Meeting Industrialization and Package-Processing of Participants
Report on the Millennium Leaders Summit for the International
Kuala Lumpur (14-15 June 2000)
- / -
This is an unofficial summary of the proceedings and conclusions of the Summit.
The event was organized on behalf of the Joint Industry Meetings Council (JMIC),
an informal forum for exchange of views amongst 13 international bodies representing
a range of interests connected with the business associated with the organization
of certain international events. JMIC was founded in 1978. The author represented
the Union of International Associations (UIA) at the event. The UIA is a founding
member of JMIC.
The Summit was organized as the result of a decision taken by a number of JMIC
members on the initiative of the International Congress and Convention Association
(ICCA), which became the lead agency in planning and managing the event itself.
ICCA members are divided into a range of categories including: *****. The bodies
in each such category may also have their own international associations, independent
of ICCA, and in some cases also members of JMIC. Their participation in ICCA
is primarily associated with its focus on international meetings. ICCA has endeavored
to position itself as the 'International Meetings Association'.
Traditionally a very high of competitiveness has characterized the relations
between meeting industry bodies. The Summit was supposedly designed to address
the dysfunctional aspects of this in order to achieve more fruitful collaboration
amongst interested parties in their exploitation of business opportunities in
relation to international meetings.
A particular concern was to ensure appropriate recognition for the international
meetings industry, whether by governments, the media or the tourism industry
in general -- within which it tends to be absorbed in practice and in any market
analysis. Indeed many of the industry associations have an extensive preoccupation
with tourism-related revenue.
Organization of the Summit
Consistent with its objective of positioning itself strategically and ensuring
its own financial viability, the organizers entered into a series of partnerships.
Partners included Tourism Malaysia and Malaysian Airlines. The Summit was held
in the luxury Mines Resort complex on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur. The event
was opened by the Prime Minister, currently a somewhat controversial figure
on the international scene.
Despite the many challenges of an underfunded event for a highly competitive
group of bodies, it brought together 100 participants ***, of which a significant
proportion were from Malaysia and Singapore. Technically the organization was
Following the formal opening, the keynote speech was given by the Chief Editor
of the Economist -- one of the strategic partners in the initiative.
This was designed to establish the economic significance of the meetings industry,
although meetings were the topic of only one of the 35 slides in the presentation.
Unfortunately the content of the excellent presentation was irrelevant to the
challenges of the Summit itself and significantly avoided the issues for which
it was convened.
As a prelude to the working sessions, a digital voting system was used in the
plenary to enable participants to express their views regarding the desirability
of a number of strategic options in relation to the meetings industry, notably
issues relating to the need for greater coherence. This procedure was coordinated
by a representative of IACVB who provided an verbal interpretation of the results
of each vote.
Participants were then split by the organizers into five smaller groups on
the basis of undefined criteria. The groups each met for five 90 minute sessions
to address each of five pre-selected topics deemed essential to successful reframing
of the meetings industry. The topics were: Globalization, Technology, Standards
and Best Practice, Education and Professional Development, and Industry Recognition.
These had been selected by the organizers, apparently without consultation with
Each topic was facilitated by a single facilitator. The five facilitators thus
encountered each group in turn as they rotated through the topics over the five
sessions. The format worked well although the facilitators had very different
styles and the topics did not evoke the same degree of interest or participation.
Facilitators took few, if any, notes and no other recording system was used.
Some facilitators were disarmingly frank in describing their methods as getting
participants to say what they as facilitators wanted them to say -- and it was
interesting to note how points made by participants were selectively emphasized,
reframed or ignored.
Facilitators then met together to compare and adjust their individual verbal
reports back to the plenary session on the consensus emerging on the five themes
(in the light of their treatment by each working group in succession). It was
presumably during this session that a new round of questions was formulated
for the subsequent digital voting process.
The plenary session heard the reports. Questions and remarks were mainly offered
by the moderator of the plenary session whose task it was to identify emergent
threads. She was frank in her analysis and insightful in her remark that the
Summit had enabled her to understand why the United Nations did not work.
The digital voting system was then used again to allow participants to vote
on a series of views and options highlighted in the reports of the facilitators.
