What emerging trends are profoundly affecting the meetings and convention market? Panelists at the annual meeting of the Destination Marketing Association International in San Diego this summer tackled that question at a session called “Competitive Bidding: When to Hold, When to Fold.”

One of the biggest trends discussed: To be competitive, convention and visitors bureaus must provide a growing array of attendance-building tools and strategies. “Travel budgets have been slashed, and there's a lot more competition for people's time,” observed panelist Brad Weaber, senior vice president, Conferon Global Services, Arlington, Va. “Associations want to know how they are going to attract people to their events. … It's not so much about space, rates, and dates anymore. It's about getting help with marketing campaigns.”

Weaber added that Conferon (the country's largest independent meeting planning company) recently conducted a survey of its clients and found that 60 percent are willing to book business not on their preferred dates or patterns.

Panelist Janice Telstar, CMP, assistant director of convention services for the Philadelphia CVB, shared a number of ways in which her bureau is helping associations build attendance — from digital marketing campaigns to leveraging local businesses, institutions, and stakeholders. For one biotech conference, Telstar said the city was even considering putting a lab coat on Billy Pen — the Philly icon that stands atop city hall.

Another emerging trend is helping to fuel association's need for attendance-building services: Generation Xers, unlike their parents, do not so readily see the value of face-to-face events, said Conferon's Weaber. They've grown up with electronic media as a primary communication tool, so face-to-face is less attractive, he said. That presents membership-building problems for associations, as well as meeting-attendance issues.

Panelist Karen Bolinger, general manager of marketing for the Sydney CVB, pointed to another emerging trend: the extreme competition for international meetings and conventions. With China aiming to have 120 convention centers by 2020, that competition will become even more fierce, she said. Currently, the Sydney CVB's average cost of bidding on a piece of international meetings business is about $50,000 — and that's just the cost of bidding for the business, not servicing it, Bolinger said.

Putting cash on the table to lure international conventions is not something that the Sydney bureau does or finds ethical, Bolinger said, but she's seen it work. One Asian country offered an association CEO a $150,000 donation to his favorite charity if his association booked the country for its international convention. It did, Bolinger said. “Courting international meetings business is a challenge, and it's very political,” she said.