Convention, Exhibition and Meeting Industry in Global Perspective

exhibitionInternational convention, exhibition and meeting industry has increased in size and importance recently due to several reasons. Firstly, globalisation has decreased the importance of the traditional meaning of borders between countries and as a result today businesses and people move to other countries to attend or to organise various types of special events. Secondly, intensive technological advancements of the last several decades have contributed to the number of special events through offering new business ideas that needed to be discussed and presented to public. Thirdly, the increasing role of internet in many aspects of human and organisational life has assisted information about special events to circulate more widely, and accordingly positively contributed to the number of attendance to special events.

It has been stated that “a global meeting, convention, or exhibition forms a temporal community. This temporary society has all the challenges and opportunities of more permanent societies” (Krugman and Wright, 2007, p.2). Therefore, the topic needs to be approached with the due importance and various aspects of the issue needs to be analysed in order to be able eliminate these challenges.

This article critically analyses the current state of special events industry in a global perspective focusing on international, conventions, exhibitions and meetings. The article explores the issues of the size, nature and range of international convention, exhibition, and meeting industry, analyses the factors of success of special events, and describes the main skills that are required in conference, exhibition and meeting industry.  The article also includes the assessment of the importance of destination marketing in conference, exhibition and meeting industry.

 

Size, Value, Nature and Range of International Convention, Exhibition and Meeting Industry

The scope of the meetings and events industry in a global level is difficult to quantify due to the fact that there is no a single source or organisation that engages in collection of such type of data (Silvers, 2008). However, a rough idea about the issue can be obtained by analysing the worldwide revenues of travel and tourism industry in general, information for which is available and is assessed to be in excess of $6.2 trillion (Silvers, 2008). Conventions, exhibitions and meetings are considered to be a part of the global travel and tourism industry, therefore, a substantial amount of revenues generated from global travel and tourism industry signals about the increased level of revenues generated from conventions, exhibitions and meetings industry as well.

Table 1. Top five countries and cities for meetings, 2002 (Ladkin, 2006)

Ranking

Country

Meetings held

City

Meetings held

1

USA

225

Barcelona

79

2

Spain

177

Copenhagen

73

3

UK

149

Stockholm

64

4

Japan

148

Vienna

58

5

Germany

144

Lisbon

52

 

The amount of business tourism including business and corporate tourism, conferences, exhibitions, incentives etc. in UK alone exceeds £22 million, and only a while ago in 2005 this amount was only £10.3 billion (Rogers, 2007).

The classification of special events into three categories is undertaken by Getz (1997) in following ways: private events, non-profit events, and public events. Damster et al (2005), on the other hand, offer their own classification of special events according to which events are divided into four groups which are ‘events’, ‘planned events’, special events’ and ‘major special events’.

Generic benefits of special events can be divided into six categories:

  1. Raising money for the organisation or a specific cause
  2. Building team spirit within organisation
  3. Facilitating the distribution and exchange of information
  4. Recruiting new members for an organisation
  5. Celebrating memorable events and dates
  6. Attracting media attention to a cause, event or a new product.

 

Analysis of Factors Determining the Success of Events

Key factors that determine the success of the event differ according from which viewpoint the success is being assessed – delegate, organiser, and venue perspectives. Moreover, different factors come into play in different types of event, such as conferences, exhibitions and meetings.

 

Event Success Factor from Delegate Perspective

The success of conferences, meetings and exhibitions and other types of similar special events can be assessed from the delegate perspective through analysing such factors as the number of delegates attended and the level of their satisfaction with the event experience.

It is clear that in conferences, meetings and exhibitions the attendance rate of delegates is considered to be one of the main success factors because the more delegates attend, the more successful is the event. However, specific circumstances associated with each individual event have to be taken into account as well when applying attendance criteria such as the type of the event. Because, if an event is a corporate meeting where the attendance of delegates is necessary, then the application of attendance criteria in order to evaluate the success would not be the best approach.

The level of satisfaction of the delegates attended can also be seen as a factor that contributes to the success of the special event. There are specific tools and methods available that measure the level of satisfaction of event delegates. However, this issue is not straightforward as well because there are a range of external factors that affect the implementation of these tools and methods.

