Earlier this month the Meeting Professionals International Foundation Canada released the results of its latest Canadian Economic Impact study of the meetings industry. It found that:
- In 2012, there were 585,000 business events held in Canada, involving 35.3 million participants;
- These events represented $27.5 billion (1.5%) of Canada's Gross Domestic Product;
- The economic activity of these business events supported more than 200,000 full-year jobs, nearly double the number in telecommunications and utilities.
Notable results, though if one refers to the last economic impact study, conducted in 2006, we have yet to return to pre-recession levels. We had fewer meetings and created fewer jobs in 2012, compared to 2006. Back then, Canada’s meetings sector was said to have organized 671,000 meetings, creating the equivalent of 235,500 full-year jobs.
Our firm was very involved with this study, as the data gathering partner, working with Maritz Research Canada, The Conference Board of Canada, and the Canadian Human Resource Tourism Council. I know how rigorous an exercise it was to measure this industry.
And it's prompted a lot of questions in my mind: Are we having fewer meetings or are we meeting in other ways – meeting online, informally in smaller groups, using our own in-house venues (where the impact is not being reported in economic studies of this kind)?
If we are meeting less, is that a good thing? Some would say "yes"; fewer meetings have meant a smaller environmental footprint. But others would argue that meeting face-to-face is a fundamental human need. One that allows us to get to know and trust one another. To collaborate, innovate and create. If we're not meeting, what does this mean for the human condition?
I'm not sure we'll ever fully know the answer to that question, but we must try. As an industry we should be focusing on the real impact of meetings, beyond the pure economics. It's not that economic impact is unimportant; it is. It was. We needed to quantify our activities because that's how our world works.
But we now need to move beyond that. Meetings have a hard cost, an impact on our environment. They use increasingly limited resources, at all levels. If we are truly going to measure and prove our worth, how do we quantify engagement, learning, innovation? It's back to the old question: how does the meetings industry report Return on Investment?
The answer lies not in the quantity of meetings, but in their quality: we need to have better, more meaningful meetings.
Are are we up to the challenge?