These options were structured to determine the degree of consensus amongst participants
on the need and possibility of some major initiatives to achieve a higher degree
The main focus was on the need for the creation of a new "peak institute" for
the meetings industry. There was consensus on the need for rapid follow up towards
its creation through a Steering Committee. It was agreed that next steps should
be taken rapidly with a view to clarifying these options at a second Summit
before the end of 2000.
The session was then closed by the current president of JMIC.
Next steps ?
Strangely no attempt was made to elect the required Steering Committee on which
a degree of consensus had seemingly been achieved. During the plenary session
it had been clear that there were strong reservations about the value of JMIC
(labeled without challenge as a "toothless talking shop") - although the Summit
had been organized in its name. These reservations were repeatedly reinforced
by its president (a member of MPI) and the case was made for extending its membership
to make it more representative. No attempt was made to do so. Although JMIC
members were briefly convened before the Summit opening (to ensure consensus
on collective responsibility for any financial deficit), no attempt was made
to reconvene after its closure.
Given that JMIC is an informal group meeting twice a year, it is totally unclear
who is now empowered to act on the views expressed in the closing plenary, especially
if JMIC is considered by consensus to be inappropriate to the task. Given that
the Summit was effectively organized by a subset of JMIC, and that the operational
organization was largely undertaken by ICCA (with the support of IACVB and MPI),
perhaps these now consider themselves as empowered to take the next steps in
forming a Steering Committee of their choice?
There was some implication that reports of the facilitators, plenary moderator,
and plenary sessions would be prepared (depsite the lack of any notes or record)
for distribution to participants (and more widely) as a basis for further action.
However it was not clear who was empowered to do this or indeed where the resources
would be found to do so.
Given the careful structuring of all other processes - even arousing some suspicion
of a hidden agenda - why the failure to address collectively the process of
the crucial next step towards which the Summit had been organized?Was it the
intention to create a power vacuum?
Promotional trap of meetings industry acronyms
The meetings industry, with the notable support of ICCA (as the "international
meetings association") has sought to promote and define itself through the acronym
MICE. This stands for Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Events. It
was for the MICE industry that the Summit sought recognition.
During the plenary some participants at the Summit acknowledged that this acronym
was a promotional disaster -- forcing some to change the name of national MICE
bodies. But the attempt to promote it signals some of the implicit dimensions
of the industry's strategic challenge. Why favor an acronym with such metaphoric
connotations? It conjures up an image of ineffectual busybodies preoccupied
feverishly with nourishing themselves at the expense of others. In the light
of some of the points below, might it be useful to see MICE as standing
for "Mercenary Initiatives for Conference Exploitation"?
What is the environment on which MICE seeks to nourish itself? Is the meetings
industry effectively nibbling away at a block of "cheese" that exceeds its comprehension
- making gruyere holes in it that it sees as the scope of its strategic preoccupation.
Maybe the MICE Summit strategy should be defined as CHEESE namely the
"Comprehensive Homogenization of the Event Environment for its Systematic
What might then be the underlying significance of the promotion of DOME by
the Summit? Is there some sense in which MICE need to hide under a dome and
protect and distance themselves from the larger reality of the meeting phenomenon?
Maybe the DOME initiative should be understood as 'Dominance
of the Meeting Environment", or Designing out marginal events" or
perhaps "Denial of meeting environment"? Should DOME be envisaged as
a kind of "cheese dish" to protect the 'CHEESE' for 'MICE'?
There is also an intriguing kind of inversion in using MICE to gain industry
recognition when the industry tends to treat its ultimate clients -- the participants
-- as mice for which process labyrinths have to be designed.
MICE 'consensus' and Summit representativity
The Summit claimed to represent a consensus for the MICE industry. This consensus
was necessarily based on those present, whether as representatives of international
bodies representing service providers, or members of such bodies. A significant
number of such bodies were not represented and they were largely outnumbered
by their members, or representatives of bodies not members, or by unaffiliated
persons.. Many bodies were represented by a number of people.
Given the criteria applied to membership by some of the more exclusive meetings
industry bodies (eg permitting only one member per country), it is not clear
whether those excluded from such bodies were effectively represented, however
legitiamte their concerns within the meetings industry.
