Meeting the Critical Challenge
The meeting industry stands up to face its critics and prove its worth to government officials, media members and corporate leaders.
By Jessica States
The meeting industry has come a long way in the last 12 months, says Geoffrey Freeman, senior vice president of public affairs for the U.S. Travel Association, which champions the industry in Washington, D.C., and beyond. But the battle is far from over. We have the power of a unified army, he says, but lack the artillery. We changed the face of the problem and rallied the industry, now it’s time to collect the data we need to prove our worth.
“Like it or not, meetings are viewed as frivolous,” Freeman said. “The president didn’t call for less market research or less advertising. That should be eye-popping for us. We have made headway, but there remains a lack of appreciation by employers, so we have to do a better job of proving our value. That’s why we see a blacklist. It speaks to the long-term challenge we see in the value of business travel.”
Indeed, the surge toward an informed professional community will be multi-faceted. Each sector requires different information. Convincing the c-suit will require hard data on how meetings affect the bottom line; convincing lawmakers will require economic data on jobs and GDP.
“It’s not about marketing our product—which is something this industry is very good at,” Freeman says. “We have to market the content, tell businesses why it is important to send their people to meetings and tell policy makers why meetings matter. Each of our target audiences needs different answers to the same question.”
"The president didn’t call for less market research or less advertising. That should be eye-popping for us."
The Return on Investment of U.S. Business Travel issued just two weeks ago by U.S. Travel (in conjunction with Destination Marketing Association International) is a long-stride first-step in the right direction. Through econometric analysis and corporate surveys, Oxford Economics determined that corporate leaders and travelers estimate a 28 percent drop in current business should they nix in-person meetings. The research proffers data and an audited methodology that will be hard for executives to ignore, because business is about money and meetings are money.
The study reinforces other recent research projects, including a business survey by Forbes that showed 84 percent of executives prefer face-to-face meetings over technology-enabled meetings because the former build stronger, more meaningful relationships (85 percent); allow participants to “read” each other (77 percent); and permit greater social interaction (75 percent). The MPI Foundation’s EventView 2009 showed similar results: 53 percent of respondents said event marketing is the best discipline to accelerate and deepen relationships with target audiences.
As for the market value of meetings and events, the Convention Industry Council (CIC) has engaged Y Partnership Inc. to create a messaging campaign to help the industry better articulate the key values of face-to-face interaction in intrinsically human terms. Scheduled for fall delivery, the project will develop five to six key messages for CIC members (including MPI) to use within their respective organizations and external communications.
“The Meetings Mean Business campaign has done an excellent job stating the business case and economic value for business travel and meetings,” said Eric Allen, chairman of the CIC and executive vice president of the Healthcare Convention and Exhibitors Association. “Now, we need to support that with the benefits of face-to-face meetings and the value they bring to the individual as well as to organizations and society.”
For the full article Meeting the Critical Challenge, visit www.mpioneplus.org. For up-to-date news and trends on the meeting industry, sign up for MeetDifferent Cancun and attend “Next Steps for the Meeting and Event Industry” at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 23.