Special Events

Back on Track: The International Perspective

THE EVENT MANAGEMENT industry is cautiously optimistic. While there have been numerous seminars and workshops across the industry on risk management, crisis management and security planning since Sept. 11, the mood is positive and the majority of the industry is recovering. I would make several observations, though, that reflect the implications and after-effects of such a shock on the industry.

One is the increased use of technology as an alternative to travel — transatlantic travel in particular. Companies are using Webcasting much more frequently and are also exploring potential alternatives to making all delegates travel. This needn't be viewed negatively. At World Event Management, we have developed a number of IT (information technology) capabilities to enable us to offer clients some powerful alternatives if not all members of their event audience can or want to travel. These include Web conferencing, online registration, Web-based project management, event extranet development, database management, Web archiving and event marketing.

ROUGH PATCHES

New pressures on the marketplace, however, do mean that we are seeing the downsizing of airline and hotel conference and incentive departments, which naturally affects the continuity of the business and client relationships that companies have built up over time.

With several European carriers suffering heavily, the number of flights to key destinations has been reduced. This in turn affects the level of group business that event management companies can expect to attract, as we can no longer fly everybody out en masse.

We have also noticed a trend in the industry for companies to charter aircraft. A number of major carriers are offering aircraft directly to ATOL-bonded agencies [Air Travel Organ-isers' Licensing, an insurance program that protects travelers from being stranded if their air travel firm fails]. This is due to more aircraft being available for use and, of course, to the impact of less-busy skies on available time slots.

COVERING THEIR BACKS

The way event insurance is now viewed and handled is perhaps the most significant change we have witnessed since September. Several companies, such as AIG, have withdrawn from the event insurance market, and premiums are skyrocketing. Insurers' attitudes have hardened as they become nervous that a number of conference- and incentive-related businesses are on the brink of bankruptcy due to loss of earnings after Sept. 11.

There also are a number of changes to policies now, including exclusions for terrorism and foot-and-mouth disease.

As organizers, we are under much more pressure to show through clear documentation that we have acted responsibly and have covered every angle. This includes the financial status of suppliers. We have certainly been asked to check whether our own suppliers are financially viable.

THE VIEW FROM HERE

For World Event Management, worldwide bookings are at the same level as they were pre-September, but are actually higher in the United States since Jan. 1. Fortunately, despite a few initial event postponements by our clients in the fall, very little has changed, other than a few clients choosing to drive to domestic U.S. events rather than fly. In fact, from the domestic U.S. perspective, we appear to be back to normal.

Joanne L. Jones, the vice president/business of World Event Management U.S., recently attended a local chapter event with Meeting Professionals International. The keynote speaker addressed “Standing On Solid Ground: The Industry Gets Back on Its Feet.” When talking about Sept. 11, the speaker summed it up with this statement: “It was a year with only one day!”

People all want to “go back to normal,” but in reality, following Sept. 11, we need to establish a new norm, and that's the challenge that we in event management need to beat.

We sensed that the market was already changing, but Sept. 11 brought us to the bottom of the slide, all in one day. The good news is that now there is only one way to go, and that is up!

The travel and event market is bouncing back, slowly but steadily. So as event management companies, we need to ask ourselves, “What can we bring to the industry to maintain this momentum, and how will this promote travel and events?”

One suggestion we have recently proposed is to plan more regional meetings, where the attendees can make their own personal choice to drive, fly or — here's a new one — take the train. When reading information on hotels and venues, when was the last time you saw “The train station is 15 minutes from our hotel”? If you are reading the same promotional materials that I am reading, the answer is very rarely.

Encourage clients to contract regional events and promote public transportation, i.e., trains, along with charter flights. Once people travel more and experience more routine trips, the travel business will rally, and we as event management companies can enjoy the busy days once again.

World Event Management, headquartered in Leeds, England, and with offices in London and Lambertville, N.J., is a privately owned event management firm with 2001 billings of £22 million ($33 million). The phone number in London is +44 20 7471 3900; the number in the United States is 609/773-0000. Graham Keene is based in the firm's London office; he may be reached via e-mail at [email protected].

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