The only thing good about the past is your mother." Taking gleeful swipes at his own generation, the hotel industry, U.S. airlines, the Y2K hoopla, and anyone who isn't fully plugged in, Darryl Hartley-Leonard, chairman and CEO of Arlington, Va.-based PGI, addressed an audience of planners and hoteliers recently about the future of meetings. It's a future where technology reigns and the people who really matter were born after 1970.
"A whole new race of people has been created," he told an audience at the Insurance Conference Planners Association annual meeting. "And this is the only segment of society that matters for the future: young people." Because they're growing up with the Internet ("the be-all and end-all of how this world will do business in the future"), they are conducting business in a completely new way--remotely.
"We have been brought up to believe that the only way we can do business, do deals, is to be with people," said Hartley-Leonard, who spent 32 years at Hyatt, rising from desk clerk to chairman. "Today, young people have developed a sixth sense in judging the people they do business with." For them, relationships develop as easily through e-mail as through a series of business meetings.
Conclusion: Farewell to the bulk of business travel.
"If technology has become the enabler, and if time is money, tell me again why you would get on a plane and go to Cleveland?" Hartley-Leonard asked. "You might go to London or New York but not Dubuque. If you're in the hotel business, running a four-star hotel in Dubuque is not what you want to be doing."
Hoteliers, listen up. The properties you do want to be running are large convention hotels and small luxury resorts. That's because there is one type of business travel Hartley-Leonard predicts will continue to increase: travel to meetings.
"The more you separate people, the more you need to bring them together to have a common experience, to motivate them, to influence them," he said. And make sure you put your renovation dollars in the right place: Get your rooms wired. "The future is in enabling the user to be enabled at your resort."
For the meeting planner whose job it is to move these groups of people, to change the way they think and the way they behave, the key is to create an experience. "Everything is interactive," he said. "Learning is interactive, entertainment is interactive, business meetings are interactive. What you do has moved away from passive theater to interactive reality."
Further, he said, "doing business and having fun are not incompatible. In fact, that combination is essential."
The good news for companies that rely on incentive trips to motivate employees and sales reps is that experiences are the new mile markers on the road to making it, Hartley-Leonard noted. That is, today's meeting attendees have begun to measure their success not in the accumulation of things but rather in the accumulation of experiences: where they've been, what they've seen, the things they've done.
"Be different from everyone else," he charged the planners in the room. "Create value in your programs and experiences and learn how to measure that value. The world has never been better, the quality of life has never been better, young people have never been better. There are no good old days."
Hartley-Leonard left the lectern with a warning: "If we do not continually reinvent ourselves, we will become tired, afraid, and irrelevant."
Anyone dare to disagree?