6 Dots to Connect to the Industry’s Future

6 Dots to Connect to the Industry’s Future

That was the title, minus the number, of a session I delivered for an industry meeting in January.

I agonized about what to include up to, during and after the session. What I wanted to say at the start was, “The industry’s future is bleak except for some hotel company owners, and maybe a few others. For the meetings and sales and marketing professions, for the service segment of the hospitality industry, we have exceptional challenges.”

I believe that statement because I see jobs lost to automation, interest in big issues like safety and security wax and wane depending on the events of the day, and a general sense that we are still an industry focused on logistics not content, delivery of content, and people.

So why didn’t I? <shrug> Because. I simply didn’t. It had been suggested that people want upbeat thoughts and easy-to-use information and avoiding politics would be best.

So now, here, I add to the “dots” and hope we all can take this information and move forward to energizing an industry that is stuck in so many ways, that believes that “hosted buyer” programs solve the buyer-seller relationship issues, that cool apps will ensure we connect with others—even though our eyes are looking down most of the time at apps, missing the world and people and ideas and inspiration around us, and that hotels will listen to all customers not just Millennials.

(Who, it turns out, want desks in rooms after all!)

1. Demographics

People are on the move. The population of almost every country is blended because of the ease of travel and the desire for new experiences or a hoped-for better life. The crises in Syria and so many other countries have forced people out of their homes.

The United States is much more a “melting pot” or “tossed salad’ or “stew” than ever before.

There are five generations alive, and in some cases, working and attending meetings; they are certainly traveling and staying in hotels. In the workplace, Boomers, many of whom are at “retirement age” want to continue working because there are more contributions to be made and in some cases, they can’t afford to retire. But they are being forced out of jobs or not hired for new ones because they are thought to be “too old” or too expensive and Millennials, hungry for work, are willing to take jobs at lesser pay.

Boomers and Xers are being managed by Millennials and are not always pleased.

We talk a good game of “diversity and inclusiveness” and yet, exclude many from jobs. People with disabilities are frustrated with the lack of accommodation and inclusiveness in travel and at meetings. The meetings and hospitality industry could (and should) be on the front line of adapting to demographic changes.

What we can do:

  • Get back to meeting (and marketing) basics: “know your audience” or your potential audience or customer.
  • Once known, determine what can be done to attract and include the diverse audience you have or want. Do speakers reflect a diversity or are they all alike in appearance, opinion, experience?

    Will the images and colors used to market your venue, service or meeting be those that will not offend? Are there dates over which holding a meeting or marketing your facility, because it’s wide-open, will be inappropriate? (Think religious, national or local holidays or festivals).

    Will what a guest at a hotel or participant at a meeting see or experience be reflective of a broader population?
  • Be inclusive in language and attitude. The term “politically correct” has been thrown about frequently during this U.S. presidential election season. C’mon—being caring and empathetic, including others in our language, is a smart way to market and work.

    I mean, referring to Boomers as “little old people” seems so yesterday! (One of my favorite columnists wrote this about the difference in politically correct and inclusive language).
  • Design meetings differently. My colleagues, Jeff Hurt and Jeffrey Cufaude, both write frequently about how to do so. Follow them, read and incorporate what they suggest.
  • Hire and retain a diverse workforce ensuring they reflect a diverse population. Know that those who are of different generations, ethnic and other backgrounds, gender identity—and all that makes us unique—have good ideas to add to the conversation.

2. Climate

Regardless of your belief in what scientists are saying, the climate has changed and has impacted travel, tourism and health. 2015 was the warmest year on record. El Nino has caused flooding rains, massive snow fall, tornadoes “out of season” and other weather events.

The Zika virus that is spreading and considered by the World Health Organization an emergency—and is now believed to spread through sexual contact—may also be a result of climate.

What we can do:

  • Consider climate’s impact on your meetings and travel to and from them. You can’t avoid weather and you shouldn’t avoid all places where climate could have, or has had, an impact! You can plan for contingencies.
  • Advise meeting participants on what they need to do to plan for weather contingencies. Not everyone is a frequent traveler and knows to pack an extra jacket or sweater (also useful for over-chilled rooms) or umbrella, or of their rights or what to do if flights or trains are canceled at the last minute because of a “climate event.”
  • Understand the impact of climate on the cost of food and beverage and other aspects of your meeting operations. Plan accordingly. When you budget, don’t use last year’s plus or minus 10 or other percentage. Consider where you are going and what you are serving and what the impact of climate may be on those costs.
  • Read the CIC’s APEX report on sustainable events and change how meetings and meeting venues operate to stop waste of energy, food, people and resources.
  • Read all that Nancy Zavada, friend, colleague, and “Queen of Sustainability,” writes for Meetings Today (Here’s her latest on what the Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly did).

3. Infrastructure

The United States is falling down and apart. Literally.

While the crumbling infrastructure has political and tax implications, and you can try to influence the votes of your senators and representatives, the concern for meetings is great. Roads and bridges that are inaccessible can impact how people arrive, depart and traverse the destination you select.

The toxic water situation in Flint, Mich., is also part of the aging infrastructure made worse by the source of their water. Don’t count on other U.S. cities avoiding similar issues or even having access to water. When a water main breaks—which they are with frequency in the U.S.—we’re out of luck. 

