Its November everybody, and for us over here in Lime Towers that means ‘Conference Month’. Now clearly to us, every month is conference month, but it seems that November is not only a key time for people to book this kind of event, it’s also the time of the year when the industry unleashes a series of new data, reports, trends, and opinions, into what the world of meetings and events will look like.


Its busy out there, and there has been a lot documented, so we decided to invite Dr Rob Davidson, owner of MICE Knowledge, to hold our hand through this tricky terrain. We picked the right person as well, Rob has authored seven books with one more just being launched into the world as we met, he has lectured extensively on the industry, and he is also one of the co-creators of the IBTM World Trends Report, a kind of the anthology of all the industry knows about itself and the world, and that launches later this month. It’s this report we most wanted to pick his brains about so, to basics, how did Rob originally get involved in the report?


Incredibly, I’ve been researching and writing the IBTM World Trends Report for 14 years! I got involved with the first one all those years ago when a tourism academic contacted me and asked me to work with him on it. He wasn’t a specialist in MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences, exhibitions) like me, so the following year he was happy to leave the report entirely in my hands. Every year since then I’ve compiled the report and launched it at IBTM World in Barcelona to a packed room of MICE professionals from all over the world, eager to hear about the trends,” said Rob. So, this is a pretty important report for the global industry, what sort of goodies does it have in it?


“The value of the IBTM World Trends Report is that it looks at the Big Picture – how the industry as a whole has been evolving over the previous 12 months, taking into account changes in the global economy and geopolitical situation. The report takes a sector-by-sector approach, highlighting key trends in corporate meetings, association conferences, and incentive travel. It also explores differences between world regions, by highlighting the state-of-affairs regarding the meetings and events industry in Europe, North America, the Middle East, and so on. No other report is as comprehensive in its coverage.”


This must take some research, how do you go about it? “Compiling the report means that I have to read through all of the available research and market data, not only from the meetings and events industry itself, but also data on the global economic situation and the performance of key client sectors such as automotive, pharmaceuticals, etc. When I launch the report in Barcelona, I always mention that it’s based on my analysis of all this data – not just my own impressions!”

So, what sort of themes has the report looked at in the past that continue to reoccur? “When I think back to the global economic crisis of 2007/8, I recall how difficult it was for me to walk on to the stage in Barcelona and give the audience some degree of optimism for the years ahead when many of them were already feeling the severe impact of the crisis in their own organisations and companies. But that year – and several other years since – a key theme of the report was the resilience of the meetings and events industry and how we have developed expertise in adapting to new challenges.”


That’s reassuring to hear, and supports our own efforts in our own little part of the meetings and events industry, the idea that we need to show our value, create memorable experiences, and encourage businesses to invest in great events, regardless of the economic pressures there are out there. So how about this report, what are some of the key themes? “This year’s report inevitably highlights the economic and geopolitical volatility that has characterised the global market environment this year, with the growing threat of an all-out trade war involving China and the US and the uncertainty over the Brexit situation, for example.


The report notes the potential for factors such as these to have a negative impact on world economic growth, which naturally would have repercussions for the meetings an events industry. This industry thrives when business confidence and consumer confidence are running at high levels, but we are far from experiencing such levels this year. Nevertheless, that part of the report that focuses on regional variations points to some positive developments, such as Africa’s growing prosperity and China’s ongoing increases in demand for meetings and events, despite a slowdown in its national economy.”


The report has an additional section on technology, what are the key takeaways there? “The section on technology is a recent addition to the report, which this year highlights developments in Smart Cities, The Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence, Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality, as well as Big Data, and examines the potential for applying these developments in the context of meetings and events – for example by personalising the ‘delegate journey’ of those attending conferences. Our industry has always been quick to harness innovations from the world of technology, and this year’s report explores how these developments are being used to improve the service we offer to our clients.”


It sounds really interesting, and really exciting. But how about the outlook for 2019? “I mentioned 2007/8, and I feel now the same way I felt in those turbulent times: somewhat anxious but at the same time exhilarated at the prospect of seeing how our industry will rise to the occasion and cope with the challenges of the year ahead. In our favour, I think, is the fact that compared with even 10 years ago, we are a much more professionalised and connected industry, thanks in part to the specialised education and training of the individual men and women now employed in the meetings and events sector. Higher education and in-service training for MICE professionals have come a long way in the past decade, and the resulting knowledge, expertise and sharing of best-practices will be our strongest weapons in meeting the challenges of 2019.”


Dr Rob Davidson is a really positive person, and it’s nice to meet someone with so much knowledge, and so much enthusiasm. For brands like our own, It goes to show that a bit of market research can go a long way, both to prepare us for the future, but also to inspire as into it as well. 

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