** see list
Interpreting "inadvertent" signals
1. ICCA vs. JMIC: As the organization in the hot seat of making the
Summit work, ICCA clearly had a challenge in communicating with the various
strategic partners essential for the financing of the event, and with others
in Malaysia unfamiliar with the inter-group politics and turfism of the meetings
industry. It was unfortunate that the banner greeting delegates at the airport
had the Summit as being organized by ICCA rather than JMIC. Clearly this inadvertent
error, about which ICCA claimed to have protested, was not to ICCA's disadvantage
in its own efforts to position itself within the industry and in the eyes of
the media on that occasion.
2. DOME: One of the issues of concern to the industry is the nature and
scope of the meeting statistics provided. The principal source of such statistics
since the 1940s has been the Union of International Associations (UIA), one
of the founding members of JMIC. UIA has collaborated with the European Commission's
Eurostat to develop a cross-national statistical methodology for meeting information.
In recent years ICCA has also endeavored to provide statistics on a more limited
range of meetings (but with more information on items such as hotel use, exhibition
space, etc). In a competition typical of the meetings industry, ICCA appears
to be positioning its statistical report to replace that of the UIA. ICCA, together
with IACVB ****, has been developing a relationship with DOME (a project, not
yet operational, based at George Washington University). ICCA and IACVB are
members of the DOME consortium. DOME proposes to collect and analyze meeting-related
information using a methodology partly developed at the University of Vienna
in association with a member of ICCA. Although is not yet operational but is
"ready to roll". In the light of these factors it is perhaps not surprising
- participants in the working group dealing with Standards and Best Practice
were confronted with handouts on DOME - of unstated provenance, despite extensive
references to ICCA's data therein. Since every delegate was rotated through
that theme, each was exposed to its content although participants were not
permitted to keep copies - a well-known marketing ploy to elicit interest
- in the closing plenary the facilitator of that session made it clear that,
in "response to requests received", copies of the DOME handout would subsequently
be made available to all participants (as of 8th July, this had not been done).
- participants were asked, during the plenary, to vote on the creation of
DOME as a databank and statistical framework - as being one of the conclusions
brought forward by the facilitators. Strangely no mention was made of the
UIA's data or statistics, or the infrastructure required to collect the data
that DOME researchers would like to analyze and exploit, if it were handed
over to them.
Is DOME to be considered as a kind of Trojan horse for a strategic initiative
by some coalition of meetings industry bodies? Does this initiative seek Domination
Of the Meeting Environment (DOME) through the 'peak' industry body
on which some consensus was achieved.
As part of the ongoing campaign by ICCA, its current statistical report now
endeavours to distinguish at length its own data from that of the UIA****
3. Imposing standards:
Various points were made by facilitators, both within
sessions and in their reports, pointing towards the possibility of imposing standards
and practices in the meetings industry. One facilitator even used the term enforcing.
Seemingly there is a desire on the part of some bodies in the meetings industry
to force meeting organizers to conform to practices that suit those selling services
to them. There was a sense that some body would be empowered in some way to impose
such standards, and to sanction those that fail to conform to them. It was clear
that there was a move towards evaluating both service providers and their clients
in terms of the quality of their mode of operation.
4. Strategic financial partnerships: In envisaging the operation and
financing of the proposed "peak" industry body, and in the light of the airline
alliances (with which all participants were familiar), strong points were made
about the possibility of strategic partnerships:
- with a single bank to facilitate secure financial transactions in relation
to meeting organization,
- with a world-wide information service provider (such as EDS) to handle meeting
information flows and requisite databank facilities
- with an international consultancy group (such as Arthur Andersen).
The sensitive political issues relating to such partnerships were ignored in
a manner typical of the widely criticized US-style approach to globalization
as a reflection of the American way. The fact that the lucrative nature of the
market would quickly engender competing systems (as in the case of airline reservation
systems) was not discussed. Whether or not preliminary discussions with interested
potential partners had already been undertaken by some of those present in an
effort to "take over the meetings industry" was necessarily far from clear.
But the point was made that some such parties would be happy to invest several
million dollars in an appropriate initiative that offered the possibility of
some form of monopoly control of the meetings market.
