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17 Nov, 2003

Global Shifts, Lifestyle Changes Affecting MICE Sector

Global geopolitics, economic factors, demographic trends as well as lifestyle changes are having a major impact on the meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions (MICE) industry, according to a research report.

The report, prepared for the EIBTM, an annual European trade show featuring the MICE industry, says the impact is being felt across the board, from the profile of delegates, selection of venue, costs, decision-making processes and even choice of speakers.

It was compiled by Rob Davidson, EIBTM’s Industry Analyst and Senior Lecturer in Business Travel and Tourism at the University of Westminster, London.

The report says that the family market for business travel and business events is expected to continue to grow significantly, as executives working longer hours look for ways to balance work and family. It quotes a recent report from the Travel Industry Association of America as indicating that the number of travellers bringing children along on business trips jumped by 55% in six years, during the 1990s.

According to Mary Power, Executive Director of the Convention Industry Council, travel to business events by delegates accompanied by one or more family members has increased by 13% since 9/11, and continues to increase.

‘Now, family time is more often an add-on to a business trip rather than a full week or so away from the office. The make up of family travel has changed as well. Family programmes need to be revised to include grandparents and children’.

This creates an opportunity for hotels and conference centres to develop new offerings for children and spouses during business meetings. Niche companies focussing on children are appearing, as a result, as suppliers seek to provide a safe and child-friendly package for business executives travelling with children.

In London, for example, a five-star hotel offers a ‘Mary Poppins’ package that includes a trained nanny who will take children on sightseeing trips while the parents are working. One New Orleans organisation is subcontracted to a destination management company to provide programmes for children during conferences.

The report says that demographic forecasts indicate a marked increase in the number of conference delegates aged over 50 and a decrease of those under 30. And, since the over-60s are being encouraged to remain in employment longer in the developed countries, they will increasingly expect to continue attending conferences related to their professions.

There are implications for many aspects of meetings planning, from the type of food provided to the ambient music and frequency of comfort breaks.

There are also more women convention delegates and business travellers. But, too many conferences are still being planned around the needs of male delegates, whose tastes are reflected in many aspects of the event, from the choice of food on the gala dinner menu to the type of entertainment provided.

A fast-growing number of delegates are single – and increasing numbers of those are bringing up children alone. A recent survey indicates that in 2005, there will be a million more single people in Europe than in 2000. More and more, planners will need to take into account school holidays and the need for childcare facilities at the venue.

An ongoing trend is the move towards meetings becoming shorter and with fewer delegates. Clearly, the need to keep control of corporate spending on meetings is one of the reasons behind both of these trends, as companies strive to cut costs by avoiding overnights whenever possible, and keep the number of attendees to the bare minimum, the report states.

Time, as well as money, is generally in short supply in a severely downsized corporate world, and several commentators have noted that, increasingly, time-impoverished delegates are only attending the parts of meetings they really require, instead of staying for the duration. More employees are requesting shorter meetings in order to be able to spend more quality time with their families.

Meeting planners in Europe and the US say that while meetings are becoming shorter and smaller, in general, they are also being held more frequently.

The report says in the association sector, where the revenue from conventions, meetings and exhibitions accounts for more than one-third of association income, declines in attendance and exhibit sales have become a drain on many association budgets over the past year.

But on the plus side, since the education and skills updating of their members is central to the mission of most associations, many are seeing the need to plan more meetings more frequently, to keep up with the fast-moving changes in their field or profession.

In the corporate sector, too, companies are coming to understand that they must communicate more frequently with their staff and other stakeholders. The one big annual ‘hit’, in the form of the yearly sales conference/incentive is considered, by a growing number of CEOs, to be no longer enough to meet their corporate objectives.

In some sectors, there is a continuing trend towards meetings demonstrating more work-focused style and much less ostentation in the way they are staged. Speakers with a relevant business background are being chosen rather than newsreaders and sports personalities with funny anecdotes.

Another continuing trend is the move towards short lead times for meeting events. The uncertain status of the global economy means that many organisations are shortening their planning cycles, with buyers postponing committing their budgets, until the last minute, because of the volatility of the markets, the report says.

One of the consequences of the intense political turbulence of the past year has been the restructuring of attendees’ travel habits, which has generally favoured destinations closer to home, more familiar, more easily accessible and perceived to be low-risk.

Recent surveys of US business travellers, for example, have indicated that they are not afraid of air travel as such, but desire to be closer to home so that they could return there quickly and easily in the event of conflict or attack.

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