Conventions and business meetings: trends to watch
A panel consisting of 26 British and Australian experts comments on the major trends shaping the business and convention tourism industry over the next few years. The rapidly changing economic, technological and sociopolitical contexts exert varying degrees of influence on the industry's leaders. With ever increasing competition and an increasingly diversified product, the convention market remains one to watch.
The convention and business meeting industry is cyclical, and mirrors fluctuations in the economy. After a marked slowdown during the post-September 11 years, the Travel Industry Association expects the growth noted over the past few decades to gradually resume, reaching approximately 3.6% in the United States in 2005.
Be that as it may, players in the convention sector need to be aware of the major trends that will exert a strong influence in the years to come. Two university researchers did a qualitative study to see if there was any consensus concerning important trends among a sample group of over 250 British and Australian experts from tourism associations, convention bureaus, specialized convention planning services, sectorial associations, universities and convention centres. Three categories emerged from the study results: the business environment, technology and the social and political context.
Competition: the No. 1 business issue
There is growing consensus concerning the significance of global competition. This factor can only intensify, given the rapid proliferation of new convention centres, the modernization of services, the competitive prices offered by emerging destinations and higher customer expectations. For instance, meeting and convention space in the United Kingdom is no longer centred solely in large cities. It is also being integrated into country hotels, educational institutions and other kinds of alternate accommodation, such as castles or even historic sites. Even cinema complexes are trying to attract corporate events with high-tech audiovisual facilities and turnkey service.
The panel also identified currency fluctuations as a major issue. In the context of global competition, this can have a significant impact on destinations with a strong currency. In that respect, the strong appreciation the Canadian dollar over the past few months could negatively affect Quebec's desirability for international travellers.
In fact, convention organizations will have to adapt to the changing nature of the events themselves, which will be shorter, with fewer delegates. These kinds of changes will require marketing initiatives that focus on developing long-term relationships with clientele, to ensure a certain stability and encourage repeat business.
In 2003, Meeting Professionals International identified the major technological factors influencing convention planning. These are: shorter reservation times – primarily attributed to more effective communication – and online reservation services, which greatly assist more rapid event organization. These factors inevitably make the long-term scheduling of events more problematic.
Although equipping convention centres with the latest technology makes them more efficient, it can also create problems. Often, the centre lacks the necessary support; when technological difficulties arise during an event, its efficiency is compromised. This, and the fact that convention centre employees need to be trained to use of the new equipment, are some of the reasons for a certain resistance to implementing cutting edge technology.
On the other hand, many customers are demanding the latest technological innovations. Unfortunately, the costs associated with installation and frequent updates are often prohibitive for smaller convention centres. In terms of technology, this will give the larger centres an increasingly significant competitive advantage.
For the past few years, much has been said about the effect of videoconferencing on business travel. Some experts have hailed it as a substitute for the trips themselves, but it seems this view is not completely accurate. These days, the panel of experts by and large agrees that Web solutions will never completely replace the traditional face-to-face meetings. Despite the technological breakthrough, human contact remains essential for effective communication. This view restores business meetings and conventions to their rightful place as the ideal setting – far better than an online videoconference – in which to make business contacts.
Social and political context
The steady growth in international tourism will increase demand for convention tourism. This is due to the simple fact that the more people travel – whether for business or pleasure – the more acceptable the idea of attending a convention in another country becomes.
Work habits have changed over the past few years, with more and more people working from home. The sense of professional isolation this can engender leads to the growing necessity of bringing together geographically dispersed colleagues in the context of business meetings.
Sociodemographic changes could also create new business opportunities. As the working population ages, a large number of former employees remain active in their field by joining various retiree associations and by attending conventions and business meetings. Also, as work-life balance becomes a more pressing issue, an increasing number of delegates will choose to add a pleasure component to their business trip by bringing along the family. Destinations that are seen as “family-friendly” will benefit from this trend.
Finally, a destination's political stability remains a guarantee of visitor safety, in addition to conferring a significant competitive advantage. In that respect, Quebec must continue to capitalize on its completely safe environment, even in the downtown core of major urban areas. As for the future outlook, it remains to be seen what other factors will influence convention planners – choice of destination.
– Biarritz, Anne. «Organiser un événement corporatif dans une salle de cinéma», Le Planificateur, mai 2005.
– Meeting Professionals International. «Welcome to Futurewatch 2003», MPI [www.mpiweb.org], 2003.
– Travel Industry Association. «Travel Industry Optimistic For 2005», Hospitality Net [www.hospitalitynet.org], 2 novembre 2004.
– Weber, Karin et Adele Ladkin. «Trends Affecting the Convention Industry in the 21st Century», Journal of Convention & Event Tourism, Vol. 6, No 4, 2004.
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