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by Pádraic Gilligan, Managing Partner, SoolNua and Chief Marketing Officer, SITE 

My experience with associations

Industry associations have played a hugely positive role over the almost 3 decades of my career in the business events industry. Through my participation in industry associations I have forged unshakeable business connections, advanced my knowledge and expertise as an event professional and gained an understanding of the wider societal impact of my industry. I have also built lifelong friendships and been deeply enriched by the diversity of destinations from Beijing to Berlin, Barcelona to Buenos Aires.


You join an industry association for the networking, education and advocacy but you get much more. That’s the fundamental dynamic of volunteerism – you give your time freely in support of a professional cause but you get back so much more, both personally and professionally. Ask anybody who volunteers and they’ll tell you the same thing.

The challenge for many of us is choosing which association to be part of as our industry has more than its fair share of options. The US-based Events Industry Council has 32 member organisations and, last time I looked, there were 20 of them that were directly relevant to my own location on the events spectrum. And that, of course, is just one region – there are similar numbers of associations in Europe, Latin America, Asia etc.


The sine qua non in relation to Associations is whole-hearted participation. Again it’s an old adage but it’s true to its core – you get from your association membership what you put into it. Actually, you get a lot more than what you put into it but you get nothing for passive adherence other than access, perhaps, to the member database and the right to stick the association logo on your business card.

What meetings & events association should I join?

So how do you know which association to join when there’s so much choice available to you? There are a couple of key considerations that you should take into account. In terms of national associations, you should be active in any and all that are relevant to your business. If you’re a DMC this will certainly mean joining the local incoming tour operators association as there may not be a local / national association dedicated exclusively to DMCs.


For international / global associations it’s a little more complex and you’ll need to use filters. Your first filter should be location and your second should be segment. By location I mean where you are ordinarily resident and / or where your business is headquartered. Find out what associations have taken root and flourished in your own business events community and join them. It might be that MPI is the dominant “global” association in your locality and, as a DMC, you’re unsure whether this is the right association for you. My advice would be join, play an active part as its hugely important for your destination to have at least one global association there.

The second filter will be segment. If you’re a DMC then you’ll have to be in the Association of Destination Management Executives International (ADMEI) as it’s the voice of the global DMC industry. If you have a very specific focus on delivering remarkable incentive travel experiences then you must be in SITE whether or not there’s a strong local chapter where you live. In such situations you can become the local champion / ambassador for the association and, over time, can aspire to grow a community of incentive travel specialists around you.

So you join whatever associations are (a) strong in your locality and (b) strong in your niche segment.

Recent Surveys of Meetings and Events Associations

A recent survey conducted by EventMB into salary levels across the events spectrum provides some unexpected insights into what events professionals might require from their association membership. When asked “what would you need to advance your career in 2018” the top three responses were – More clients, Better personal branding and Better tech knowledge.

Associations are well set up to deliver on these requirements as networking (“more clients”), education (“better tech knowledge”) and reputation (“better personal branding”) are central to the association value proposition. Thus even superficial membership of an association where you do little other than have yourself listed as a member and, maybe, tag yourself as such by including the logo of the association on your business card can still be a benefit!

Research released earlier this week from Kongres Magazine is also extremely instructive in understanding the association value proposition. For the predominantly European demographic (Germany, France, UK, Holland, Belgium, Spain) networking (47%) is still the top reason respondents give for joining associations. Education is second although some ways behind at 30%. Furthermore 62% of respondents would like to connect more meaningfully with other members and believe that this is best achieved at in-person events (60%).

MICE professionals are loyal to their associations but also critical of them, requiring more than they are currently receiving for their membership fee. One suggestion amidst a number of nuggets to be found in this fascinating survey was for associations to collaborate sometimes and allow for cross-pollination between different segments of the business events industry.

Best practice for Meetings Events Associations

SITE and MPI did exactly this in January when they combined forces and resources to create the SITE MPI Global Forum. The event attracted well over 500 attendees to Rome in January, a number greater than either association could attract on its own. In addition “SITE” delegates benefitted from some legacy capabilities within MPI around staging and production while “MPI” attendees experienced some truly incentive quality service and live events. At the conclusion of the tremendously successful event both organisations agreed to explore further opportunities for collaboration – this is happening already at a local chapter level as evidenced by this joint GDPR seminar from SITE / MPI Turkey.


Last week in magnificent Killarney, the sparkling jewel in Ireland’s business events crown (OK, I admit it, I’m on a retainer from the guys in Killarney) the Association of Irish Professional Conference Organisers (AIPCO) collaborated with SITE Ireland to deliver one of the best business tourism conferences ever staged in Ireland. With gracious and generous support from Fáilte Ireland, Ireland’s National Tourism Authority, (and a true champion of collaboration), SITE assisted AIPCO with thought leadership, some truly creative programme inclusion and, thanks to a grant from the SITE Foundation, with sponsorship of a highly impactful educational session.

The Final Word

Associations are the live blood of the business events industry. Find one where you feel at home, be active there and your career will blossom as your business grows in ways you never expected were possible.

Pádraic Gilligan, Pat Delaney & Aoife McCrum are SoolNua. We work with destinations, venues and hotels on strategy, marketing and training. We’re immensely proud to have been appointed with our partners Dana Communications to run all of the marketing and communications for SITE.

PS Most of the images used in this blog post come from the wonderful work of Visual Newsdesk who help conference and event organisers capture content in a visually appealing way for sharing digitally.



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