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Why are industry associations so scared of competition?

The huge number of international trade associations serving the meetings and events industry does not serve the interests of the industry as a whole and does not serve the interests of members.

It would be an abuse of power to name every industry association in full, but here are some initialisms you might be familiar with: ICCA, PCMA, MPI, UFI, IAPCO, SITE, UIA, AIPC, IACC, IAEE, ILEA, IAVM, IFEA…

To be clear, these are just the ‘international’ organisations. There are dozens more national and regional associations for event professionals to choose from.

Organisations like the Joint Meetings Industry Council and the US-based Meetings Mean Business are attempts to make sense of this alphabet spaghetti and provide some overarching leadership. But ultimately they, too, can be filed under: Organisations To Do With The Meetings Industry.

Where there are too many associations operating in the same market we might expect to see numbers decline through natural selection. Survival of the fittest, in other words. We might, at any rate, expect to see the odd merger.

In the meetings industry that doesn’t seem to be happening. Instead we are seeing more formalised collaborations between associations – the latest being The Global Alliance. This is the rather grandiose name given to a content-sharing partnership between ICCA, UFI and AIPC. Why it needed its own name is beyond me. Maybe it was taking its cue from the Global MICE Collaborative, launched in October last year, which saw SITE, MPI and IAEE join forces to ‘foster the growth of the meetings and events industry in emerging markets’. Everything’s global nowadays.

What is going on here?

The Global Alliance says its purpose is twofold: to provide ‘a more unified voice’ for the industry as a whole and to advance the ‘interests and benefit’ of members through smarter alignment. But, let’s be honest, its purpose is also to  help ensure the survival of the participating associations. To mitigate against competition. In fact, UFI president Craig Newman admits as much.

“As the business models of exhibitions, congresses, conferences, evolve, the overlap of global associations servicing the industry is growing even further. This carries the risk of competition replacing collaboration as the driving force for industry associations. With our Global Alliance, the three of us choose value for our members, choose collaboration over competition.”

It is laudable that ICCA, UFI and AIPC are working to minimise the overlap between their organisations, but it would be better still if members didn’t have to pay dues to multiple associations, or be forced to choose between them. And it would better help the industry speak with one voice if there were fewer voices speaking in the first place. Rather than these formal partnerships, which ultimately just add to the noise and confusion, it is time we saw genuine consolidation among meetings industry associations – or else a battle for survival red in tooth and claw.