degrees in events management (Bowdin 2006) are satisfying the demand for more professional meetings and events, more intense experiences during such and event tourism as an additional income stream for tourism destinations.

Another variable that is currently subject to change is the constant evolution of people’s values (Yeoman 2008). We are becoming more aware of the environment and our impact on it. Especially air travel is a form of transport with a significant carbon footprint. Although the financial crisis has temporarily extruded environmental policies from the political agenda it will eventually be of high significance once again. Whether or not the climate change will actually prevent people from travelling long distances by plane is hard to tell. What is without doubt is that having an event always has a more negative effect on the environment than not having it.

In addition to tackling one’s carbon footprint events have the opportunity to make a difference for the environment through a sustainable legacy, increasing the event’s significance and positive impact through a long lasting inheritance. This could be achieved through education of the attendees. By doing so events will extend their impact on our society and legitimise their existence, which is of great importance when it comes to governmental funding and sponsorship.

Unfortunately, the globalisation of the world’s economies has negative effects, too. Clashing cultures are the reason for terrorism and thriving extremist groups. It is a threat to any large event, especially if it has political, economic or social significance. It affects travel to a meeting or event and the event itself. The cost of security has become more significant on every mega event’s budget sheet.

While terrorism is one of the results of globalisation, advancing technologies are causing it. During the PCMA Annual Meetings one can sense that meeting and event professionals fear that technology might make face-to-face meetings irrelevant. However, technology will never replace meetings people are attending in person; it is rather an opportunity than a threat.

Firstly, the Internet and it’s increasing availability on mobile devices makes communication more effective. As communication is the core of networking and networking is, according to Mair and Thompson (2009), the second most important factor for conference motivation, technology will increase the attendee’s experience and therefor everyone’s return on investment.

MeetingMatrix International, a company for room diagramming software from New Hampshire, USA, might soon become a new trend setter in meeting technology, as they formulated their noble cause as the long term objective to merge the physical and virtual world of meetings and events. On Mair and Thompson’s motivations ranking personal/professional development and self-enhancement are not a priority for attendees. Therefor watching the live stream of sessions will not replace the entire conference experience. One of the things that could make a difference would be the opportunity to take part in networking sessions as a virtual attendee.

Advancement in technology has recently generated meetings and conference smartphone applications. They have only been around for about two years and are becoming more popular. However, it will take another three years until they have reached their full potential. When that point is reached they will offer an efficient and effective tool for their users to make the most of a conference or meeting. A conference app has the potential to combine the most important motivational factors to attend an event: They will make networking easier by filtering your preferences and interests, so that you can meet exactly the right colleagues to network with, help you with a problem, market your product to potential customers etc. Secondly, it will aid you to find your way through the hotel or convention centre and possibly the host destination, pointing out additional activities.

Another technological trend is the sharing of resources. For example Microsoft has designed a photo panorama app available in Apple’s iTunes store for the iPhone. Many other apps have incorporated social networking platforms and other features making it easier to share information with others or to store them in the cloud. Technology is and will be all about efficiency, all we have to make sure is that it is also effective, doing the right thing. We have to be careful that all our gadgets do not make our experience stressful and that they do not distract us from what actually matters.

More has changed during the past ten year than over the past 100 years since the first conferences and meeting were held. The inevitable globalisation and the merging of cultures, the evolution of new values and the changes in society and technology will have a greater impact on our very young meetings and events industry than ever before. The growing eastern economies are opening up for us; our awareness of the environment will affect our consumption habits and technology will make it possible for event attendees to concentrate on the aspects they consider most important about a conference or meeting. We have to be aware of the role, which we as meetings and events professional will play in the future, as events have the power to change things for the better.

References

Bowdin, G. A. J., Allen, J., O’Toole, W., Harris, R. and McDonnell, I. 2006. Events Management. Oxford: Elsevier Butterworth-Heinemann.

Getz, D. 2008. Event tourism: Definition, evolution, research. Tourism Management. 29 (3), pp. 403-428.

Mair, J., Thompson, K. 2009. The UK association conference attendance decision-making process. Tourism Management. 30 (3), pp. 400-409.

Pine, B., Gilmore, J. (1999). The experience economy: Work is Theatre and every business a stage. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

Yeoman, I. 2008. What will the World look like in 2030?. Tomorrow’s Tourist: Scenarios and Trends. Oxford: Elsevier, pp. 21-32.

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Green, greener, I don’t believe a word you say.

