by Pádraic Gilligan, Managing Partner, SoolNua
James Lancaster of CAT Publications’ Association Meetings International (AMI) hates “annoying inconsistency” and “an excess of meaningless verbiage” (see his excellent recent article here). I’m with him on both counts although now I’m second guessing whether hating an “excess” of meaningless verbiage means that we both actually tolerate small amounts of meaningless verbiage, only detesting it in its superlative condition?
I’m not with him, however, on his conclusion that the recent joint statements from JMIC (the Joint Industry Meeting Council), UNWTO (United Nations World Tourism Organisation) and WTTC (World Travel and Tourism Council) constitute “utter madness and a depressing step backwards for the industry as a whole”. While not sharing his conclusions I do, however, wholeheartedly applaud him for raising this vitally important issue and for generating some great commentary on the PCMA Linkedin group.
James takes issue with JMIC for aligning with UNWTO and thinks this undoes the extensive efforts of the past years to distance the Meetings Industry from what he disparagingly describes as “the bucket and spade” brigade, aka Leisure Tourism. There are actually two issues here – one is the coupling of business and leisure, the other is whether it’s fair to characterize travel and tourism as the “bucket and spade” brigade.
A Rose by any other name …
The first issue brings us back to previous discussions on these pages regarding how we name our industry. We’re been singularly unsuccessful, despite years of trying, at establishing our own clearly delineated taxonomy. We seemed to agree more than a decade ago that “The Meetings Industry” was the acceptable, collective catch-all term to define our particular sandbox. However, those damn Asians, Middle Easterns, East Europeans and Latin Americans resolutely refused to exterminate MICE to the point that now the Executive Director of Site characterizes the mission of his Association as the “I” in MICE! The Canadians and the Australians have countered intelligently with “Business Events” but what serious medical practitioner wants his city-wide educational conference reduced to mere commercial activity? Thus the Meetings, Incentives, Conference and Events and/or Exhibitions sector is variously known as The Meetings Industry, The Meetings and Events Industry, MICE, The MICE Travel Industry, Business Tourism, Business Events, The C&I sector … Without a name there’s little wonder we’ve been unable to differentiate our value with respect to the wider Travel and Tourism sectors.
But is it feasible or even desirable to isolate MICE completely from the broader travel and tourism industry into which JMIC seems happy to have it inserted? I don’t think it’s feasible. I posted on the PCMA Linkedin page that we didn’t have a snowball’s chance in Hell of getting the average John or Jane Doe from outside our industry to feel anything other than extreme envy when we tell them we’re off to Rome or Paris for a business meeting. Once you go to an airport, fly on a plane, stay in a hotel and walk around a city not our own you’re outside what most folks experience as work or business and no amount of indignation on your part will convince them otherwise. So it’s simply not feasible to separate business travel or any travel associated with attending a meeting, incentive, conference or event from leisure travel in the mind of the average person.
But is it even desirable? Why would it be so absolutely necessary to do so? If, as an industry, we want to pitch our tent and justify our inclusion amongst the higher echelons of economic activity then we simply need to extend and amplify the type of outputs that Meetings Mean Business have been producing and use every channel at our disposal to get the message out: for every dollar spent on meetings, according to Oxford Economics, a return of $9.50 is generated. A leisure visitor to a destination generates on average €450 per visit while a MICE visitor generates €1450 – €1650, according to data from Tourism Ireland. Other geographies need to follow what took place in the US – albeit a knee-jerk reaction to the chain of events of 2007, starting with the AIG debacle – and develop their own compelling statistics that prove the value of MICE, at least from the perspective of economic contribution.
The Bucket and Spade Brigade?
