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January 2011Conference+Meetings World19As we enter the New Year, President of the Joint Meetings Industry Council, Leigh Harry, says industryunity around strong messages of meetings' value is essential for a healthy future.Where do we all gofrom here? The recent global recession had theeffect of forcing every industry torevisit its assumptions about thefuture, and to decide if thoseassumptions remain relevant goingforward. The meetings industry was noexception, and what we found is thatwhile there was also a lot of comfort tobe had from how our industry respondedto what was one of the biggest financialshake-ups any of us are likely to see,there are still a lot of challenges to beaddressed in the years ahead.One of the biggest positives was theoverall resilience we saw in some of ourmost important business sectors. Forexample, while corporate business was inmany areas hit hard and fast, associationslargely continued to meet and maintainattendance at levels that seemedincredible given the extent of financialimpacts in the economy. This strength,and the fact that meetings were obviously'While corporate business was in many areas hit hard and fast, associations largely continued to meet and maintain attendance at levels thatseemed incredible,' says Harrymaintaining their relevance to theseimportant groups in the face of hugechallenges, demonstrated the underlyingimportance people attached to face-to-face interactions, and supported thenotion that this value wasn't about to bedismissed any time soon.On the other hand, we saw other groups,including most notably governments invarious parts of the world, activelyquestioning the value of meetings. Inextreme cases they were even targetingthem as examples of wasteful spending ina time of economic concern. Manycorporations were quick to take their cuefrom this, and looked upon meetings asexpendable activities in a time when costcontainment was a number one priority. All of this is made more important by thefact that, whether or not we like to seeourselves in this way, ours is an industrythat has always been at the mercy ofoutside influences, in particularEXPERT OPINION????Leigh Harry says:'We will always haveour specific interestsand differences, (but)there is a level atwhich we can agreeon principles aboutwhat defines us as anindustry, and oncommon beliefsconcerning our valueproposition'