Often, meeting planners miss the wood for the trees in that the significance of international meetings is not understood. The bigger picture often gets lost when we try to focus on the mechanics, the cost and the processes, while ignoring the ultimate, targeted outcome. The objective of the meeting is to achieve a specific goal, but very seldom do we sets our sights on that primary objective. Instead we veer away to what processes and costs are involved in such a meeting. Industry meetings are so much more.
The industry has to attach more importance to the goals and business needs of events that buyers are planning. Meetings are so much more than a high-value, season-enhancing segment of tourism – that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Most people think about room nights, F&B costs and tourism-related expenditure when they think about the MICE trade.
Knowledge creation and transfer; dissemination of skills and best practice; great new friendships and meaningful encounters; new solutions to societal or environmental issues; and of course, opportunities for inward investment, partnerships and business deals. These realities of the meetings are hidden below the surface and are the impacts that really make meetings special.
We are great at measuring the cost of a US$40 breakfast meeting during a conference, but not so adept at recognising the US$60 million deal that those delegates are finalising. Significantly the business deal is entirely the point of the meeting and the cost of the breakfast is just a small by-product.
We have to find the way to rationalise the manner in which destinations showcase themselves at meetings industry trade shows. The stands emblazon cultural and tourist appeal messaging through their imagery and graphics. Perhaps we are all selling an outdated concept of why decision-makers choose meeting destinations.
The soft appeal of a potential meeting destination does not lie in its attractiveness as a tourism destination. Contrarily, a good meeting destination may not be great for tourism but have good meeting infrastructure and ambient synergy with the goals of the industry in holding such an event. The environment that such a destination provides should be able to augment the purpose of the event, through greater connectivity and interface with specific context and its practitioners in the area.
I had once suggested Bergamo in northern Italy as a meeting destination, in deference to Milan or Turin, mainly because it was a smaller city with its own airport but without the distractions of the big-city buzz in Milan and Turin. It was ideal for the participants from the two large commercial and industrial cities to drive in to meet with the international delegates. The slightly laid-back environment, great cuisine and the possibility of an excursion to Lugano, Lake Garda or Lake Como made it an ideal destination to conduct serious business. Yet in a relaxed manner.
The cultural appeal of a place is often significant as its sets the tone for the pace of the meeting. You may deliberate, exchange ideas, toss up proposals and finally conclude the business, all the while imbibing the softer values of the cultural give-away of the destination and allow it to unobtrusively invade your senses. And add to the salutary effect.
Meeting planners’ discussions should be mostly about the goals and business needs of the events the buyers are planning, not just reiterations of the tourism appeal on display that one sees screaming at us at most trade shows. The obvious may be easy but the path less travelled may be more enriching. And that can make the ultimate difference.
Shekhar Niyogi, Consultant Editor
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