Behind the Scenes

When More Isn’t Better

Some thoughts about our Meetings Market Survey, global warming, and the Wounded Warrior Project.

According to the results of Convene’s 25th annual Meetings Market Survey, there were more attendees and exhibitors last year than in 2014, and planners predict an

increase for both again this year. A mere 5 percent of our survey participants expect to hold fewer meetings in 2016.

More meetings and more attendees is a good thing. We all believe in the power of face-to-face events, or we wouldn’t spend our lives marketing, organizing, promoting, and building for them. But the elephant in the room — which we address in this month’s cover and CMP Series story — is our industry’s heavy carbon footprint.

During a strong economy, people are more apt to hop on a plane and go to a meeting than during leaner times. They may not wrestle as much with the question that MeetGreen’s Nancy J. Zavada raises in our story: Do they really need to travel to get that education — or “are low-carbon options like hybrid or virtual conferences a better choice?”

Yet our survey suggests that those options aren’t offered by most conferences. Eighty percent of respondents said that their largest event doesn’t include a virtual or hybrid component.

Zavada doesn’t downplay the value of face-to-face events. But asking whether attendees have to travel to get what they need may be the first step in designing a superior meeting experience, one that doesn’t make the air travel and related environmental toll feel wasteful. And, as many of the meeting professionals interviewed in our story agree, we need to do a better job of measuring the environmental impact of every event we produce.

We also need to rethink the mentality that more meetings are always better. That kind of broad-brush approach doesn’t serve our industry well, and not just when it comes to climate change. Recently, the Wounded Warrior Project came under fire for the staff’s “lavish” and “excessive” spending on travel, meals, and conferences, according to several media accounts. CBS News reported that the charity’s spending on meetings went from $1.7 million in 2010 to $26 million in 2014 — “about the same amount the group spends on combat stress recovery, its top program.”

Our first inclination may be to get defensive. After all, it wasn’t too long ago that we experienced a public backlash against conventions because they were perceived as boondoggles. That’s what led to the creation of the Meetings Mean Business Coalition. But I think we would all agree that for a charity serving wounded veterans  — which receives most of its donations in the form of small contributions from people who are 65 or older — it doesn’t seem fitting, as a former Wounded Warrior Project employee told CBS, “to fly every staff member once a year to some five-star resort and whoop it up and call it team building.”

As an industry, we need to think about what is truly wasteful and what is not.

Michelle Russell

Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.