 

Event Success Factor from Organiser Perspective

The event success factors from the organiser perspective can be summarised in the following points:

a)      Effective human resources management. A range of conference, exhibition, and meeting industry practitioners and authors find effective management of human resources as a crucial factor of success of special events (Getz, 1997 and Goldblatt, 2008).

b)      Time management. All types of special events have specific deadlines, that most of the times are not flexible. This fact gives more importance to effective time management compared to most other types of practices.

c)      Meticulous planning. Various types of unforeseen circumstances can arise and many things can potentially go wrong in a special event that conference, exhibition, and meeting organisers have to take into account at a reasonable extent during the planning process.

d)      Flexibility. Conferences, meetings and exhibitions are sometimes associated with sudden and unexpected changes caused by internal and external factors and this fact requires a great degree of flexibility from the organisers.

e)      Communication. Conferences, meetings and exhibitions involve intensive level of communication with various stakeholders at various stages and this fact makes this specific factor crucial for the success.

 

Event Success Factor from Venue Perspective

According to Baines et al (2010) event success from venue perspective can be assessed through three points:

Firstly, the level at which the venue is equipped to host meetings and conferences. Accordingly, venues that are better equipped in terms of facilities, technological gadgets, lighting etc. provide better opportunities to achieve aims and objectives of the event.

Secondly, the extent at which the venue is attractive or is situated in an attractive location. This includes such aspects of the venue as the quality of building, in which floor the event is held, the quality of lifts etc.

Thirdly, how easy is it to access the venue by road, rail, sea or air, or does it have a good parking facilities. Specifically, challenges associated with accessing the venue can negatively affect the overall outcome of the event success.

 

Challenges of Dealing with Stakeholder Expectations Management

Dealing with stakeholder expectations in organising and staging conferences, meetings and exhibitions is associated with a range of challenges. The main reason for the emergence of these challenges is that stakeholder expectations are different and they are formed by their interests.

First of all, the types of stakeholders need to be clarified in conferences, meetings, and exhibitions industry in order to explore the topic in a more detailed way. Stakeholders for conferences, meetings and exhibitions include employees engaged in the event, board members, event delegates, sponsors, shareholders of the company, volunteers engaged in events, various types of activist groups, some committees, local community, media, philanthropic parties, government regulatory agencies, government officials, etc.

Employees that are engaged in conferences, meetings and exhibitions are internal stakeholders and have a great influence on the success of the event at various levels. Employee expectations are clear and universal. They want tangible and intangible benefits for the contribution they are making. Tangible benefits in this industry include payment discounts, free food and refreshments, uniform etc, whereas intangible benefits are sense of recognition, personal fulfilment and a sense of being part of a something great.

While the challenge of meeting tangible employee expectations depends on many factors and no recommendations can be given due to the importance of specific circumstances, organisers have more options in terms of dealing with intangible employee expectations. Parry (2001) mentions the event Sydney Summer Olympics of 2000, when discussing intangible aspects of employee expectations. Specifically, the event organisers were able attract competent workforce for a lower amount of tangible benefits, by stressing the importance of intangible benefits joining the event was offering. Although, Sydney Summer Olympics is a different type of event from conferences, meetings and exhibitions, nevertheless this principle can be adopted by latter industry in order to deal with employee expectations.

Conference, meeting and exhibition sponsors, on the other hand, have fundamentally different type of expectations which is achieving a wider scope of promotion of their interests through the event. The potential challenge in that aspect is that sponsors might push to get wider coverage in a degree that other stakeholders might be upset.

Other major group of external stakeholders, various non-government organisations also have their expectations, and at the same time have more influence to the outcome of the event than it is usually realised. Their expectations are that they want their concern to be heard and addressed, and at the same time non-government organisations expect to attract wide media coverage. A good example of non-government organisations affecting the success of an exhibition is Body Worlds Exhibitions (The Telegraph, online, 2008) which attracted a wide range of criticisms from various parties for displaying human and animal cadavers (dead bodies) in the exhibition in London’s O2 Arena.

Local population of places where conferences, meetings and exhibitions are held have their expectations of their normal lifestyles not being disrupted because of the event. While it depends on the characteristics associated with each individual event, nevertheless, it is in the interest of event organisers that the expectations of local population are met to a reasonable extent.

Media’s expectations as an external stakeholder are clear. They want detailed information about the conference, meeting or exhibition that they could communicate to their audiences. From this perspective it is better for event organisers to be more proactive rather than reactive in terms of supplying the media with relevant information, in order to avoid misunderstandings and other negative issues.

 

Necessary Management Skills for Conference, Exhibition and Meeting Industry

A specific set of skills and abilities need to be possessed by conference, exhibition and meeting organisers in order to ensure the success of the event. According to industry specialists these skills include planning skills, leadership skills, time management, creativeness, flexibility, and communication skills.

Planning skills. Most of the industry specialists point to planning skills as one of the necessary skills to be possessed in event management (Goldblatt, 2008, Parry, 2001). This is true because event management involves too many factors to be taken into account, and not including a single one of them can compromise the success of the event considerably.

