Generally, travel agencies sell service packages to a whole range of very different clients – from holiday makers to business people. Most meeting industry experts point out that meetings, incentives, events and exhibitions are not tourism business at all, but only use tourism infrastructure. The situation is perfectly clear from the below chart done by Gary Grimmer of GiningEdge:

 

 

 

* Term Meeting Industry here includes all kinds of meetings, incentives, events, exhibitions, corporate events
Author: Gary Grimmer of GainingEdge, EdgyThinking

Therefore, the approach to meeting industry has to be completely different from that one towards tourism. Companies dealing with meeting industry organization can be roughly placed into the following categories:

•    PCO – Professional Congress Organizer
Provides full service to meeting planners. Sometimes a PCO may engage a DMC for services in a     destination like excursions, dinners etc. or an EMC for themed events. Very often, a PCO organizes all     those happenings itself providing it has got the in-depth knowledge of the destination.
•    AMC – Association Management Company
Provides management and specialized administrative services to trade associations and professional     societies running them like businesses. If it has the knowledge and resources, AMC may also act a PCO     or may engage a PCO to organize a meeting.
•    DMC – Destination Management Company
Provides ground services based on understanding and familiarity of the destination possessing extensive     local knowledge, expertise and resources, specializing in the design and implementation of events,     activities, tours, transportation and program logistics.
•    EMC – Event Management Company
Provides services in a variety of areas including corporate events, marketing programs and special     hospitality events like concerts, award ceremonies, film premieres, launch/release parties, fashion     shows, commercial events, private (personal) events such as weddings etc.

Now, which three factors make difference between one of these above and a general travel agency or tour operator? Number one – experience. Number two – experience. Number three – experience. Of course, basic knowledge is a must but experience in meeting industry is the key factor that differentiates, say a PCO, from a classical travel agency. Meeting, incentive and corporate planners are too well aware of that fact and will look for such partners when planning their events. Therefore, to meet their expectations, general travel agencies wishing to serve this market niche will surely have to specialize in order to gain serious business.

To qualify as a Professional Congress Organizer, a company has to be able to provide – among other things – the following specific services*:
•    Abstract Handling
•    Speaker / Program Management
•    Marketing & Promotion
•    Budgeting
•    Financial Management
•    Exhibition Management
•    Sponsorship Management
•    Registration Process
•    On-site Management
•    Congress Materials and Print
•    Venue Selection
•    Hotel Reservation / Accommodation
•    Congress Technology
•    Social Program, Tours and Transport
•    General Counseling and Management
•    Corporate Social Responsibility
* List of standard PCO services adopted by IAPCO (International Association of Professional Congress Organizers)

Case study

Two years ago, we have been requested to organize a European scientific conference in Dubrovnik. This biennial conference has been running for 10 years in different European cities and Dubrovnik proved to be the “magnet” to attract the conference decision makers as well as the delegates. It proved that 30% of delegate attendance increase is due to the attractive destination and a number of them combined it with a post-conference vacation in the Adriatic. In their feedback, besides scientific part, delegates indicated Dubrovnik as a key factor to attend this conference giving them the occasion to visit the city and explore the country.

We have developed a conference website with online abstract, registration and payment management. Of course, we have proposed and handled the venue and all the services in the destination as well as conference budgeting, marketing, sponsorship and exhibitors’ activities. Our office served as a conference secretariat and handled all the issues (like registration and accommodation, fee payment processing, social events handling, travel and visa information, etc.) apart from those strictly trade professional. We also managed the speakers’ requirements and post-conference follow-up.

The variety and choice within the social program offered something for all of the delegates. The relaxed atmosphere created in the venues shaped the evenings for the delegates to catch up with old friends and carry on the debates and discussions from the day’s science program.

One of the challenges we faced was a delayed delivery of goods sent from abroad by courier service containing conference posters and branded lanyards. The shipment stuck at the customs on Friday due to the weekend. To be able to open the registration on Sunday, together with our local supplier we have managed to print posters locally and to replace missing lanyards with new un-branded ones. When the shipment finally arrived on Monday, we were giving branded lanyards to the participants as gifts.

Obviously, each and every travel agency is not a PCO or DMC or EMC or AMC. To become one of these it takes a lot more than just adding the acronym after the company’s name – first of all it takes continuous education, experience and knowledge gained through the years of hard working in this industry. The future is definitely in specialization – be it compulsory through the legislature or voluntarily through the industry associations. The clients do recognize and reward it.

 

Ranko Filipović has been a meeting industry expert in Croatia for over 20 years. His current engagement includes his brands PerfectMeetings.hr and Meeting Industry Consultants. He is also a co-founder and Vice-president of Croatian Meeting Professionals Association serving it on pro-bono basis.

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