I was inspired to write this post during a tutorial of our events management module, Trends and Developments in Planned Events. We were examining environmental forces and their impact on events and how they were becoming stronger as the world faces the climate change, which, in my opinion, in itself is open for discussion. However, how does being green and sustainable and events management fit together, as most events are a one off thing consuming lots of energy and directly and indirectly producing CO2 en masse?

Without any further scientific evidence one can say that there probably is no and in the near future will not be any event that has not even the slightest negative environmental impact. Taking into consideration that attendees will have to travel to the event sight, that suppliers have to deliver and produce goods and that the event will most likely consume energy of some sort.
Now, there are three options here to reduce that negative impact on our environment:

  • Promote your event as an activity trying to engage your audience in something ‘green’ instead of doing something else, which would be bad for the environment. E.g. in my hometown Hamburg we have an annual bike rally involving thousands of cyclists riding their bikes on streets blocked for cars into the city centre. Here the travel to the event is the main part of the event itself. Very green, promoting healthy and sustainable transport but still producing a carbon footprint.
  • Secondly, and probably most obvious, imply sustainability as your overall theme only working with stakeholders who also practice a sustainable strategy. This approach is becoming more and more common; governmental guidelines are being formulated regulating and restricting the use of resources etc.
  • Finally, and to me most interesting, the creation of a green legacy.

Especially with mega and hallmark events legacy planning has become inevitable. Tighter budgets and increased professionalism in the field of events management led to the assumption that events cannot exist for the sake of it but should have lasting significance beyond the duration of the actual event (Matheson 2010). Olympic and Commonwealth Games, European Capitals of Culture, Football World Cups and events of similar scale are now used to initiate change, socially include lower classes and regenerate post-industrial quarters while promoting sustainability. This development constitutes quite a big challenge for event organisers, as the subject has not only a great environmental but political, economic, social and technological significance.

In 2000 Goldblatt wrote in an article for the Australian Centre for Event Management about the ecological trends the events industry would experience. He states that the Sydney Olympic where the first Games which formulated a ‘green’ legacy plan, although they did not succeed, it was a start. There is rumour that London 2012 will actually be the first truly ‘green’ Games. Whether or not Olympic Games have a true legacy depends on the organisers and is strongly determent by the availability of sustainable technologies and processes. Critics argue that all the hype about ‘greener’ practices would be a waste of money, because our industry and technology is simply not ready to relinquish fossil energy sources, yet.

Until we are able to drive our cars on water and light our venues with sunlight we will have to be creative and make the best of it. Acknowledging that one’s event will have a negative impact of some kind is the first step that has to be taken in order to find a way to fill the gap before our independency from oil.

The first book on 'green' Event ManagementHaving done that, you can start thinking about the difference you could make. Legacy planning takes event management to the next level, as it requires planning beyond the limited duration and space of the event. But careful, legacy can be positive as well as negative. Some make the Olympic Games in Athens jointly responsible for Greece’s struggling economy. The same is true for the desire to appear as ‘green’ as Bruce MacMillan, CEO of Meeting Professionals International (MPI) warns us, quoted in Goldblatt (2010). The line between a reputation as being truly sustainable and being a green washer is small. Therefor, it is important not to leave your event’s legacy to chance.

Sustainability can be passed on to your audience and guests, the infrastructure required for your event can be ecological and the content of the message you are delivering through your event is up to you. So, try to find a way to make a difference creating lasing memories and knowledge among your attendees in order to break even with your carbon footprint taking into account the difference your event’s legacy makes for the host destination and its visitors.

So if you want people to remember you, plan for an event legacy and make it green, a green that doesn’t scratch off when examined more carefully.

 

References:

Goldblatt, S. 2012. The Complete Guide to Greener Meetings and Events. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Goldblatt, J. 2000. A Future for Event Management: The Analysis of Major Trends Impacting the Emerging Profession. Events beyond 2000:Setting the Agenda. Sydney: Austration Centre for Event Management.

Matheson, C. 2010. Legacy Planning, Regeneration and Events: The Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games. Local Economy, 25 (1), pp. 10-23.

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QMU Events Management Network

The QMU PCMA Student Chapter was the first club I joined when I started my studies at Queen Margaret in September 2009. This club is responsible for some of the highlights of my student life so far: The two PCMA Annual Meetings I attended so far in Dallas, Texas and this January in Las Vegas, becoming the Student Planner of the Year Scholarship winner 2011 and I met some of my best friends I have at QMU. During my presidency over the last academic year I tried to encourage others to join the chapter in order to share the great time I had with the group. However, I was facing several problems, which made it difficult to keep the group together.

