Younger generations don’t always seek out and consider the wisdom of their more seasoned counterparts, said a trio of experts from BridgeWorks, a firm specializing in managing multigenerational workforces, at the Financial & Insurance Conference Planners 2012 Annual Conference. Not so when that seasoned exec is meeting industry legend Roger Dow, president & CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, who also presented to FICP attendees. Indeed, the four generations in the audience listened intently to Dow’s central message about meetings: “We’re seen as a frivolous industry. We’re not frivolous. We’re critical. We educate America, we employ America, we make a difference.”

All meeting professionals suffered the repercussions of meetings’ bad rap in the wake of the mortgage crisis, but none more than financial and insurance conference planners. (The whole debacle was named for a financial company, after all.) “Everyone ran for cover,” Dow said. “Meetings were canceled left and right.”

He showed a video that started with some of the most damning media sound bytes then segued into a change in tone that he and the U.S. Travel Association along with other industry partners were able to effect both behind the scenes and with the major public relations campaign “Keep America Meeting.”

The travel industry consortium also conducted an economic impact study, ultimately calculating the size of the meetings industry at $813 billion—more than two-and-a-half times the size of the auto industry.

And a subsequent ROI study by Oxford Economics showed that every $1 companies spend on business travel returns more than $12 in revenue and nearly $4 in profit.

Dow urged planners to gather more data from their meetings to demonstrate their success. “Show how what you do meets objectives in terms of increasing sales, retention, new product knowledge, understanding a changing marketplace,” he said. “Do pre- and post-meeting surveys showing that the folks who attended the conference are more likely to stay with the company, or can sell with more confidence because they understand the products.”

 

Redbutton.tv was one of many technology vendors at the FICP Annual Conference this year. Here, Diane Goodman, CMP, Goodman Speakers Bureau, gets some guidance from Sam Stanton while Kimball Anderson talks with Chris Raio of John Hancock. Redbutton.tv provides a number of ways to “socialize” your meeting, from on-site photo kiosks and the ability for attendees to send instant photo e-cards to friends back home, to complete social media management at your event, from promotion to curation to contests to measurement.

 

Eric Ly, one of the founders of LinkedIn and now
CEO of Presdo, presented an education session
on social media and events.

 

Use Your Inflection Points

Looking back, the meetings and travel industry was strengthened and unified by this “inflection point,” Dow said. “We had taken ourselves for granted and suddenly we were at a precipice. We had to pull together.”

Planners may reach their own inflection points: “Your boss leaves, your budget is cut—don’t sit there. Figure out what to do. Launch your career to another level.”

In another area where Dow’s presentation dovetailed with the keynote from BridgeWorks, he echoed their call to focus on a half-full glass. Rather than asking what keeps you up at night, they suggested, think about what gets you up in the morning. Or as Dow put it, figure out your “one thing”—the thing you’re working for, that gives you purpose.

And as meeting planners, strive to create event experiences that “light the fire within” for attendees. How? One way, it turns out, would be to tap younger colleagues and attendees for their thoughts and ideas.

U.S. Travel President & CEO Roger Dow


What’s Next

The challenges are not over for meetings, of course. Planners already are feeling the effects of higher demand for hotel space and a lack of new hotel supply. “Companies have been reticent to sign contracts, thinking they don’t have to worry about it because they can always find space somewhere else,” Dow said. “That world is changing.”

In addition to increasing group demand, leisure travel and inbound international travel are increasing, which is an especially big factor in places like New York. “Finding space will become more challenging. You’ll need to educate your folks on rates.”

Planners already are seeing a bigger slice of their budgets being taken by airfare, and that’s unlikely to change as long as fuel prices remain high. A new issue in air travel will be airport capacity, said Dow. The World Travel Organization projects 100 million inbound international visitors by 2020—or an additional 18 full planes a day landing at the major U.S. gateways. U.S. Travel therefore is focusing some of its attention on infrastructure investment such as airport expansion.

“This is a great industry,” Dow said in closing, telling planners not to let themselves be narrowly defined by others. Do the work that will shift perception from “She’s just our planner” to “Thank God she’s on our team.”

 

Technology Takes Center Stage at FICP

Silent Auction Sets Record

As part of the technology immersion at this year’s FICP Annual Conference, bidding for the silent auction went online, through auction site Bidding For Good. A record 99 items were donated by hospitality partners for the auction. But the real wow came on that last day of the conference, when FICP announced that the auction had raised an incredible $74,244—far exceeding its stated goal of $45,000.

The funds benefit Junior Achievement of Southern California and Junior Achievement USA, FICP’s long-term charitable partner. In accepting the check, JA Executive Vice President Margo White said, “This kind of funding effort goes so far in allowing us to fulfill our mission of helping young people, no matter where they come from, realize their potential for their futures.”

 

FICP Strategic Partner the Canadian Tourism Commission took the conference’s tech-
immersion goal and ran with it, creating stickers with QR codes that, when scanned,
took users to a contest to win registration at the 2013 Annual Conference. Helping Ava Sones, director, insurance sales development, CTC (center) put the plan into action was Canadian tech company SharkByte, represented by Marc Merulla, president (left), and Sam Roper, VP.

 

Technology Takes Center Stage

In addition to meeting the auction goal, the conference succeeded in its goal of introducing attendees to new meeting technology and vendors. FICP rented iPads for some 225 attendees who requested them to use during the annual conference, enabling them to interact with FICP’s mobile meeting app and try out other apps and features that might help them shed their traditional conference binders. Planners packed two education sessions, one designed for novices and the other for users with some level of tablet comfort, to learn more about what is fast becoming a planner must-have.

