CONFERENCES AND CONVENTIONS : Keep It Personal - Why Virtual Meetings dona[euro][TM]t Make It; Clever New Teleconferencing Technologies, Pressure to Cut Organisational Travel Costs and a Desire to Placate the Increasingly Vocal Carbon Footprint Lobby Seem, on the Face of It, to Threaten New Zealanda[euro][TM]s Large and Lucrative Conferencing and Conventions Industry. but Industry Advocate Alan Trotter doesna[euro][TM]t Think So

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Byline: Reg Birchfield

The conference and conventions market pumps about $1 billion a year into the New Zealand economy, according to Conventions & Incentives New Zealand (CINZ) chief executive Alan Trotter. And while the sector took a hit in 2009, he believes things are looking better this year.

Trotter was, however, upset by a major global hardware supplier to his industry, which reportedly told a conferences and incentives forum in Melbourne recently that it had canned its annual global sales meeting, in favour of a virtual get-together. The company had, it said, saved millions of dollars in travel and accommodation costs, carbon emissions and, presumably, employee work downtime.

a[euro]I dona[euro]t buy it,a[euro] Trotter responded. a[euro]What worried me even more than the presentation was the reaction of some of our international industry leaders.a[euro] Presumably many of them empathised with the sentiments.

Trottera[euro]s argument, simply put, is that humans still need, and prefer, to cohabit at conferences. They are where the best business deals are done, the best relationships are forged, and the best ideas are exchanged.

a[euro]I was disappointed in those industry representatives who accepted the case that a virtual meeting had obliterated the need for a normal face-to-face sales conference,a[euro] he added. a[euro]Some of them did not see the threat in the message and were quite blasA[c] in the way they responded to it.a[euro]

Trottera[euro]s reaction is understandable, given that he is an industry advocate. Ita[euro]s also why he gets somewhat riled when the Government cracks down on public sector conferences and meetings, effectively undermining the economics of a business that is vital to the New Zealand economy and employs thousands.

a[euro]The Government seems to forget that there are many people in the New Zealand workforce who have little or no choice in what they do,a[euro] he says, advancing the case for lower-paid workers essential to both the tourism and the conference industries. a[euro]These employees underpin the New Zealand tourism and convention industry and are vital to it. They are the unsung heroes of our industry,a[euro] he adds.

But most of all, Trotter does not buy the argument that the old-fashioned way of doing business over a drink at the bar is on the way out. a[euro]If you are a multinational company, spread over several time zones, there is an enormous organisational opportunity involved in bringing your workforce together in a conference setting,a[euro] he argues. a[euro]We are human beings and we crave companionship and social discussion.a[euro]

Trotter also believes that the pressures of todaya[euro]s time-focused and performance-driven enterprises mean messages cana[euro]t be driven home on screen. a[euro]To get the core ethic and message across people have to understand and experience the culture of the organisation. You just cana[euro]t communicate that electronically.a[euro]

There is, he says, no question that technology can enhance the impact of a meeting. …