Leadership skills are also required to motivate event staff to the achievement of the event objectives. Moreover, it has been stated that “event leadership is a profession that requires assembly for the purpose of celebration, education, marketing and reunion” Goldblatt, 2008, p.8)

Time management skills are compulsory to be possessed by conference, exhibition and meeting managers due to the fact that planning and preparation stages need to be completed before the specific deadlines set for events.

Creativeness can be pointed to as another necessary skill for conference, exhibition and meeting industry, because as Getz (1997) states, in order for a special event to be successful it has have the elements of uniqueness. However, there is a debate among authors whether creativeness in event managers can be developed or is it a skill that a person needs to be born with.

Flexibility, coupled with resourcefulness are the skills possessed by successful conference, meeting and exhibition managers and help them to deal with emergency situations that might arise at any stages of event planning, preparation and staging process.

Communication skills. Conference, event and exhibition managers have to engage in intensive communication with different parties and individuals starting from the planning stages of the event right to the last event success assessment stage. Communication in that sense includes both, verbal, as well as written form of communication. Therefore, it can be stated it is very difficult for individuals without advanced communication skills to be an effective event organiser.

 

The Importance of Destination Marketing in Conference, Exhibition and Meeting Industry

The main objective of destination marketing is to attract visitors to a specific place because of financial contributions visitors will make to the development of this place. Convention bureaux is one of the forms of destination marketing and involves cooperation and collaboration of private and public entities in its formation and financing.

The role of convention bureaux has been identified as “solicit and service conventions and other related group business and to engage in visitor promotions which generate overnight stays for a destination, thereby enhancing and developing the economic fabric of the community” (Rogers 2002, online as taken from, Gartrell, 2004).

Nowadays, most of the countries and large cities globally have their own convention bureaux that successfully deals with attracting business and travel tourists to this destination.

There are numerous destination marketing organizations (DMO) available that offer their services of promoting destinations and attracting visitors there.

Middleton et al (2009) mention the strategy of marketing facilitation used by DMOs and state that marketing facilitation is based on the following five considerations:

  1. There are policy objectives introduced by local governments at various levels formulated in order to promote tourism. Nowadays, these policy objectives are formulated in economic, social and environmental terms and referred to as marketing goals.
  2. Usually DMOs will be given the amount of budget that would be considerably less the amount required in order to undertake all marketing tasks that have been identified. Therefore, MDOs have to prioritize all of the times in order to work within the budget assigned.
  3. There is a range of tourist areas, products and segments, some of them are growing and some of them are declining, and there are different range of priorities are attached to them, and there are different marketing implications for achieving policy objectives.
  4. It is not possible for DMO to achieve its goals without getting help from the private sector in forms of contribution to the cost of campaigns.
  5. DMOs can aim to reach 100% of visitors through on or more forms of facilitation, however, in reality they cannot reach more than 10% of visitors.

Krugman, C & Wright (2004) mention the idea of destination brand core values when discussing the topic of destination marketing. Destination brand core values can be likened to competitive edge of the companies in marketing terms, and refers to the specific tangible and intangible advantages some destinations offer. Destination brand core values can be on regional, national and international levels.

For instance, to analyse the issue in case of UK in a national level the core brand values of London’s Canary Wharf would be modern, innovative, stylish and optimistic, whereas north-west parts of London would have brand core values of cultural diversity, progressive community. Accordingly, the choice of destination for conferences, meetings and exhibitions is done taking into account the brand core values each destination has to offer.

 

Conclusions

This report has identified that the numbers and forms of conferences, meetings and exhibitions have increased during the past several decades and this is the most likely tendency in the future as well. This point has been proved in the report by providing relevant statistical facts regarding the numbers of meetings held in some of the major countries and cities globally as well as providing some information regarding the revenues that have been generated in this industry.

There are also specific factors that play an important role in the success of conferences, meetings, and exhibitions at a global level. The approach implemented in the report analyses these factors from three different perspectives: delegate, organiser and the venue.

The issues of stakeholder expectations have also been explored report. It is established as a result of the report that the nature of stakeholder expectations is closely related to their interests. And also some of the strategies of dealing with various types of stakeholder expectations have been covered within the paper.

An analysis of management skills required in order to be successful in conference, meetings and exhibition industry planning, management, time management skills, as well as planning skills, flexibility and communication skills.

Moreover, the role of destination marketing is found to be significant in conferences, meetings, and exhibition industry, and new forms of destination marketing concepts and principles have found to be evolving.

References

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