5. Reorganizing industry meetings: The point was made that there were
too many meetings supposedly of relevance to bodies representative of the meetings
industry and that this was an unnecessary burden on their resources. It was
recommended that industry meetings should be held together back-to-back, presumably
on the occasion of the largest such event. The unstated implication was that
this would be the ICCA conference. The effect on other such events, or the bodies
responsible for them, was not discussed. Nor, pursuing this logic, was there
any discussion as to why such an event should not be back-to-back with some
larger tourism conference (the closing Gala Dinner of the Summit was with 100
travel agents). Despite a Technology theme at the Summit, no effort was made
to explore how some of these meeting processes could not be run as standing
electronic conferences (listservs, rather than video)
6. Relationships between industry associations: The event was designed
to look to the future, and a significant investment was made in the skills of
five facilitators (from ICCA/MPI). However, no effort whatsoever was made to
apply those skills to the issues and dynamics that fragment the industry in
ways acknowledged by all as dysfunctional. The process focused on what was desirable
but not on why the desirable had proven historically to be unobtainable and
how turfism had come to dominate. Whilst it was recommended that industry meetings
be coordinated back-to-back, no mention was made of how this was to be achieved
given the disadvantages to some. Furthermore, pursuing this logic, why should
the many industry associations not simply be merged to create the new "peak"
industry body - given the degree of overlap and duplication between their programs.
Alternatively, rather than merger, why not use ICCA, for example, to absorb
the various industry associations and programs reflected in its membership -
a process consistent with its current strategies? The views of MPI and IACVB
on these matters would have been most enlightening.
7. Issue avoidance: As the two previous points illustrate, the Summit
was characterized by a degree of issue avoidance, exemplified by the keynote
speech and the function of the facilitators. A notable issue inadvertently avoided
is the degree of corruption in the bidding process (discussed at a recent seminar
of IAPCO) that would need to be addressed in any effort to rationalize the meeting
industry as a whole. The results therefore took the form of wishful thinking
unchallenged by realities familiar to all in the industry and acknowledged by
the moderator of the closing session in endeavoring openly to avoid being cynical.
8. Digital voting methodology: Given the call for greater methodological
rigor with regard to meeting data, it is important to recognize that questions
familiar to survey specialists could be raised about the framing and voting
on issues during the Summit plenaries. Questions can be inadvertently selected
and framed to elicit a pattern of desired responses and to marginalize unwanted
perspectives. Since much was made of the degree of consensus achieved at the
Summit in the light of the digital vote, it is important to examine the design
of the questions submitted to participants in plenary. It is well-known to opinion
poll analyssts that bias can be introduced into surveys, whether inadvertently
or not. There are essentially two types of survey questionnaires - open-ended
and directive. 'Open-ended Questions' do not provide the respondent
with possible answers whereas 'Directive Questions', used by digital
voting, require little time and thought because alternative answers to the questions
are given. However, a downside of this type of survey is that it can potentially
result in biased responses because it leads respondents to a particular answer.
'Push polling' has become a feature of democratic politics. Push
polls use deliberately biased questionnaires or samples. Some seek to produce
false poll findings in support of a particular issue. Others use biased questions
in an attempt to convince those being interviewed to support a particular point
of view. In both cases the "poll" is a deliberate attempt to manipulate opinion.
Issues of concern in avoiding survey bias include:
- Sample bias: In a survey purporting to represent the 'meetings
industry', it is vital to ensure that the respondents constitute a representative
sample of the meetings industry. The representativity oif the results was
- Unambigious definitions: The quality and significance of results
depends on whether respondents and evaluators understand the questions and
possible answers unambiguously
- Loaded words: All words have connotations, either negative or positive,
and respondents may react more to the connotation than what the question is
actually asking. For example, how might participants be encouraged to answer:
Should the meetings industry be more coordinated? Should the meetings industry
- Loaded response categories: In directive questions, care should be
taken to balance the responses offered to the respondents. A choice between
'To a slight extent', 'To some extent', 'To a large
extent' and 'Entirely' is not balanced, being biased toward
a positive response, since there is no possibility for the respondent to say
"Not at all."