After we went to Las Vegas we did not manage to get the chapter back on track. The group was split into those who attended PCMA Convening Leaders and into those who did not. I knew from the previous years that this might happen, but I was not able to prevent it. In order to avoid this situation and to make the chapter more inclusive and attractive for more students Thorben, who has returned from his semester in Canada, and I had the idea to make the QMU PCMA Student Chapter an official society as part of our Students’ Union: The QMU Events Management Network.

The aim of the Network is to share knowledge, contacts and ideas. Younger students can take advantage of older students’ experience, you can help others to get an internship with a firm you might already know and you will be able to share your event ideas and take part in the society’s fundraising events. We will still be attending the PCMA Annual Meeting, but a membership is not mandatory. In addition to PCMA you have the option to join MPI or any other professional body of your choice. These changes take the focus from PCMA, which means the group becomes more attractive to potential members, who are only interested in organising their own small events and meet students from other years.

I am looking forward to working together with the Students’ Union and to seeing the society grow and become a part of the university’s culture.
May 2011/12 be a very special  event.

QMU Events Management Network Facebook Page

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World’s first Meeting and Event Technology Curriculum

The following post is from our university internal news letter from August 19th 2011 announcing the new curriculum in Meeting and Event Technology.

Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh has completed the development of the world’s first curriculum for meeting and events technology in higher education.

Partnering with MeetingMatrix International and event experts around the world, QMU created a curriculum guide which will equip university students with cutting edge technology skills in meeting and event planning. This is the first time a university level events curriculum received input from industry experts worldwide and integrated technology supplied by a leading commercial company. The new curriculum and technology are offered by Queen Margaret University and MeetingMatrix free of charge to universities worldwide.

The project was funded by MeetingMatrix, suppliers of the most advanced room diagramming programme and venue sourcing technology on the global market. The technology allows event planners and clients to see exactly what their rooms and events will look like even if both parties are in different countries.

Professor Joe Goldblatt, Director of the International Centre for the Study of Planned Events at QMU, explained: “Across the globe, events are becoming extremely sophisticated and often employ increasing levels of technology in order to meet their goals – whether that be in sales, customer satisfaction, business partner relations or costs. For example, The Edinburgh Festivals is always looking to improve its communication with its audiences by employing more advanced technology systems which will ultimately impact positively on sales and customer satisfaction, as well as social welfare and the local economy. The event planner is also under pressure to provide evidence of a successful outcome to event sponsors.   In order to successfully achieve this, event planners need to be technically savvy, whilst also have the ability to innovate and provide direction for the future evolution of events.”

“Together with its partners, QMU has developed a pioneering curriculum which will equip event management students with the technical ability and knowledge to gain a competitive advantage in the fast paced meeting and events industry” said Professor Goldblatt.

Beginning in autumn this year, QMU students will be benefitting from the newly developed ‘MeetingMatrix Meeting and Event Technology Curriculum’.

Kuan-wen Lin, PhD student, has worked solidly on the development of this project for the last year. He said: “In order to ensure that the Curriculum can be utilised by undergraduate students and universities globally, it was reviewed by an impressive range of international event experts from Boston, Las Vegas, New York, Switzerland and Hong Kong.  Thanks to the support of MeetingMatrix, the Curriculum, which is valued at between £30,600 – £91,800 ($50,000 -$150,000) per year, is now available free of charge to universities all over the world.”

Lynne Russel
Press and PR Officer

The Curriculum as PDF

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Keep it simple, or should you?

Recently the Sheraton Hotel Edinburgh hosted the TED Global 2011 conference. A friend of mine works at the Sheraton and I went to visit him there one day and got very excited when I saw all the people walking around with their TED badges. I think badges are one of the coolest things on earth, because they make your guests feel special and that is exactly what you want at your event, isn’t it? However, a couple of weeks later I was doing my usual TED talks catch up during which I discovered the following talk by Tim Harford:

During many discussions I had with friends about anything, I remember thinking that some of the arguments I was confronted with were just a little bit too simple for this complex environment we are living in. I experienced the same thing in events management. If you are an events manager and believe that you exactly know what your audience wants because you have experience and you did this kind of event many times before, you might overestimate your abilities a little bit. While I was analysing the results of two surveys I did for two events of my father’s company in June, I had the impression at one point that we occasionally might be thinking too narrow minded. Over the years the ability to see with the eyes of an event attendee might have been forgotten every now and then. This is a dangerous trap to fall for. The company I did an internship with, MeetingMatrix, has employees, who know about this danger, which is one of the reasons they wanted to work with us. We were their eyes into the events world.