This leads to the second point. Should we refer to travel and tourism in derogatory terms and deploy catchy epithets like “the bucket and spade” brigade? I don’t believe we should. I actually think that to do so reflects negatively on our own sector and is a form of self-harm. Travel, and the tourism industry which has grown up around it, is, in ideal terms, the great liberator. It frees us from the narrow confines of our own limited perspectives by exposing us to a wider world of viewpoints, opinions, cultures, ways of doing things. My own favourite travel quote comes from Cesare Pavese, the Italian novelist whom I studied 35 years ago in UCD:
Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things – air, sleep, dreams, the sea, the sky – all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it.
Travel gives us information, formation and sometimes transformation and, in Mark Twain’s words “is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness”. It has an astonishing capability to bring about radical change for good. In this context it surely contributes as much to society as social workers, medical researchers, fine artists and bloggers.
So, yes, I do think it’s OK to link MICE with Travel and Tourism. I think it connects us with a worthy, noble field of human endeavour and I’m proud to belong to an industry that, in turn, sits within an industry with such an astonishing capacity for effecting human transformation.
PS For additional viewpoints from some major industry heavy hitters, including the peerless Joan Eisenstodt, check the PCMA Group on Linkedin.
Pádraic Gilligan and Patrick Delaney run SoolNua, a marketing consultancy working in the MICE sector
17 thoughts on “Should Meetings be categorised with Travel and Tourism?”
We should be unifying our efforts to promote travel and tourism around the world. Meetings represent the engagement of peoples and the exchange of ideas and creative thoughts. Travel enhances those opportunities thus a closer alignment is most definitely warranted
Richard – thanks for taking the time to read and comment. Really appreciate your remarks and agree fully with your viewpoint.
As always, eloquent and thoughtful. You bring up many great points – and as an industry that is vital to the world economy, and the opportunities to create shared experiences which change viewpoints and allow for greater depth, perspective, collaboration and trust amongst people from around the world, or across the street -we do need to be more clear about what we all work hard each day to bring alive – great meetings and events. Does the terminology matter – enough to some that we can’t gain consensus it seems. Do we nned clarity – only if we want to keep our importance as an industry on the table and at the front of mind – we are not fluff – we are business..
Tahira – Actually you’re right: does the terminology matter? I’m pretty much saying that it doesn’t although I am certain that when it comes to governmental funding the terminology matters a hell of a lot! Other than that, however, I’m more and more of the opinion that the zealous insistence on decoupling meetings and travel is wasted energy even if it is motivated by solid concerns.
Padraic, thank you for your article and Tahira for your comment. I do agree that terminology does matter especially when it comes to governmental funding. I am a young leader of our industry and from my point of view terminology is important. Back in school, I remember the confusion I had but thanks to R. Davidson and his publications the picture of Meetings Industry became more clear.Since I don’t have years of experience behind me, I do need to know the theory to be able to put it into practice and obviously I would like to be clear about the name of industry I work in. I am originally from Poland but I live presently in Finland and cooperate a lot with Africa. Unfortunately not all of our (potential) clients do know what our industry is but I believe that it’s changing year by year. I do agree that it’s fine (and easier than to create a new path) to link MICE with Travel and Tourism. Personally, my favorite travel quotes comes from Ralph Waldo Emerson: Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.
Natalia – I really appreciate that you took the time to add a comment here. And I agree fully with what you say. You might like to take a look at a previous post of mine on MICE v The Meetings Industry [http://padraicino.com/give-dog-bad-name-mice-conundrum/] Best of luck out there for your work!
From a JMIC perspective I’d like to suggest that everyone would do well to read the statement more closely and reflect a bit on industry history before reaching any conclusions.
There’s no disagreement here on the importance of what’s been achieved in terms of redefining the Meetings Industry over the past few years, but if we want to be realistic, we need to face up to the fact that there is still very little recognition for the uniqueness and values of our Industry by anyone much beyond ourselves. A big part of the problem in this regard has been the conflicting messages being put forward by various travel-related sectors to key audiences like government – so the whole point of this exercise was to have all parties agree on the distinction between Tourism and the Meetings Industry, along with their respective values, while still accepting that there are shared issues like improving global accessibility that are better pursued collectively.
