Cathy Breden, International Association of Exhibitions & Events; Vicki Hawarden, International Association of Venue Managers; and Deborah Sexton, Professional Convention Management Association, address the needs of meeting planners during ICCC. (VT Photo)

REPORTING FROM CHARLOTTE, N.C. — “If I were a venue manager, I would build that small studio that can be used for videos during events,” advised Deborah Sexton, president and CEO, Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA). She predicted more and more hybrid events, which will increase attendance through digital broadcasts of the face-to-face gathering, which means production studios at convention centers are essential.

Sexton was joined during the International Convention Center Conference here Oct. 3-5, by Cathy Breden, COO International Association of Exhibitions & Events (IAEE), and Vicki Hawarden, president and CEO, International Association of Venue Managers (IAVM), on a panel discussing the state of the convention, meetings and tradeshow industry.

She said the hybrid event is helping the globalization of conventions, citing the American Dental Association as an example. There are 150,000 association members of which 14,000 come to the annual meeting. The first year they offered a hybrid event – face-to-face and digital choices — an additional 3,000 registered. The second year, that grew to 6,000. “They created an extra value and it was a huge member value difference,” Sexton said.

The American Dental Association advertises the hybrid on their website calling it ADA365 and advising those who can’t make a session that they can access it online.

Breden recommended convention center managers consider packaging exhibitor costs to attract more business, including drayage, electrical and labor in one price.

It’s all about the experience at conventions, and technology is a way to enhance the experience, Hawarden said.

When choosing a venue, event planners are looking for space, rates and dates, as always, but they also look for flexibility in amenities and setups, a location that is safe, with attractions and dining near the venue, and airlift, Breden said. Some don’t want to use connecting flights.

Sexton listed hospitality as the main selling point for a venue. “The community must be in sync,” she said. “But most importantly, we want a destination that will drive the greatest number of attendees. The venue must be up-to-date, but if no one can get there, it won’t matter.”

Price is not the determining factor, Sexton said. “Position your venue to be what they need to have a successful event,” meaning a connected hotel, ballrooms and extra meeting space.

PCMA is doing an economic impact study on the value of face-to-face events, Sexton said. The association also just completed an industry forecast which sees steady growth in business; increased satisfaction with airlines and hotels, though rates are also up; an incredible shift in the top 10 cities for meetings; a record number of international meetings; and a continued challenge to find the return on investment stats which is currently done with traditional post-show surveys.

Technology is the big challenge for convention management because of the cost involved and the learning curve, Sexton said. But one thing convention center managers need to know: “A meeting professional will not take a major group to a venue where they cannot be connected. Connectivity is expected.”

Convention management is also using technology to do site visits, Sexton noted.

And a theater in the middle of a trade show floor used to be considered valuable real estate, “you could sell that.” Now it’s part of the experience, an interactive site for educational purposes used by convention management to replace speakers and lecturers.

Breden noted that associations are risk-adverse but budgets are not increasing and the pressures on organizers are tremendous. She predicted collaborations and possibly mergers to come.

The biggest issue of associations right now is Big Data, how to manage and use data to benefit members. It’s a matter of relationship selling which takes more time than just selling trade show space, Breden said.

Sexton said it is surprising technology hasn’t helped the meetings industry more, but attributed that to the overabundance of information today and people can absorb only so much. And not only does information get lost in the shuffle, but also technology is ever-changing. “We don’t know what we don’t know,” she said.

Though associations are risk-adverse as she mentioned in the beginning, Sexton knows they must be more nimble in the future. “The old association model will change,” she said. “No longer can your convention be 80 percent of your revenue. We must be creative and think differently.”

Contacts: Cathy Breden, (972) 687-9201; Deborah Sexton, (312) 423-7210; Vicki Hawarden, (972) 906-7441