By Lauren Arena 

The international meetings industry isn’t innovative or trendy, according to industry veteran Sherrif Karamat. At Business Events Sydney’s International Industry Forum, which took place in September, members of the newly established International Advisory Board discussed the current challenges of doing business in a digital age and offered insights into the future success of the MICE industry on a global scale.

Among the industry trailblazers who participated in the panel discussion, chief operating officer of the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA), Sherrif Karamat, said in a rapidly changing global landscape the meetings industry is constantly playing catch-up.

“Our industry is not a trendsetter. Nothing new happens in the meetings industry… instead we are looking at what other industries are doing and we’re adapting to it and that’s not the best way to run a business,” he said.

Sherrif Karamat also signalled the importance of social media as well as trends in mobile usage and new ways of communicating.

“The way we are communicating has an impact on convention centres and hotels… social media should be used as an effective tool to increase engagement, not just during an event, but pre and post event.”

“Associations used to be hubs of knowledge, but today knowledge is ubiquitous and instantaneous and the way you capture that is critically important… rising about the clutter is critically important.”

Likewise, Rod Cameron, executive director of the Joint Meetings Industry Council, warned that convention centres need to remain relevant and competitive in the wake of tremendous global competition and a changing business landscape.

“Big marketing initiatives in various parts of the world have created a buyer’s market and this means discounts and incentives that were periodic before are now an expectation and form part of the landscape and economic picture,” he said.

“Convention centres therefore need to diversify income streams and it’s now much more important to interact with and support the greater community.”

Mr Cameron also said in a time where governments are still recovering from the economic down-turn, those within the meetings industry need to better communicate their value and importance.

“There’s a lack of understanding about the importance of the industry. We need to start measuring factors as to why people hold meetings and demonstrate links with government policy.

“Convention centres need to become economic engines, not just act as vehicles for promoting tourism or filling hotel rooms and attractions. They need to be seen as strategic tools to pursue hard economic policies that will lead to sustained economic growth in the future.

“This is where we need to be; we’re not there yet.” m

Hybrid meetings

In an increasingly digital world, hybrid meetings are the way forward. At a recent forum held at Rydges World Square in Sydney, futurist and innovation expert, Craig Rispin, dispelled a few myths surrounding this relatively new phenomenon, while Max Turpin, director of Conference Focus, gave those in the audience some useful planning tips.

“Meetings and events have been in a time warp for years,” Mr Turpin said, “but now we’re living in a digital era and technology is driving change.”

Queue the hybrid event.

A hybrid event combines live in-person events with an online or virtual component and according to Mr Rispin, they are both inexpensive and wide-reaching with free live streaming technologies such as Youtube and Google’s hybrid tools.

“One of the biggest myths about hybrid events is they will cannibalise a live audience, but this simply isn’t true.” Instead Mr Rispin said hybrid events are a great way to introduce newcomers to your event.

A recent survey by the Virtual Edge Institute found 82 per cent of people who participated in hybrid events online found them helpful in considering whether they would attend the next event in-person; almost like a try-before-you-buy mechanism.

When planning a hybrid event, Mr Turpin said the best approach is to “think like a TV producer”, so consider multiple camera angels and different shots and use a virtual MC to engage your multiple audiences as he/she can monitor and report on social media interaction and provides a link between a live and virtual audience. m