Convention Industry Council CEO Karen Kotowski responded publicly to a recent column in the The Wall Street Journal called “Bordellos for the Brain,” that denigrated the value of meetings.
The column by Holly Finn, published March 9, questioned the need to spend over $250 million taxpayer dollars on 750 government meetings in 2012, citing numbers quoted by Congressman Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) at a congressional subcommittee hearing on conference travel on February 27. “That’s pricey for a few inspirational speeches and an assorted cheese tray,” wrote Finn.
“But what are we buying when we pay for a ticket? We seem to be seeking, from ‘ideas’ conferences in particular, something that we used to get at home: mental stimulation. Only now, we feel we have to tiptoe away from our daily lives to find it. Today's conferences are bordellos for the brain.” She says the “magic happens when you attend not for the umpteenth time but the first.”
The CIC’s Kotowski offered a pointed responded to the criticism. “People attend conferences for two primary reasons—to learn and to network. Seasoned professionals stay current in their ever-changing marketplaces and nurture longstanding business relationships, both of which are essential for success and growth. Participants absorb key trends, are exposed to new techniques and methodologies and make important connections that can help open doors, many that last a lifetime,” she wrote. “Further, companies simply cannot afford to offer in-house training for all employees, across disciplines. Professional conferences are an excellent alternative. Same is true for journalism. The editors of The Wall Street Journal host invitation-only conferences throughout the year with the world’s most influential and powerful leaders. Their own publication recognizes the value of bringing together leaders, face-to-face to discuss and provide solutions to pressing problems.”
She also cited the economic impact of meetings. “More than 200 million people attend conferences each year, and, according to an Economic Impact Study by PricewatershouseCoopers LLP in 2011, the industry has helped account for 1.7 million U.S. jobs, $263 billion in direct spending, and a $106 billion contribution to GDP.”
Kotowski also cited a new study by IMEX and the Meetology Group that face-to-face meetings generate more creativity among attendees that virtual events. “The real conference ‘take-away’ is not, as Ms. Finn suggests, that people go to meetings to seek a ‘mental bordello,’ rather, they are seeking a blueprint—concrete ways to stay current in their industries and indispensable in their jobs so that they can plan for their and their company’s futures. Our industry facilitates meetings where the exchange of ideas lead to real world solutions.”