With an international staff of 200, ci events global general manager, Natalie Simmons, is finding plenty to keep her busy six years after taking on the role.
Thankfully, people are still participating in meetings and incentives. And, for a company which runs more than 3000 programs per annum, that’s definitely a good thing.
She says that what has changed along with the maturity of the Australian business events market generally, is that the logistical parts of the meetings or incentive travel reward program are becoming far more commoditised.
“There are a lot of elements that customers can do themselves, particularly booking hotels,” she explains.
“We’re starting to see what I’m calling the next phase of travel 2.0 which is really the consolidation of the meetings and events spend within the travel spend. Procurement managers have really milked everything they can in the corporate travel spend and so now the great next frontier is the meetings and events spend.”
Where ci events now sees itself is as a meetings and events partner, no longer simply providing suggestions and booking capabilities of venues and destinations, but working with clients from the early stages of event programs, particularly in the area of meeting design.
“A lot of our focus is now on the [event] content; the what is your business message and how can we really deliver on that message. There’s a lot more thought and a lot more engagement on that with our clients earlier and that’s really a positive thing.
“Our content team is focused on what will really engage the audience; what will they remember. It’s important to remember that you can have a beautiful hotel experience, in a beautiful destination, but ultimately, the storytelling piece and how you engage with the delegates and what they take away with them is what is now front of mind.
“Companies spend a lot of money on events. That old saying of people will never really remember what you say but they will remember how you make them feel is so important in the C&I space. You want them to walk away knowing more than when the event started. If we don’t get this right as a meetings and events industry I think we’re going to be leaving ourselves behind.”
Similarly, Ms Simmons is of the opinion that a conference theme should dictate where that meeting is held.
“The business messaging should dictate the destination that you’re holding your event in. I do believe that if you’re looking, for example, for a conference for 200 people in Australia, pretty much every capital city can offer you something unique, but really your business messaging is what should drive your decision on where you are holding your event
Right now, Ms Simmons says ci events is seeing a lot of interest in Australia but believes that we do need more quality product offerings, particularly some different venues to hotels and conference spaces.
“In Europe we are seeing enquiries for some countries that we have rarely seen before – Portugal and Athens are examples.
“For us, the U.S. is slowing, particularly because of the falling Aussie dollar, although the West Coast is still strong. We are also seeing interest in Mexico, Cancun and Japan.”
A big factor is the safety of the destination.
The future looks bright
“Events are a tough environment to work in. There can be very long hours, very long days, for months at a time, so we do encourage our people to find a balance. And I do think that we achieve that.
“Our average employee tenure is about nine years. People leave and very often come back. Because we have a global footprint we do encourage our people to go and work overseas. Last year about 20-25 people moved around the globe.”
“In terms of business, I do think we’re seeing some really positive green shoots. We have some fantastic new opportunities confirming, with customers we’ve never traded with before. Customers are talking calendar of events rather than event to event.