One of the more interesting options for creating more affordable, sustainable conferences is to alternate a single, big, gathering with regional meetings in the off years.
As with many of the industry’s emerging solutions, there are potential land mines that come with the benefits. But for associations buffeted by declining attendance and sponsorship, it’s an idea that could help increase turnout while reducing dependence on long-haul air travel—particularly as fuel costs rise and as the sheer frustration of flying keeps more participants closer to home.
No solution is as simple as it might seem, but the pros and cons of regional meetings are worth exploring.
Some of the value of peer learning and networking across a large organization is lost if participants meet only regionally. On the other hand, regional programs might draw members who don’t have the time, knowledge, permission, or contacts to attend an international meeting. By creating a larger participant pool, regional meetings can help keep association members engaged, attracting new faces and voices that might belong to the next generation of leadership.
For exhibitors, replacing one large meeting with several smaller ones might look like a logistical nightmare that dilutes the value of throwing resources at one big show. But it could be a boon for organizations that want to target regional markets or keep their sales managers closer to home.
A series of regional meetings enables an organization to consider smaller, more affordable destinations that can’t accommodate a very large group. Once again, this would help draw local participants who never imagined they’d get to their association’s annual meeting. But the trade-off is obvious: Any savings on meeting space will be more than offset by additional planning time to orchestrate three, four, or more meetings instead of one.
The big win is in transportation. Regional meetings allow a larger proportion of participants to slash their carbon footprint by traveling by train or more fuel-efficient regional jets. Even though the Copenhagen Climate Summit was inconclusive, bipartisan climate legislation is finally nearing consensus in the U.S. Senate—and the clock is ticking on deep carbon reductions, even if not every meeting professional can hear it today. When our industry is asked to step up with a set of climate solutions, a more regional focus will help us lose some air miles without losing meetings.
Regional meetings aren’t a silver bullet for any of the challenges facing meetings. But they could become a more valuable part of our industry repertoire. Like any other new idea, we should consider regional meetings when and if they align with clients’ objectives and audience needs—particularly if the resulting thought process allows us to define our audiences a bit more broadly.
Why have—or haven’t—you added a regional component to your meetings program? If you have, how has it gone? Let us know.