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August 20, 2009

INDUSTRY BAROMETER :Threat or opportunity

This year’s Eventia’s summer conference in Brighton took time to focus on the key issues facing the meetings and events industry. Pete Roythorne was on-hand not just to chair one of the sessions, but also to canvas people on their views.

As part of this year’s Summer Eventia, the association dedicated an afternoon of its programme to harvesting information about the key issues effecting the various sectors of the meetings and events industry.

Delegates were divided into three groups, namely agencies/buyers, destinations and DMCs/NTOs, and suppliers.

Each group had the opportunity to discuss each of the topics in three 30-minute sessions, steered by a pair of facilitators who endeavoured to keep the groups on track and covering as much of the ground as possible within a very tight timeframe. Ideas and points raised by delegates in round-table discussions were captured with Crystal Interactive’s technology for sharing across all of the groups.

“The ‘client perception of events’ debate focused a lot on the image of incentives within the current economic gloom – there was a feeling of negativity, from events being downsized to full cancellation,” says Clive Tyers, head of conferences, exhibitions and events at Borunemouth International Centre/Pavilion and chair of the Bournemouth International Conference Bureau Management Board.


MEETINGS:review's Pete Roythorne teams up with Sarah Webster
to present thier findings after the delegate sessions
at this year's Summer Eventia


“The feeling was that clients were leaning more towards smaller, shorter, lower-value events in less ‘glamorous’ locations and with less emphasis being placed on entertainment/hospitality. The reality is this could benefit UK destinations and ‘mid-range’ venues. I feel there is still a strong need to use the media to raise the perception of meetings and events, in a positive, constructive way!”

Tyers explains that the "business development discussions" revolved around increased competition, customer loyalty, value for money and quality/value of offer.

“Again the UK destinations recognise the opportunity to win new business against overseas competition,” he adds. “But this doesn’t mean selling at all costs; as an industry we need to emphasise the (added) value. Again, the media can assist with positive messages.”

Emerging problems
This aggressive pricing was picked up in the market trends survey, where many UK destinations were facing a tough time from the pricing strategies of emerging destinations, the ‘last minute’ reducing of budgets on long-lead bookings, and reduction in economic value due to reduced delegate spend.

“Managing financial risk focused on contracts and terms and conditions, with flexibility in payment terms, but not putting the supplier or client at risk,” says Tyers. “I think we all realise that a quick buck isn’t going to help, and we need to look at building long-term business relationships not short-term ‘quick wins’.”

One thing that came unanimously out of these sessions was the effect on the workforce.

“It was agreed that all staff were expected to do more for less – multitasking, using student placements and temporary staff rather than being able to recruit/replace full-time, permanent staff are issues we’re all looking at,” adds Tyers. “The role of the DMC is ever more crucial!’”

For Rick Stainton, events director at events agency Smyle, the most promiment issue to come up for agencies throughout the afternoon sessions was the wave of discontent around procurement’s increasing role in the appointment to rosters and the decision-making process.

Breaking down the barriers
“For Smyle this has actually been a very positive development within the industry, as traditional and long-term relationships have provided unhealthy barriers to the entry of new blood, creative ideas and fresh approaches to many potential accounts. The introduction of procurement can now provide a more level playing field for new and existing suppliers,” he opines.

“The procurement remit of scrutinisation of processes, costing transparency and an objective dissection of the actual in-house expertise is good business practice,” he continues. “Its effectiveness, however, does rely on the procurement department having open communication channels with the internal event and marketing clients, with decisions made in partnership and not isolation.”

According to Stainton, it became quite clear that there were a lot of outdated business models that had been operating for more than 10 years based on potentially fragile foundations and generic offerings.

“In any business, a lack of clear differentiation from your competitors,” he explains, “a resistance to exploring business development beyond a few industry sectors and reliance on a few large clients is all fine and dandy in the good times, but potentially unsustainable in a shake-up of the market.”

The price is right
Stainton continues: “This then led to views on price becoming more of a key differentiator; several delegates voiced their dissatisfaction that price was becoming more the deciding factor in pitches.

"This may have been a natural progression for a saturated market and 10 plus similar companies proposing similar approaches to each pitch?”

But it wasn’t all negative, and Stainton found it refreshing that there were a small number of delegates within the group that saw the above as great opportunities.

“They were dynamic, youthful, perhaps less embedded in the industries institutional traditions and eager to move the industry forward, with them at the forefront,” he says.

“They weren’t focusing on travel logistics or chasing the clients everyone else seems to claim to have ‘as an account’ or deeming technology as a threat. They were hungry to learn more about how best to offer the most appropriate solution to meet a client’s objectives; their passion was contagious, their obvious creativity free flowing and a clear willingness to move with the times as well as set the future agenda.”

Eventia's project director Tony Rogers is delighted with the way the afternoon debate.

“Research consistently shows that delegate engagement and active participation are crucial to the learning and retention processes,” he says.

“Simply listening passively to speakers in plenary session may have been the norm in the 1980s and 1990s, but it’s no longer appropriate as the key format for 21st century events. The objective, therefore, for a session entitled ‘delegate-led workshop discussions’ held at this year’s Summer Eventia in Brighton was to maximise participation and facilitate the sharing of ideas, issues and experiences.”

The session concluded in plenary format with feedback from the facilitators.

“There’s no doubt that the format adopted threw up several logistical challenges, but the general feedback received was very positive and the summaries and experiences provided by Rick Stainton and Clive Tyers show some of the key insights gained,” says Rogers. “We’ll no doubt be refining the format for next year’s Summer Eventia in Glasgow, but the basis is there for maximising delegate learning and interaction."

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