This month at Lime Venue Portfolio, we’re really focusing on the conference industry. We’re full of opinions and predictions about this dynamic sector, what it is doing, where it is going, and what a truly great conference looks like.

 

But, as usually, we’re equally interested in hearing from other experts, and there can be none better than Paul Colston, Editor, Conference News. In his years at CN, Paul has earned a reputation for the quality of his reporting, but also for his ability to understand this diverse industry. He is, all in one, an opinion leader, a commentator, a fierce critic and an enthusiastic cheerleader for what we do. He was also recently awarded Meetings and Events Editor of the Year award 2017 by the Broadcast Television Journalists Association. So, who better to give us the inside view on conferencing this November.

 

What are your favourite conferences of the year?

I was lucky enough to attend my first PCMA Convening Leaders Conference early this year (2017) and it proved to be full of powerful content, entirely engaging and with a social programme in Austin to die for. Yee, hah!

Within the format, I really thought there were some great lessons for the UK to bring back from our industry cousins Stateside, and the scale of the industry event was very impressive.

Event tech was presented in a very innovative way and key speakers from outside the industry gave a fresh angle on thinking about some of our industry-specific problems.

 

So, how confident are you for the conference industry in 2018?

I foresee meetings design moving from a fad with little science to back it up, to a serious and exciting factor. I think this will help the industry to finally disrupt the traditional conference set up as organisers battle to keep attention, and deliver more value, throughout the full lifetime of their event.

Technology will also continue to power ahead and help us find new efficiencies.

I see a strengthening of a new breed of companies like Cvent and etouches who are able to integrate new technology booking processes into event management in its wider meaning. Evidence for that is simply following the money trail, as evidenced by Cvent’s $1.65bn acquisition, the biggest ever deal in our market.

 

What do you think represents the most significant challenge for the industry in 2018?

Challenges will include resolving the likely labour shortage that Brexit could bring for our sector. Such a situation will be both a test and an opportunity for our industry associations to show their worth, and engage and lobby politicians more directly.

In addition to this, a new visa system will be required to ensure the industry can recruit for positions that local workers will or cannot take.

The issue of venue security is also now at the very top of organisers’ anxiety lists, given the increased threat from terrorists. We must be vigilant to protect our events and keep them as easy to access as possible, while ensuring the proper checks are made to keep us all safe.

 

How is Conference News engaging in these discussions?

CN is engaging the industry via Forums such as our September discussion on event technology. These roundtable discussions are a great way of bringing representatives of all stakeholders in the industry to one table to kick around some key issues. Going forward, we’ll be putting our strong brand behind those of selected partners to drive this further throughout 2018.

Our new design, with powerful features such as our Cover Story, galleries and Think Tank also provide important platforms for the industry to explore the big issues of the day. We have assumed a new responsibility, we are now the only major UK meetings industry publication appearing monthly in print, as well as offering the fastest growing digital platform, including our new Mash TV channel.

 

What can the media do to support the industry?

The trade media needs to operate both externally and intrinsically in our industry, reporting on successes and failures, as well as giving impetus to new campaigns that broaden the appeal, effectiveness and value proposition of our sector.

CN will be supporting our biggest industry trade show, International Confex, ensuring that all parts of our great events industry can benefit from coming together under one roof to exchange ideas and information. We will also continue to support campaigns like EventWell and run roundtables on industry issues to provoke healthy debate and help find solutions to our industry challenges.

We will also continue to recognise best practice via awards such as the CN Academic Venue Awards and our newly launched 30 Under Thirty. We will continue to work with competitor colleagues on common industry platforms to help create a bigger industry pie for everyone. Increasing our activity on Social Media and via our new TV channel will also offer new opportunities and channels for both suppliers and organisers in the industry to amplify their messages.

 

How about the perennial criticisms around the industry: apprenticeships / professionalism, health and sustainability?