Stormi Boyd, CMP, CMM, of Keller Williams Realty International
shared her favorite planning and productivity apps.

 

Stormi Boyd, CMP, CMM, of Keller Williams Realty International, delivered the second session. Boyd is like your tech-y friend who tries all the apps and sifts out the best tips to share with you, but doesn’t try to push you. “It’s a progression,” she told attendees, describing her own two-year journey from exploration to total devotion. “Don’t try to do everything in one leap.” Here are some of her specific ideas:

• Probably the biggest productivity boost will be for those planners (i.e., most planners) who receive a BEO by e-mail, print it, make corrections on it, scan it, and e-mail it back to the hotel.

Here’s how that would work if you used an app like GoodNotes. The hotel sends you BEOs as PDFs (you must request this if that’s not how the BEO is ordinarily sent), you open it with the GoodNotes app and make the corrections directly onto the PDFs. Say you received 12 pages and seven need corrections. You can correct and sign the seven and send them back to the hotel directly from the GoodNotes app.

• Here’s another example: Boyd received a theater-style seating diagram as a PDF from her production company. Using GoodNotes, she color coded her various levels of seating and put the PDF in Dropbox to share with her team and suppliers.

Dropbox is another highly useful app for planners—if your company allows you to use it. (Security can be a concern.) A “filing cabinet in the sky,” Dropbox is essentially a place to store documents where anyone with an Internet connection can get to them, work on them, and put the updated files back for everyone else on the team. One hitch: You could potentially have more than one person working on a document at the same time, so you need to layer a file-naming or other process over the tool.

• Dropbox also offers hotels and CVBs a way to share large files, such as photos, with planners without clogging their e-mail inboxes.

• Next time you’re on a site inspection, try a note-taking app like Noteshelf. As you walk around talking with the CSM or salesperson you’re using a stylus (Boyd recommends the JotPro from Adonit) to write notes directly on your iPad screen. You can also use your iPad camera to take photos and place them next to your notes in one file.

• Miss your old-school paper day planner? The Planner Plus app looks just like it—but it syncs with your Outlook calendar (or whatever digital calendar you use) and is searchable.

Two quick usage tips:

• Close your apps (especially Google Maps) when you’re not actively using them in order to maximize your iPad/iPhone battery life.

• Try the four-finger swipe: from bottom to top to reveal a tool bar or from right to left to shift among open apps.

 

FICP Leadership Changes Announced

Kelli Livers Takes Over as FICP Chair

Koleen Roach, CMP, handed over the FICP Chair gavel to Kelli Livers, CMP, Forethought Financial Group. With warmth and humor, Livers talked about her first FICP meeting when she sat in the back never imagining taking on a leadership role. For those sitting in the back right then, and for all attendees, she said, “stay engaged and get involved.” She also called on members and hospitality partners to offer input in the coming year that keeps the association focused on its mission.

2012 Annual Conference Design Team Chair Todd Zint,
CMP, CMM, of NFP, and 2013 FICP Chair Kelli Livers,
CMP, CMM, Forethought Financial Group

In other leadership changes:

• Two board members completed their terms at the annual meeting: Florine Edwards, CMP, CMM, of FM Global; and Todd Zint, CMP, CMM, of NFP.

Jana Stern of ING was named FICP Chair-Elect.

• New board members are Marla Hannigan, CMP, Mutual of Omaha; Jeff Leggett, Co-Operators; and Caryn Taylor-Lucia, CMP, SEI.

• Continuing board members are Lindsay Maloni, MetLife; Wayne Robinson, CMP, Northwestern Mutual; and Koleen Roach, CMP, Securian Financial, who will serve as the 2013 Annual Conference Design Team Chair.

On the supplier side, Coleen Brzowzski, CMP, of Grand Traverse Resort, completed her term as chair of the Hospitality Partners Advisory Council. Other HPAC moves:

Bob Beach, CMP, of Destination Hotels & Resorts, is the 2013 Chair of the council.

• New HPAC members are Julie Holmen, Tourism Toronto; Padraic Gilligan, DMCP, Ovation Global DMC; and Isabel Mahon, Fairmont|Raffles|Swissôtels.

• Returning to the council are Diane Goodman, CMP, Goodman Speakers Bureau; and Clarence Day, CMP, The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua.

• Also ending their terms at the annual conference were Kathy Fort Carty, Destination Services Corp.; and Katy Gettinger, Starwood Hotels & Resorts.

 

Jewel Sparkles in Closing Keynote

To close the 2012 Annual Conference, FICP booked singer/songwriter Jewel. After walking on stage and picking up her well-worn guitar, she held attendees rapt with her stylized, a cappella version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” It’s a song she wanted to start with because she feels she made it over the rainbow, she told the crowd, launching into the first of many stories about her life. The tales shifted from adventure to despair to soul-searching to success to gratitude, as she talked about her “rustic” childhood in Alaska, singing the bar circuit with her songwriter father, living in her car, being discovered, and handling “meet and greet” events. Her talent shone as brightly as expected—less expected was how funny she was. Singing many of her most well-known songs, she got high marks from attendees for her engaging and genuine manner. (Her appearance was arranged thanks to SME Entertainment.)

2015 Announced

Always a highly anticipated moment at the annual conference is the announcement of the latest site selected for the program. This year’s announcement had a special twist as it was delivered by former Boston Celtics and L.A. Lakers star Rick Fox, a native of the Bahamas. And the 2015 site is: Atlantis.

First though, FICP heads to the Sheraton Boston November 17–20, 2013; and to the Hilton Waikoloa Village, November 16–19, 2014.