What will your conference look like in 2031?
It would have been easy – 18 months ago – to dismiss this question as a thought experiment; the kind of thing a futurist might ask an audience of meeting planners. Interesting, perhaps. But not pressing.
Now the question seems unavoidable and loaded with implications.
A convergence of external factors – the pandemic and climate change chief amongst them – make it difficult, perhaps impossible, to imagine a sustained return to the old way of doing things.
Sure, we can expect a ‘bounce back’ to something like business as usual when travel restrictions ease: Zoom fatigue and the desire to network face-to-face make that inevitable.
But then what?
Meeting online has shown associations the size of their potential audience, with virtual meetings smashing in-person attendance records. Some associations have significantly increased their geographical reach. Others have seen unexpected changes to their delegate profile.
None of this can be ignored.
And yet the shortcomings of meeting online have been all too clear. The awkward networking . The lack of serendipity. The absence of any real sense of occasion. The paucity of sponsorship options. The problem of trust when you can't look someone in the eye and shake their hand.
Associations must weigh up these competing factors when deciding how their delegates are going to meet in future.
Then there is climate change. In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, it was widely – and wrongly – assumed that the health of the planet could wait. After a short dip, emissions quickly rebounded as the world invested heavily in fossil-fuel intensive growth strategies.
Few would argue we can afford to make the same mistake twice. Everywhere companies, institutions, and entire sectors – including the business events industry – are committing to zero carbon strategies, with pledges to halve their planet-heating emissions by 2030.
What does that mean for those associations who regularly bring thousands of people together from all over the world? Do associations need to get better at measuring the value of their in-person meetings and communicating the positive impact they have on wider society?
These are exciting, potentially transformational times for associations and meeting planners. A time to discard all that was wrong about the old and embrace what’s right about the new.
And it’s becoming increasingly clear that the decisions associations make now about where, how, and why they meet will have lasting consequences for the future prosperity of those associations.
Enjoy the magazine,
Editor: James Lancaster
Senior Journalist: Holly Patrick
Associate Editor: Sally Trelford
Designers: Claire Gates, Samantha Dilley
Client Services Manager: Amanda Ludman
Client Services Executive: Eloise Millen
Data & Client Services Executive: Johan Skogqvist
Group Commercial Director UK: Ross Barker
Account Directors: Charlotte Bliss, Martin Balmer, Connie Magner, Brett Dempsey
Managing Director UK: David Chapple
Group Marketing Director: Rochelle Jayawardena
Portfolio Marketing Manager: Alex Softley
Senior Marketing Executive: Emily Roberts
Senior Circulation Executive: Nick Nunhofer
Digital Manager: Stacy Taylor
Head of Events: Emma Gordon
The publishers cannot accept responsibility for errors or omissions, although the utmost care is taken that information contained is accurate and up-to-date. Published by: Northstar Meetings Group, The Old Stables, Pippingford Park, Millbrook Hill, Nutley, TN22 3HW
© Northstar Meetings Group