We finally have movement on the apprentice issue, with Realise offering the first schemes tailored for our sector and tapping into government programmes. CN was instrumental in getting that message out and helping shape the form such programmes should take by fostering debate on the issue.

CN was also in at the ground floor as first media partner for the EventWell campaign, having identified the initiative as a true ground breaker and badly needed initiative. This needs to move on from the initial campaign week of initiatives to embed itself as a new mindset in the industry and CN will be helping to promote this.

 

In the long run, how much does all of this matter to your readers?

Certainly, our reader’s economic interests can be directly affected by the opportunities for apprenticeships opening up, and our fundamental human right to a healthy work environment are also a top of mind issue.

For an industry often ranked as one of the most stressful professions, it is perhaps overdue that we are turning the spotlight on issues of mental health and physical wellbeing. We are a robust industry and it is important to recognise vulnerability to stress and put in place support mechanisms, while continuing to push what can be an exciting, if exacting profession.

 

Do we have the right coherent voice as an industry?

There still seem to be too many ‘chiefs’ and the Event Industry Board has still to deliver, for all the fanfare of its inception. The BVEP has certainly upped its game with some professional PR at long last.

Individual industry associations feeding into that pyramid seem to be adapting well to the changing environment and, noticeably, it is the ones that put their members’ interests top of the agenda that seem to be prospering. It is not enough just to run a club for like minded professionals.

Good work is being done on standards, such as the AIM standard, and it is good to see the PCMA making inroads into the European market, with all the experience they have to draw on from North American practice.

The industry can get better by going after the best talent at universities and linking far more closely with academia. We have some powerful brands that set great examples for places to work in.

Which sectors of the venue industry are most dynamic at the moment?

Event tech without a doubt. Not only is it the largest sector of my company’s own trade show, International Confex, it is growing exponentially and delivering new dimensions to our organisers for putting their messages in new and exciting formats and releasing new seams of interest in our sector and its channel for marketing.

 

Industry research continues to show unusual venues growing in popularity, why do you think this is?

This is also a firmly established sector; unusual venues continue to provide non-traditional backdrops for events; organisers are always chasing something new. However, our task is to ensure the professional service levels there rise to meet this challenge.

 

How would you assess Lime Venue portfolio’s performance in this market?

Lime Venue Portfolio is one of the nimblest and most experienced in this market, with an enviable portfolio that seems to grow every year. It is clear that there is huge value in transferring best practice from one venue to another and to help those in unique venues rise to the service challenge on the back of their USP as a venue. With catering a fast moving fashion, as well as demands on provenance, it really does highlight the need for specialists in this market.

 

As part of Levy Restaurants UK, we’re passionate about food at events. Do you think there is a growing interest in event food amongst your readership? 

Certainly, which is why we have the only regular monthly section on Health & Wellness in print in the meetings industry. A conference army continues to march on its stomach and the issue is still the most complained about if, god forbid, the food is not good. It can make or break an event.

Rubber chicken is no longer an option: food has to hit the zeitgeist of an event and is very much part of the experience, both powering delegates on their event journey, and standing as a big part of the venue’s CV for organisers.

 

How good are we in the UK at F&B as opposed to our global competition? 

The number of Michelin stars in London establishments now, compared to 30 years ago, certainly shows our capital is moving up and a place to be envied. There are many other regional hotspots too, with Glasgow, in particular, growing a big reputation for F&B on the back of some major events business.

The UK seems to incorporate foods of the world very well compared to many global destinations, although more work could be done on service levels to match the USA and Asia, as well as working on price. A large part of the frontline service staff do appear to come from outside the UK, which leads me to wonder whether the service mentality for UK nationals needs a bit more work.

 

If you could interview anyone, who would it be?

Out of the industry, Everton legend Duncan Ferguson; inside the industry Cvent’s founder Reggie Aggarwal was truly inspirational, while I await the opportunity for one of our illustrious ministers of culture to give the industry’s trade press 30 minutes of their timeJ

 

 

 

 

 

 

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