Harford kindly calls it the God complex when people think they have figured it all out. I agree with him and think that you can be far more successful, if you admit that you can not know everything and not do it all on your own. Try to be a connector and bring together all the forces required to make your vision come true. At MeetingMatrix employees are working on all kinds of different projects in triads, which, according to the authors of Tribal Leadership, is the way to get the job done.

I would like to leave you with another video, which I found watching Tim Harford’s talk. It is Malcolm Gladwell at TED in Moterey, California in 2004 talking about the diversity of human taste and that we cannot express what makes us happy. It is somehow related to the idea that the world is too complex for simple solutions and also very interesting if you apply his ideas to events management.

Be humble and share your thoughts with as many people as possible, someone who can help you might hear about it.

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I-FEST 2011

I-FEST stands for International-Festival Experience Study Tour and is an educational programme of the St. Edward’s University, Austin, Texas in cooperation with Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh. Since 2009 St. Edward’s sends over a group of students form different courses to study the Edinburgh festivals, learn about the city and the Scottish culture. This year there are 17 students accompanied by one of their Professors, Innes Mitchell, who leads the programme together with Professor Joe Goldblatt from QMU. Iain Rowan, a fellow student of mine, and me were appointed Programme Coordinators for this year’s tour. We have been helping to organise trips, activities and shows for the students.

Now, after waiting for an eternity, the Texans have finally arrived and we already had a great few days during which we climbed Arthur’s Seat, visited the Edinburgh Dungeons and had a guided tour through the New and Old Town of the city. However, for the students it’s now just a relaxing holiday, they are awarded credits for their degree and have to write several assignments during their stay in Scotland.

The I-FEST group at the Edinburgh Dungeon

Programme Coordinator is really just a fancy word for tour guide and being one is something that I was interested in since I moved to Edinburgh, where I have been showing friends and family around, whenever any of them visited. From an events management perspective it is interesting, because I am, for a change, not organising the events, but everything around them. Iain and I are in contact with restaurants, theatres, pubs, bars, public transport and interesting people from the Edinburgh festivals to arrange meetings for the group. It gives me a different perspective on potential target groups, which might attend my events in the future. Knowing what the needs of a person are that has to plan a visit to an event for a larger group is very valuable to me. As an events manager I will have the ability to make these people’s work easier, so that they might prefer taking their group to my event instead of another, because it is less stressful to prepare.

Another interesting point of view I am experience with the students is the one of a tourist. Tourists obviously do different things at a destination than locals and they do things that locals might miss out on. We did the Saints and Sinners Walking Tour last night and I learned many interesting things about the streets I walk in every day. I encourage everyone to think about what they actually know about the place they live in. You might realise that you actually know very little about the place you call home.

Although only a few days of a whole I-FEST month have passed so far, it has already been worth the time I invested in the project. I am looking forward to the next three eventful weeks. Yee Haw

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green Hamburg Harley Days 2011

Hamburg Harley Days at the Hamburg GrossmarktThe Hamburg Harley Days 2011 are over, however, after the Harley Days is before the Harley Days. Especially this year, as we had a special guest, who’s presence might change the event forever. I am not talking about Keith Wandell, CEO of Harley Davidson, who was there, too, but about the guy, who wrote the first book on green meetings and events, Sam Goldblatt. Yes, he is the son of our professor Joe Goldblatt and no, it is not a coincidence. After we had some issues with the Hamburg council with respect to the even, we decided to be proactive and invite Sam to write a report on the event’s sustainability. But instead of letting him produce a meaningless paper with ideas we could have come up with ourselves, I thought it would be clever to fly him into Hamburg, let him do his research on which he could base an individual report about the Harley Day’s potential to become greener, more sustainable and an even more important part of Hamburg’s culture.

A survey, which I designed for the event was extended by a few questions, which would add to the report. Sam interviewed vendors, suppliers, the stage crew, event attendees, my dad, the organiser and many more in order to get an idea of what the Hamburg Harley Days actually are and what their meaning is to the different stakeholders. In my opinion this year’s event was the perfect time to launch this project, as for the first time since 2003, when we had the first Harley event in Hamburg, we have a 5 year contract for the venue, which makes the report even more valuable to us, because most of the logistics and suppliers will stay the same over this period.

My wish is it to make the Hamburg Harley Days, of which a key feature is the completely senseless and irresponsible production of CO2 through fuel inefficient engines, a more sustainable and greener event and perhaps to make it even greener than events that do not involve 60.000 motorcycles.

May the Harley Days rock on forever.

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