PCMA Panel: Meetings Coming Back, but Must Prove Value and Embrace Hybrid Model

By Rebecca Theim January 12, 2011, 1:24 PM EST

A panel of industry experts at the PCMA conference said  meeting and event planners will see improved business opportunities in 2011, but face new challenges as well.

Photo: Courtesy of PCMA

Meeting and event planners will see an improved business environment with new opportunities in 2011, said a panel of industry leaders at the Professional Convention Management Association conference in Las Vegas, which wraps up today. But planners face new challenges in getting the word out about the quantifiable value of attending meetings.

Panelists, including top executives of several industry organizations, agreed planners must also continue to refine the blending of face-to-face and virtual events, which are growing increasingly commonplace. “The question for all of is, how do we do it with more value?” said U.S. Travel Association president and C.E.O. Roger Dow.

After a bruising two years, the meeting and convention business is poised to recover in 2011, with all panelists saying their organizations are seeing robust improvement in activity. “The good news for all of us is, face-to-face is still important,” said Center for Association Leadership president and C.E.O. John Graham. And with many organizations witnessing double-digit recovery, “I think you’re going to see a lot more content marketing,” said Destination Marketing Association International president and C.E.O. Michael Gehrisch.

The industry, however, must stay on guard, because meetings and business travel are a popular and easy target during economically fragile times. A PCMA economic impact study now in development “will quantify revenues ... and how we compare to other industries,” regarding what the industry contributes to the economy, said Meeting Professionals International president and C.E.O. Bruce MacMillan.

Another hot topic in 2011 will be the continued emergence of online and hybrid events, which organizers originally saw as a potential threat to face-to-face meetings. Session moderator Deborah Sexton, president and C.E.O. of PCMA, said the organization’s experience has been that “people like the content” of virtual events, “but missed the interaction.”

Rather than cannibalizing a face-to-face event, Sexton added, the organization has found that online events can give people an incentive to attend meetings in future years. “The hybrid-blended meeting is going to continue to grow in importance,” predicted Maritz Travel Company president and C.E.O. Christine Duffy. “It puts more pressure on all of us to deliver the content and the contacts.”

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