The reaction from friends and colleagues when I mentioned an upcoming trip to a conference in California speaks volumes about the gap between meeting professionals’ experience onsite and the way it’s perceived back home.
It isn’t too big a leap from this particular tale to the perception of meetings as elaborate parties that has helped to feed the attack on meetings in Washington, DC.
Very late last week, I confirmed plans to attend the Green Travel Summit in Newport Beach, southwest of Los Angeles, on Monday and Tuesday. I will be onsite to oversee our coverage for—and help raise the profile of—the Green Meetings Portal that our firm is launching in partnership with the Green Meeting Industry Council. We tied down my itinerary late Friday afternoon, and I fly at 06:15 Monday morning.
I mentioned the trip in a Facebook status update, and the replies started rolling in. “Sounds like a lot of fun,” wrote a colleague. “Let’s go surfin’ now,” chimed in an old friend. I thought about correcting the status update, fretted that people would think I was heading off to a non-stop party, until Karen reassured me that no one would ever mistake me for a party guy.
What a relief. I think.
Still, here’s the reality.
On Monday morning, I will probably set my alarm for about 03:45, to reach the airport and clear international security in time for my flight. In my destination time zone, that’s less than an hour after midnight. At O’Hare International Airport, I’ll have 40 minutes to dash between flights, as long as I arrive on schedule. If I make it to Newport Beach as planned, I’ll begin 36 hours of mostly non-stop sessions and side meetings.
My return trip will begin at about 19:00 local time Tuesday and end at 11:15 Wednesday in Ottawa. At which point I’ll have 2½ days to catch up on my week. Total time spent folded into a titanium tin can: 13.5 hours, if everything departs and arrives on time. Bonus challenge: I’m going to try to make this trip without a suitcase, since the flurry of carry-on in the wake of the airlines’ new baggage policies has meant that even a small bag can be checked, delayed, and lost. On this trip, I’ll have no time for fried logistics.
As most readers of this blog will probably attest, there’s nothing new here. People in our industry smile through this kind of itinerary every day. We keep smiling when our friends, neighbours, and family—even our colleagues—speculate about the glamour and luxury that must go along with all of that travel. Especially southbound travel when Ottawa is just emerging from a long, cold winter.
On this particular trip, the slice of California I expect to see will include an airport, a hotel, and the freeway that connects them. The conference will be genuinely, flat-out fascinating, with all the value we typically attach to live gatherings. I’m looking forward to face-to-face conversations with some people I rarely see in person, and to getting to know at least one new colleague a bit better. But the visit will also be hard work, mostly non-stop work. And after 25 years in this business, exhausting work.
Let’s be clear that, even with maximum frustration and fatigue, this kind of travel is still an incredible privilege. In our industry, we do take for granted a level and speed of mobility that our parents could never have imagined, that the majority of the world’s population will never experience, and that our children will live to resent if we can’t somehow separate air travel from the carbon footprint it produces.
But if we’re doing our jobs, that privilege is far more about business than pleasure. When we can figure out how to explain that this is work, not a holiday, we’ll be one step closer to articulating the value and impact of meetings as a grown-up industry.