Ray of Hope

Successful Meetings: Will the requirement for Americans to get passports to cross borders in North America be a boon for all international meetings?

Ray Bloom, International Meetings Exchange: Good question—I guess the Canadians wouldn't have voted for that bill if they'd had the opportunity. I know right now, the general perception here in the U.S. is that this is a restriction—people can no longer cross borders in North America with just a driver's license. But in the long term, I think the general public and especially meeting attendees and organizations that host meetings will view this as an opportunity. More people having passports will be good for international meetings.

SM: How's the dollar playing into that?

Bloom: The dollar is not too strong at the moment, but it's not too weak either. I don't think the dollar is a major factor in keeping meetings and incentives from going global right now. It's not stopping the numbers of groups that are coming out of the United
States. I think the international nature of business creates a need to meet globally that is more powerful than the relative strength or weakness of the dollar compared to other currencies.

On the incentive side, there is a rise in demand to go international that has been building since 2001. The United States, and the rest of the world as well, became very insular in the wake of 9/11, but how long does that go on? I think the demand has been building and I think we're seeing that shift. At the same time the whole world is becoming smaller and smaller for everybody in a business sense, so the need to hold international meetings and trade shows is always going to be there.

SM: Just as long as the economy continues to cooperate. Most of the attendees Successful Meetings spoke to at The Motivation Show were optimistic about the economy. What's your opinion?

Bloom: Which economy are we talking about? If you're talking about the U.S. economy, it's very strong but maybe a little bit off its peak. The strong demand among U.S. organizations to meet internationally is still feeding off a strong economy, even if it is a dipping a little at the moment. The recovery so far hasn't been hindered by a recession and we're hopeful that will remain the case moving into 2007. There is an expectation that the recovery will continue because organizations are still planning events.

SM: How strong do you think the interest is in traditional international destinations, when compared to emerging sites?

Bloom: The traditional destinations are always going to be strong draws, but right now, with a lot of American organizations just beginning to go international after a five-year layoff, it's almost like they are emerging as well. For many of the American attendees, these traditional destinations are actually new. I think that layoff actually helps those destinations compete with the truly emerging destinations to a degree. But there are so many new destinations that are promoting themselves very strongly. And from a purely exotic standpoint, these destinations offer experiences that present a strong point of difference from the traditional sites—even if an attendee has never gone international before.

Asian destinations, especially China, are actively pursuing the meetings and incentives market. I'm not sure how much their message is resonating within the United States, but certainly in Europe, many organizations are looking at this part of the world with renewed interest.

SM: What do you think the coming 2008 Olympics will mean to Beijing?

Bloom: If they haven't already finished what they're developing, they're almost there.
For China it's just the most enormous promotion. It's almost like their coming-out party for the meetings and events market. These events are great promotions that can really put a destination on the map. The recent World Cup in Germany, the Olympics in Barcelona, and now we also have London of course. It's a traditional destination, but the buildup certainly will reinforce it.

SM: What other Asian destinations do you think are poised to make a breakthrough impression on the international meetings market?

Bloom: Macau is already doing business and has a lot of meetings business on the books. But having said that, it's got a big job on its hands. And Singapore is working on a new casino complex as well. It's so important for these countries to attract international meetings and I think the development going on there is going to have an extremely dramatic impact on the meetings and expositions industry. The overall products each is creating, from the meeting facilities, to the hotel offerings, to the attractions, are raising the bar to a new level for all other destinations in that region.

SM: What about Thailand? That's been a long-established destination for incentives and some international conferences; will it be hurt by the recent coup?

Bloom: Whenever we see the word "instability" there's going to be concern. But it's fairly easy to identify the countries that are truly unstable from the ones that simply have values that are different from the West. You come back to this question of perception of stability. Thailand for example, was a bloodless coup, that really shouldn't have dissuaded any groups that were planning to do meetings there from moving forward, though I'm sure it must have caused some anxious moments for groups that were in country at the time. But the fact remains that Thailand was never a risky destination.

Even during the coup its tourism market remained fully operational throughout the crisis and that will not change moving forward. Ultimately we'd like to see a democratic government there, but that's going to take a bit longer.

SM: Many meetings industry trade shows have been fairly flat in the number of attendees they draw. Is that true of shows in Europe as well?

Bloom: The trade show landscape in Europe is actually looking quite good at the moment. There are more meetings and expositions industry shows in Europe than in
America, the two biggest being IMEX and EIBTM. But you've also got all the different countries in Europe and they've all got their national markets with shows serving them.
You've got shows in Sweden, Brussels, Paris, London, and so on. So there are various shows in Europe and there could even be more.

SM: Does that cluttered market make it easier or harder for a national show to be successful in Europe? Especially with the presence of two well-established international shows?

Bloom: If these shows are going to survive, they've got to supply business opportunities. People will participate if the opportunity is there. The budgets are there and if the suppliers feel that the opportunities are there, they'll commit those budgets.

SM: That must be especially true for the larger shows.

Bloom: I think it's all about ROI. And that comes down to providing business opportunities. If attendees and exhibitors feel they are getting useful business opportunities from attending an event, they will participate. If they don't feel they are getting that kind of value for their time and money, they won't. It's as simple as that. It's a very transparent industry. You know if you've had a good day at a trade show at the end of the day. That's true of attendees and it's definitely true of exhibitors. Trade shows are only part of their marketing mix. And we're definitely competing with other marketing options such as magazines and electronic media —there are lots of choices out there. Suppliers will invest their budgets where they think they can get a return.

SM: What do European shows do to help their stakeholders achieve ROI that's not being done in North America?

Bloom: A hosted buyers program is one of the most effective tools a show can implement to help both attendees and exhibitors achieve their ROI. Our show does that on a large scale; we host 3,500 high-quality buyers. Some other shows in Europe do it as well, even though most shows don't have a hosted buyer program of any significance.

But in the States it isn't done at all as far as I can tell. It's valuable because it's actually a practice that builds on itself. Guaranteeing a certain number of quality buyers enables the suppliers to commit to exhibiting at the show, and having a strong lineup of exhibitors makes it an easy decision for a buyer to attend the show—especially those buyers who are not hosted.