For much of our history most tourism organizations simply ignored the fact that there was such a thing as a distinct Meetings Industry, let alone that it had an incremental set of purposes and values. Now this has been formally recognized – and in terms that even include “acknowledging that (the Meetings Industry’s) primary purpose is to contribute to economic, professional and academic advancement.” This paves the way for a better conversation with governments – and it also facilitates a process of starting to contain the amount of leisure messaging in meetings-related marketing, one of the biggest (and largely self-inflicted) challenges we face today in convincing anyone we’re really all about economic and professional development.
From here forward, the focus needs to be on how we put this new level of recognition to work for the future of our industry – and it would be great if we could do that in some kind of unison.
Rod Cameron for JMIC
Rod – thanks so much for the additional clarification you provide here. Developing a meaningful conversation about meetings with governments has to commence on a common platform where we have a shared language. I believe JMIC’s initiative takes this starting point and I applaud it and fully support it.
Great comments, thanks for sharing your insights. I’m not sure that the meetings industry will ever completely separate itself from general tourism, however due to the “beyond tourism” outcomes from events, there are a multitude of partners which should get equal billing to tourism. Such as the commerce/trade, scientific, and education sectors, which all also greatly benefit from meetings. It would be helpful to have a definition or a more common title for the sector, it would help build our brand. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts.
Jerad – thanks for contributing! Appreciate your comments
Well written Padriac as always. My 5c would also be that Tourism as a global industry is by far the largest industry vertical in the world, contributing more jobs globally in any economy and is rapidly expanding and creating jobs vs other sectors that are rapidly shedding jobs as technology advances. We should all hold our heads high to be part of this massive economic force in our world today.
David – and so say all of us! Thanks for taking the time to contribute.
Bravo Pádraic and I totally agree, I think the piece that’s missing from the picture here is audience. The events industry has and needs to have multiple messages for multiple audiences, for the corporate side we do absolutely have to show our value and differentiate educational events from “jollies”. For the politicians it’s critical to demonstrate that we are a large slice of the tourism pie, convention centres wouldnt get publicly funded if they weren’t to bring footfall to a destination and for our own good we need to highlight how important “business tourists” are. Maybe I’m a dreamer but I feel we should focus less on fragmentation and more on collaboration, less “meetings” and “exhibitions” and more “events” coupled with less squabbling over our industrial empires.
Roger – I posted previously on why – following years of thinking otherwise – I’ve come to the conclusion that MICE may, in fact, be the best term to use! if you get a chance have a look at: http://padraicino.com/give-dog-bad-name-mice-conundrum/
Finally we are having some unified conversations that has resulted in a partnership. We now have to see what it will deliver. But in principle I think its a great result. The two industries both deliver economic development but have some different purposes – however they use much of the same infrastructure and resources. Hence alignment is critical – especially in the area of sustainable development and taxation. Some good videos are available here
Guy – many thanks for commenting and for your video reference. And, of course, you’re right – it’s about alignment!
Great piece, thanks for sharing. Agree with most of the comments made already. Having worked in CVBs and now in broader economic development, the business events industry, in my opinion, does have a self image problem and is seemingly conflicted by its activities.
CVBs are measured on the basis of their commercial outcomes which are invariably tourism meaures (length of stay, expenditure etc). Many CVBs are membership based and that membership is primarily driven by the tourism industry. It’s no wonder the industry finds it difficult to separate itself from the ‘bucket and sand’ brigade.
Combine this with the fact that corporate incentives and associtaion conferences are lumped together (with others) under the banner of business events. The messaging and pitch around incentives has a large ‘bucket and spade’ bias. This is contradictory to the messaging and pitch to the association market. CVBs traditionally look after both, with incentives driving large room nights and expenditure through their membership.
Given the high level of engagement that the association market needs with academia and government, is the current operating paradigm the right path forward?