TORONTO—When more than 70 million participants attend 671,000 meetings in one year, your first reaction might be that everybody needs to get out a little more.
But when it turns out that those meetings generated $32.2 billion in spending and 235,500 full-year jobs across Canada in 2006, representing an economic sector that was just a bit bigger than motor vehicle manufacturing … you might conclude that MPI Canada had just released the findings of its 19-month study of the economic impact of the meetings industry.
I was in Toronto Monday for the official launch of the study results, after serving as MPI’s economic impact project manager through 2007 and most of 2008. Meeting with our consultants Sunday evening, I was struck by the richness of the analysis from a group of researchers who could read the story of our industry through the economic numbers we generate.
These aren’t just any meetings. The U.N. World Tourism Organization defines a meeting as a very specific type of activity: a group of at least 10 people, meeting for least four hours, in a booked venue, for a particular reason other than entertainment or a sporting event. The official definition takes up quite a bit more space, but the distinctions matter.
Beyond the industry’s economic impact, the WTO definition recognizes that the meetings we organize and supply don’t happen by accident. They generally have a purpose, and that makes them an important part of the glue that holds our economy and society together.
And it suggests that live meetings aren’t going away anytime soon. They’re an activity whose value we must understand and protect against higher oil prices, failing airlines, and anything else that might keep participants away.
In the last decade, we’ve seen three or four waves of confident predictions of the death of face-to-face meetings. They’ve been wrong before, and they’re wrong now.
To be sure, a focus on oil shocks and carbon footprints will dictate a more thoughtful mix of live and virtual gatherings.
But there are times when there’s no substitute for face-to-face, and Canada organized 671,000 meetings in 2006 that proved the point. As one of our consultants put it on Monday, those meetings took place for a reason, and if your organization didn’t host any of them, the law of very large numbers says that your competitor probably did.
(Footnote: Attending the economic impact launch means I’ll be rejoining the celebrations for Adrian’s 26th birthday when I get home Tuesday evening. Rachel, full of magnificent 14-year-old indignation, was not amused at my absence. But wait! After this trip, I can bring Adrian … a copy of the economic impact summary report, autographed by the authors? Belated happy birthday, Aydoo!)