“The least expensive meeting venue does not guarantee that you are selected. You have to prove your value in other ways”
Daniella Middleton is a destination marketing and business development professional living in New York serving as the MICE Division Director for Development Counselors International (DCI). Azavista interviewed her about DCI’s new study entitled “Exploring the Generational Preferences of European Meeting Planners.” The study launched this year at IMEX with results from a survey of meeting planners living and working in Europe. The research shows how the European meeting industry is transforming and what different generations expect in the MICE industry. Among other things, the study revealed how different generations select meeting venues and the effectiveness of different sales techniques on each group. For the purpose of the study, generations were defined as: Mature (age 66 and older), Baby Boomer (age 47-65), Generation X (age 33-46) and Generation Y – Millennials (age 18-32).
Why a study on generations for the MICE industry?
The International Association of Conference Centres (IACC) approached DCI in early 2013 to partner with them on a generational study. Outside of our industry, there are an abundance of reports on Millennials as consumers and general information on this age group as a new entrant into the overall workforce. However, we wanted to drill down on what this “new” workforce will look like for the MICE industry and, more broadly, learn how the four generations that are currently in labor force make conference purchasing decisions. The Millennials are just entering the job market but it is anticipated that 75% of the global workforce by 2030 will be comprised of Millennials. We have to take into account that they have new demands for sourcing conferences and meeting venues, new ways of working and, of course, different purchasing and sourcing habits. On the other hand, as a planner, if I am planning a meeting for the younger demographic, do I know what to look for in a meeting venue or how to tweak the program so that it is more attractive to the audience? Do I know how to attract Millennials to attend a conference? Furthermore, we wanted to research how these generational changes will affect the suppliers. If you have a hotel or a convention center you can’t rebuild it just because a certain demographic wants different things. However, as a supplier you have the opportunity to market and sell that property differently across each generational of meeting planners.
How do different generations select meeting venues?
Technology, accessibility and the price are some of the most important factors across all generations. It is interesting that for Baby Boomers (age 47-65) and Generation X (age 33-46) meeting planners, technology is more important than it is to the Millennials. Millennials who source for venues assume that technology capabilities are present and that they may have access to high-speed internet, LCD screens, wi-fi etc., whereas Baby Boomers want to double and triple check these details. The Baby Boomers and Generation X meeting planners put more question to make sure that the conference centers have these items available.
When Millennials select a venue, it seems that they are looking for the “cool factor.” How do they define the cool factor?
The “cool factor” includes different aspects. It can refer to the design of the meeting venues, to movable furniture or to the host destination. Our research shows that Millennial meeting planners prefer having movable furniture as they like changing the meeting space as needed. For a destination, the coolness factor is an important element for Millennials and Generation X meeting planners so the organizer needs to be able to sell the destination as part of the meeting to the attendees.
In your case, which are the “coolest meetings” that you have been attending?
In our industry, I think meetings organized by the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) have made immense strides to innovate and incorporate new meeting architecture into their format. For their 2014 Educational Conference, which will take place in late June, PCMA will disrupt their conference to show a live case study on content engagement and delivery with a compare and contrast from the first day to the second day of the event. PCMA has taken risks with their general session content, introduced social and digital engagements from as early as 5 years ago, and really pushed the boundaries of traditional MICE industry conference architecture.
A conference outside of the MICE industry that sets a benchmark for innovation and “coolness” is the L2 Think Tank Innovation Forum. This annual conference is for luxury markets and it orchestrated like a TED conference for the luxury industry. The coolness about this conference is that the speakers are often experts from outside of the industry and they talk in 10-20 minute segments about their research/startup company/book, and then draw small parallels to how this is relevant to the luxury industry.
How can conference centers prepare for these changes and for the requests that come from different generations?
Overall, the data from our research tells us that Millennials want more flexible meeting space. While you, as a supplier, may not be able to physically change the space, what you can do is to show the Millennial planner how they would be able to transform the meeting space specific to their needs. Offer ideas and inspirations for how the meeting space can be designed, show images of how previous events utilized the space in different ways. Another important finding was that one of the top reasons a venue is selected by all generations of meeting planners is the accessibility and location. Planners want the venue to be close to the airport, close to the city center and they want an appropriate meeting space. Cost of meeting space ranked as the third most important criteria planners noted when selecting a conference venue. However, what we learned from the data that the least expensive venue does not guarantee that it will win the bid, but conversely, if venue prices are perceived to be too high, then the venue is more likely not to be considered for the program. As a venue and hotel suppliers, it is important to prove the value of your meeting space, especially to Baby Boomer and Gen X meeting planners.
Why does the price matter so much? Is it related to the recession or to an increased competition?
In our research, 44% of meeting planners in Europe indicated that price was the top reason for not selecting a conference venue. Price matters. The global recession of 2008/09 impacted the MICE industry, but mainly in the corporate and incentive segments. Planners became extremely price sensitive during this time, and while the global economy has improved, we’re still seeing reluctance in the market to return to pre-2008 prices. Additionally, we are now experiencing an increase in competition in the market, whether from emerging destinations to more options of hotels and conference venues, planners have a platter full of selections for their programs.
Your company has worked with more than 400 cities, regions, states and countries, helping attract both visitors and investors. How difficult is it for a “new entry” to be recognized in the events industry?
Generally, we recommend for new entrants to start with a Meeting Planner Perception Study in order to learn how their destination is perceived in the specific market they are targeting, such as in the U.S. and Canada. The results of the research allows DCI to develop a strategic sales and marketing campaign that will not only drive results for the CVB/DMO, but also bridge the gaps between the market perception and reality of the new entrant destination. For example, if event planners identify a destination as being in Asia when it is in fact located in the Middle East, or it is perceived as long-haul versus being in Eastern Europe, then our sales approach will likely be complimented with a lot of education for the first phase.
Do you have questions for Daniella? Email her at: firstname.lastname@example.org