- Loaded questions: The entire questionnaire should be organized in
a neutral fashion. There should be questions on both sides of all the issues
explored. In addition to avoiding questionnaire bias, using pairs of questions
also helps to lessen "response set," where the respondent develops the habit
of always marking the same response category. This can happen when too many
of the questions are either all negative or all positive. And, to avoid another
pattern of "yes-no" questions, pairs of questions are generally separated
from one another and distributed throughout the questionnaire.
- Leading questions: These suggest the expected answer, and they often
bring out something called "prestige bias." Generally, most people do not
want to appear unintelligent, or somehow deficient. For example, asking participants
how much time they spent on the pre-course reading assumes that they did in
fact read it. They may be tempted to answer untruthfully so that they do not
- Vague words and phrases: If the querstions are not specific, the
answers can mean anything.
It is unfortunate that a 60 percent response on an issue was interpreted to
the plenary as 'consensus' so as to ignore contrary views reflected
by the remaining 40 percent.. Can new global structures be built on such "consensus"
and are alternative perspectives simply to be marginalized? As a demonstration
of such technology, it is also important to recall the non-transparent and unverifiable
nature of such voting in sensitive situations -- notably those vulnerable to
the creative skills of the hacking community.
9. Information on bodies represented: For a meeting organized by meeting
professionals, it was interesting to note the manner in which participants were
discouraged from laying out brochures to inform others of their role and position
within the meetings industry. The opportunity to present information of this
kind was reserved for strategic partners who made a presentation during coffee
breaks. One consequence is that many particiupants new to the meetings industry
were mystified by representatives of bodies only identified by acronyms.
10. Strategic positioning: To what degree was the Summit organized as
a strategic positioning operation by ICCA and some others in order to marginalize
other bodies associated with the meetings industry and gain competitive advantage?
Why give such prominence to a non-operational initiative such as DOME? Why ignore
the role of UIA, which through its early series of International Congresses
on Congress Organization had endeavored to achieve many of the declared
objectives of the Summit - and in fact led to the creation of a number of the
existing meeting industry bodies? Why ignore the UIA role in maintaining extensive
databases on meetings and associations (see)
to which many bodies in the meetings industry have long had access as UIA Associate
Members? Why ensure the selective presentation of ICCA statistics to the Summit
by one of its sponsors?
1. Delimiting the meetings industry:
Many of the sessions were concerned
with identifying the meetings industry as a basis for developing industry recognition.
Unfortunately the Summit inadvertently failed to envisage the scope of the meetings
phenomenon outside its immediate business concerns:
- Electronic meetings industry: No representatives from what might
be called the electronic meetings industry were present, nor was the growth
in this phenomenon acknowledged in plenary. There are a number of international
bodies with this focus. Over the past decade such meetings have exploded exponentially,
notably at the international level, and now far exceed the number of face-to-face
gatherings. Their participants and representative bodies tend to be totally
indifferent to face-to-face meetings. This separation between the two is understandable
in that the electronic variant offers relatively few business opportunities
for the conventional meetings industry as it chooses to define itself. No
strategic alliance has been envisaged. The industry has largely ignored the
challenge of enhancing face-to-face meetings (within or between sessions)
by electronic meetings and has tended to focus solely, if at all, on the promotional
opportunities associated with participation of personalities by sattelite.
- discussion forums
- chat lines
- "Non-industrialized" meetings: Discussions reflected little awareness
of the number of face-to-face meetings that occur without the assistance of
bodies involved in the meetings industry or in a manner imperceptible to them.
The meetings industry focuses necessarily and exclusively on events to which
its services can be profitably sold. Other events, and their challenges, are
necessarily matters of indifference unless they can be "industrialized" in
some way. Another neglected industry challenge is the increasing interest
in self-organizing meetings. Variants include:
- one-off, non-repetitive meetings
- self-organizing gatherings
- spontaneous events
The conventional meetings industry needs to recognize the possibility that
it may be marketing an outdated and ineffectual product whose prime purpose
is increasingly indistinguishable from promotional initiatives and tourism and
increasingly divorced from knowledge management in the emerging information
society. The nature and scope of "meeting" has been transformed under the very
eyes of the meeting industry without its being able to understand how what it
sees as its market is no longer where the action is.