The American Society of Civil Engineers issues a report card every four years on US infrastructure. You may not have read it. You should. 

What we can do:

  • Ask tough questions of DMOs and do your own research about cities you are considering for your meetings. If you work for a DMO or a hotel, be honest with groups who want to book. Show creative ways your destination is managing the infrastructure challenges.
  • Create alerts for the cities (I use www.bizjournals.com and am city specific) and even for “infrastructure” or a specific city’s infrastructure so you are steps ahead in information.
  • Connect this dot to “climate” and see how destinations’ infrastructure is impacted by budgets used to combat a weather emergency.
  • Create emergency and crisis plans for all contingencies.
  • Find out what back-up (generators, bottled water, transportation, communications, safety, etc.) plans the venues you are considering have for any emergencies.
  • Take nothing for granted.

4. Biz Models

The sharing economy, co-working spaces and hotels, job sharing, contract or temporary workers—there is nothing the same as it was when some of us started in the industry even if you started just a few years ago! We will continue to experience changes in how work is performed, by whom and where. Technology of course has contributed to these changes.

Look at the impact of infrastructure and transportation and climate on just this one “dot” and you’ll see how the future of how we do business has changed. Why fight traffic when you can work at home or from anywhere because you are connected? (Of course this assumes good and free connectivity which can be impacted by infrastructure!).

The opportunities new business models open for different demographics—people with disabilities, parents, people who want or must work multiple jobs—is great. And it also means a change in how people are paid which could have a negative effect on the economy as it will on individuals.

It’s just not going to be the same any more. And those who work in a sharing economy may not have the financial or time resources to attend meetings. Another dot connected.

What we can do:

  • Decide how you’ll work within the changing structures.
  • If you are a “temp worker” or hire temporary workers, know the rights and responsibilities.
  • If you hire or outsource to individuals or companies that use new models, determine what liability you or they may have for any errors and omissions.  
  • Read this article and understand this still new peer-to-peer economy.

5. Laws, Policies and Politics

Whether it’s taxes or civil rights or marijuana legalization, politics, policies and laws impact all we do including the meetings we present.

What the 2016 presidential candidates have to say about our industry and policies that may be enacted with new municipal, state or Federal lawmakers are likely to have great impact on the meetings, travel and tourism—the collective hospitality—industry.

What we can do:

  • Be informed about the laws of the destinations to which you plan to take meetings.
  • Know your company’s or organization’s bylaws and mission and if there are any hot-button issues that could cause a meeting to cancel if a law or policy were enacted, or, like a corporate planner friend, where your off-site events could and couldn’t be: hers can’t be near strip joints or marijuana dispensaries for appearances.
  • Be informed about impending laws.
  • Register to vote and then vote.
  • Participate in actions to be held on April 14, 2016, for Global Meeting Industry Day. If you’re involved in planning these events, request that it be more than a celebration and rather a day of action about issues that matter to and impact our industry. Engage others in conversations about these issues.  

6. Technology

Technology is usually considered the greatest thing to happen to our industry ever! While I think it has an impact, it’s one that can have both positive and negative impact.

It does impact outsourcing of jobs (see “Biz Models”); automation of front desk procedures that may eliminate jobs; automation of site selection and meeting planning processes, again a potential job eliminator; virtual and hybrid meetings some of which may cause people to not attend face to face. Technology can help us do our jobs more efficiently, connect with others to learn, create communities before, during and after meetings.

Technology also keeps our noses in devices when we could be interacting with others when we are f2f at meetings! And technology is (one of) the greatest threats to privacy and security. We can’t live without it and sometimes we fear living with it.   

What we can do:

  • Determine how to effectively use technology to enhance the meeting and show experiences. Don’t use it as a crutch!
  • Consider technology just one more tool in your creative kits.
  • Have contingency plans for data breaches, and outages. If it hasn’t happened to you, it will!

6. Terrorism

This is the one, at the January program, I called “The Elephant in the Room”—something we all think about and rarely address directly until there is an attack somewhere. When, recently the CEO of a major international hotel company, said that the acts of terrorism in Paris, Egypt and elsewhere hadn’t really impacted tourism and hospitality, I wondered in what universe he lived!

Statistics do show that people, though they didn’t stop traveling entirely, did think more about where they’d travel. After the Paris attacks, school groups said that they would not come in—even from the distant suburbs—to the District of Columbia, the U.S. Capital, for their usual school trips, so uncomfortable were they with the possibility of terrorism.

What we can do:

  • Don’t assume that your meeting, regardless of where it is held, is safe.
  • Be aware and know what you will do if there is an act of domestic or international terrorism.
  • Create a plan to protect people and property, to shelter in place, to move people to different locations.

Are there other dots and connections of which we should be aware? Yes. Do I think the meetings industry will continue? Yes. Do I think that we need to be more aware and do more to connect dots to other dots to move the industry ahead? A resounding YES!

And we can if we make a concerted effort to connect these and other dots … together.

As with all of my blogs and commentary on this site, these views are my own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Meetings Today and its parent company/publisher.

Posted by Joan L. Eisenstodt

Follow Joan on Twitter: @joaneisenstodt

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