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Quality not quantity is key to industry’s sustainable future

It is clear the meetings industry has started to take itself more seriously.

Increasingly the focus has moved away from hotel nights and tourism receipts to the meeting itself – and how it can benefit a destination in terms of knowledge and inward investment.

Delegates, too, are taking their role more seriously. Against a backdrop of austerity and stagnating economies, organisations want to be confident they’re not paying for their staff to, ‘go on a bit of a jolly’.

That rather disapproving initialism ROI – or return on investment – is now something to which more than just lip-service is paid. Certification is now a standard way to attract delegates. In the words of one industry veteran I spoke to recently, it’s all gone ‘a bit boring’.

Maybe. Or perhaps the industry has just done some growing up. The teenager going mad on mum and dad’s credit card has looked in the mirror and given himself a serious talking to.

But one can see further growing up to be done in the not-so-distant future.

For how the meetings industry positions itself in the context of climate change and the environmental degradation of the planet will surely be crucial to its long-term viability.

It is not controversial to say the industry should probably stop fixating on quantity.

To measure the success of a meeting in terms of the number of delegates, while ignoring the amount of CO2 their flights pumped into the atmosphere, is to show a reckless disregard for reality.

The leaders of major industry associations agree with me.

And yet most destinations – and associations for that matter – talk as if hosting tens of thousands of international delegates is necessarily a good thing, regardless of the consequences.

When there are viable alternatives – higher frequency regional meetings with discounts for delegates arriving by train, for example – this position seems untenable and liable to backfire.

In any event, it seems unlikely the next generation will stand for it.

For now it seems we are stuck on the idea that bigger is better, but the industry’s motto should contradict that of the unscrupulous backstreet tailor. Never mind the width, feel the quality.