Whilst the total number of "meetings" is expanding exponentially, the proportion
of conventional meetings in this "market" may in effect be declining because
of their inherent and costly inefficiencies. The meetings market is expanding
undetectably by avoiding face-to-face and "industrialized" gatherings. The MICE
industry may effectively be seeking recognition as the "typewriter industry"
of an information society that is increasingly defined by other technologies
- a classical challenge in strategic positioning. The meetings industry has
been overtaken by the transformation of the information society. Ironically
the events industry might be said to have been 'overtaken by events'
-- beyond its ken.
In seeking recognition for the meetings industry, the president of JMIC stressed
the philosophy that "one only existed to the extent that one was perceived to
exist by others". However, it may be that the meetings industry is itself a
victim of its own inability to perceive the wider processes of which it is a
2. Failure to recognize the ultimate client
: The meetings industry is almost
completely preoccupied with clients that are not the ultimate end user of meeting
facilities but merely intermediaries acting for those end users. As a gathering
of "middle men", the Summit made no effort to reflect the views of participants
at meetings. And yet it is potential meeting participants who are increasingly
choosing to interact outside the scope of the conventional meetings on which the
meetings industry is focused, namely in electronic contexts or in "non-industrialized"
events. The meetings industry is conditioned by a "package mindset", namely how
groups of participants can be processed as a package within a meeting environment.
Desirable clients "deliver" larger packages and the larger the package the more
desirable is the event for that industry. In this sense the meetings industry
has become the "participant processing" industry. This mindset has completely
undermined the capacity of the meetings industry to understand what quality meetings
are about in the information society of the 21st
century faced with
challenges of knowledge management.
3. "Industrializing meetings":
The Summit could be seen as an initiative
to systematically industrialize the meeting environment - to trigger an "industrial
revolution" (that may have already happened without it being aware of it). Associated
efficiencies and economies of scale were a preoccupation of the discussions of
the Summit themes of: globalization, technology, standards and best practices,
education, and industry recognition. Within the industry, "meeting quality" has
become confused with the luxuries offered in "quality tourism". It is totally
divorced from enhancement of quality communication amongst participants
however much it may pay lip service to this notion as part of its marketing
hype. It focuses instead on communication to participants,
as part of the
package processing mindset - and the enhancement of techniques for doing so at
a minimum cost per participant. This is how cost/effectiveness is defined by the
meetings industry as reflected in ICCA statistical criteria.
In this sense the Summit was focused on what might be termed "assembly line"
events. It is worth comparing the evolution of the tourism industry with that
of the conference industry. Conventional tourism has become increasingly focused
on package holidays whereas quality tourism has sought to escape such experiences
- whether for the wealthy or those on low budgets.Most discerning travelers
attach great value to avoiding what the tourism industry seeks to offer. The
meetings industry may therefore be seeking to define its future as an analogue
to the package tour industry with which it so closely associates itself - and
is seen to associate itself in any economic analysis of the industry. This is
clearly a strategic trap. But a trap is a function of the nature of the trapped.
Some feedback, protesting issues raised by the first draft of this report circulated
to participants, stressed the 'positive' nature of the gathering and
the sense of achievement. The protest generally avoided addressing the issues
signalled in this report.
There would appear to be an underlying challenge of comprehension of scope.
The scope of the universe of 'meetings' is far broader than that which
MICE includes. It is also broader than that reflected in ICCA statistics. The
bodies representing the MICE industry were not all represented at the Summit
that claims to represent a consensus of that industry.
In comparing its strategic opportunities to those of the airline industry,
the meetings industry might usefully review the reasons for the emergence of
the International Airline Passengers Association (IAPA) and the recent articulation
of a passenger charter. Issues of concern have been lost baggage and those giving
rise to "air rage" -- especially how passengers are handled and packaged. Maybe
it is time to create an International Network of Meeting Participants and a
participant charter. It is perhaps time to articulate standards for meeting
services from a participant perspective and to rate providers in the light of
participant feedback. There may be increasing justification for "meeting rage",
notably in relation to the failure of meeting processes to handle delivery of
the conceptual "baggage" for which participants congregate in a meeting -- or
to facilitate their interaction. This is the challenge of knowledge management
at any gathering, electronic or otherwise.