We’re all familiar with lists ranking cities based on their attractiveness to meeting planners and attendees, but what numbers are actually being crunched to generate those results? Sometimes, as it turns out, not nearly enough of them. Cities may be ranked on one factor alone — like total square footage of exhibition space, average daily rate, or room nights booked over a certain period — rather than evaluated on a number of factors that play into the overall attendee experience. In the age of Big Data, this is a distinctly limited approach.
George G. Fenich, Ph.D., a professor at East Carolina University’s School of Hospitality Leadership, takes full advantage of the wealth of publicly available data when working with individual destinations to help them improve their meetings footprint. His team collects unbiased, third-party information on more than 60 distinct factors related to the attendee experience in a city, then analyzes the numbers to find ways that the city can potentially improve its meetings business — anything from adding a certain number of hotel rooms to increasing funding for the arts.
Being an academic, Fenich takes an academic, statistical approach to determining what — beyond hotels and convention-center space — makes a destination attractive to meeting planners and attendees. He was first inspired to look beyond top-level data when he was working on his dissertation in the late-1980s. “I was focusing on convention centers in the U.S.,” he said, “and it struck me that, at that time, the industry seemed to have a very narrow view.” According to Fenich, very few variables were being taken into account. “It was pretty much the size of the convention center and the number of hotel rooms.”
Fenich found dozens of studies based on surveys of meeting planners or attendees, but none that relied on more objective third-party data. “We use third-party sources for every one of the metrics,” he said. “For example, for things like average daily rate, occupancy rate, and number of hotel rooms in the destination, we use STR Global [formerly Smith Travel Research], obviously a very well-known firm with data that is beyond reproach. For safety, we use FBI data. Flights in and out of a destination are important, so we use FAA data. For many of the business pieces of the puzzle, we use data from the U.S. Census Bureau.”
To create individual destination reports, Fenich’s team weights each piece of the data they collect according to its relative importance to planners and attendees. “We use correlation analysis to determine and come up with a rank order,” Fenich said. “Which of the factors are the most highly related or correlated to convention businesses, and which are the least? The important thing is that only those with a very high significance are kept.”