With 3,800 hosted-buyers and 3,500 exhibitors from 150 countries participating in IMEX 2010 in Frankfurt, the state of the international meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) industry seems to be on the upswing. While industry professionals agree that relief from the economic downturn is eminent, they also concur that future challenges lie ahead.
“Recovery is uncertain and uneven,” says Rod Cameron, director of international development for the International Association of Convention Centres. “We must make economic recovery the priority.”
Facing a plethora of challenges from currency issues to negative public perceptions and declining support, proving the value of meetings as a business vehicle is a key goal. Central to achieving that goal is changing the popular perception of meetings as entertainment or simply a vehicle for tourism. Like their American counterparts, meeting professionals overseas are focused on promoting the strategic value of meetings as a business model for economic growth.
“We need to reposition ourselves as a key economic driver [that is] not part of the entertainment industry,” says Leigh Harry, chief executive, Melbourne Exhibition & Convention Centre and president of the Joint Meetings Industry Council. “We’ve been demonized as part of the problem, not part of the solution.”
To assist in repositioning the MICE sector, IMEX hosted a Politicians Forum which brought together 29 politicians with 65 meetings industry leaders and keynote speakers to analyze and debate the full economic value of the global meetings industry. With over 70 percent of convention centers being owned by governments, their support is crucial to the industry.
“Governments are bearing the brunt of economic recovery,” Cameron says. “If we’ve learned anything at all, we must address government concerns and speak their language.”
The forum provided the opportunity for government and industry leaders to communicate their objectives and demands, expanding awareness of the industry.
Cameron believes that realigning how meeting value is measured will help increase understanding of the value of the MICE industry.
“We tend to look at conventions as filling up hotel rooms and measure by this,” Cameron says. “No one plans a meeting to stay in a hotel room; that just happens as a result.”
Cameron says that in addition to measuring a meeting’s economic impact, business and professional development must also be considered. A meeting can expose local businesses to new products and technologies, and provide access to world-class knowledge and expertise. This stimulates research and collaboration and opens investment opportunities to the community.
“The real value of meetings is what they achieve,” Cameron says. “We must focus on the business outcomes, the research and development, and business advancements.”
Rohit Talwar, project director for Convention 2020 and CEO of Fast Future, agrees that innovation and enabling business are two key factors in rejuvenating the success of meetings. This innovation includes creating new pricing models, such as subsidizing travel for buyers and sponsoring the attendance of senior delegates. Talwar suggests sharing financial risk with event partners and paying suppliers from event proceeds rather than paying flat fees upfront.
The Convention 2020 “Pathfinder Report” lists three key elements that will make meetings effective in future years: content, quality of networking and the opportunity to meet key people. Talwar points out that the human factor won out over technology, although technological tools such as live video streaming to remote participants will continue to be of importance.
The Global Numbers
The Pathfinder Report revealed that 74 percent of those surveyed will invest at least as much in events as they do now, although 59 percent said they will seek alternatives to meetings and events. While there will be 49 percent fewer events, they will be larger and cover a wider range of topics. There will be less choice of which events to attend, but more choices within the events themselves.
The MICE market monitor, tmf GmbH’s annual survey on the German-speaking MICE market, reported that the industry suffered a serious setback in overall development for 2009. However in 2010, recovery to the level before the financial crisis is being observed with a third of the buyers seeing their situation as positive.
Incentive travel continues to be hit the hardest by the financial crisis with 76 percent of incentive events being affected in 2010. This is still an improvement over 2009 when 95 percent of incentives were affected.
The demand for European destinations is increasing with 30 percent saying they are seeing more inquiries for these destinations in 2010 than they did in 2009. Even before its team won the World Cup, Spain was the top global destination of choice, followed by Italy, France and Great Britain. The U.S. came in fifth.
Meetings & Incentive Travel’s “Trends & Spends Survey” analyzes the market in the United Kingdom. According to the survey, companies are opting to hold their events closer to home (“short-haul” events) rather than taking them to “long haul” destinations outside the U.K. While short-haul events increased in number from 807 groups in 2008 to 889 groups in 2009, long-haul trips dropped from 324 groups to 296.
As a result of tightening budgets, many planners have seen a reduction in the number of delegates coming to their events.
“We didn’t cut back on the number of meetings,” says Philip Arbuckle, CMP, of MeetingTrack. “Just the number of participants went down.”
Leigh Wintz, CAE, executive director of Soroptimist International of the Americas, also sees a trend in lower attendance which is largely dependent on the meeting’s location. Persuading attendees to travel to emerging markets is especially difficult.
“Association meetings that were just venturing into the international market took a second look and became hesitant,” Wintz says.
While planners and suppliers remain cautious about the future of the industry, they are also confident about its successful return.
“We’re getting back to 2008 levels,” says Johanna Fischer, managing director of tmf GmbH. “There is light at the end of the tunnel.”