Covering the international events industry certainly brings with it lots of interesting worldwide travel. There is usually an opportunity to get off the beaten track and see the real destination behind the convention centre.
But when it comes to the jealously guarded private holiday space, my family does its best to encourage me not to pay any attention to conference or exhibition centres as we travel round.
It is not always easy to switch off, or maybe I’m just getting more anoraky with age.
Driving in a country lane in Cornwall, a year or two ago, I blurted out as we drove past a Harvester-style pub/restaurant: ‘Oh, look, they’ve got conference facilities upstairs, seating up to 40’. Something along the lines of ‘Get a life’, was shouted from the back seat, I seem to remember.
So I have learned to keep my silence on all issues meeting-related when on holiday?until last week when the Green Conference and Meetings Hulk could not stay contained within.
Travelling around the Crimean peninsula in Ukraine, I thought I had got about as far away from the conference agenda as possible, until I came to the Livadia Palace. What started off as a visit to one of the palaces of the Romanov tsars, suddenly transported me into the times of what, possibly, was the most famous conference ever – the Yalta Conference, at which Stalin, Roosevelt and Hitler shaped the future of Europe.
Maybe if Stalin had had a Hotmail account or Roosevelt had the capacity to Tweet, or Churchill access for a Blackberry, the post-war map of Europe could have looked different. Somehow I doubt solutions to some of the weightiest issues not just for politicians, but corporates and non-profit associations, can be found to carry any real depth of meaning without a face-to-face meeting.
Churchill, Stalin and Roosevelt all had their ‘props’: cigars, pipes, greatcoats, all adding to the drama, as well as an army of advisers tasked with getting the diplomatic solution to last. The work that went into negotiating accommodation and seating plan for the Big Three would have been a challenge even for Alison Steadman’s Beverly in Mike Leigh’s Abigail’s Party.
Set piece events, certainly compared with those from 1945, have moved into the world of show business: no longer does the MD stand at a drab lectern and mechanically go through a long and winding agenda while the sales team dozes in Row Z.
Let us remember, however, that all the lighting effects, branding, team-building and showbiz surrounding a set piece event are really just tools in our hands for achieving results. The content must still be king and return on investment means getting results that can be measured.
Today’s G8 and G20 summit set piece photos – with leaders standing uncomfortably (or in Sr Berlusconi’s case shouting and gesticulating) for their ‘team shot’ – still seem to owe more to Pathe news style than the best that our specialist event agencies can offer.
Having said that, all the dry ice, rock music (remember Neil Kinnock’s final campaign rally in Sheffield in 1992) and special effects still can’t beat three chairs round a stout table. Although filling the seats of the Big Three from 1945 is not something every venue can claim.
Now where are those brochures for Maastricht?