Meetings Industry Forecast: Planners Must Be Alert

By Joseph Kornik

BALTIMORE -- The future of the meetings industry isn't all that bright and planners need to stay ahead of the curve if they're going to be successful in the next century, according to Wayne Burkan, president of Alternative Visions. Speaking earlier this month at Meeting Professionals International's World Education Congress here, Burkan said meeting attendance is likely to drop significantly and planners need to take notice now. "Meeting planners may experience the incredible vanishing audience and experience will only be your asset if the future stays the same as it is today," Burkan said. "Treat this as a warning."

According to Burkan, planners mistakenly assume the future is going to be benevolent. "The future doesn't care about you -- it's not for you or against you," he said. "You need to anticipate and then take advantage of quick response time in order to get ahead."

In order to better anticipate the future, Burkan said meeting planners should ignore mainstream business. "While mainstream customers are your lifeblood, you can learn a lot more about the future by listening to your edge customers -- the ones who are never happy or satisfied, the ones who complain," he said. "If the future were going to be different, the edge customers would know about it first. They are the ones constantly forcing you to do things you wouldn't normally do."

Your mainstream customers are going to be restricted by the same things you are, but the edge customers will always see the future first, according to Burkan. "Customers at the margin are not marginal customers," he said. "They are only marginal to your business today."

Burkan points out globalization and the Internet as entities that will most likely change the future of the industry. "We are very good about seeing patterns and seeing things that aren't there," he said. "Often, we miss what is there."

Burkan identifies globalization as an ongoing trend, but calls the influx of the Internet an industry shift. "We all like trends, but shifts stop trends dead in their tracks," he said. "If you want to be able to see the future, you better be able to identify the shifts."

Shifts trigger new trends, according to Burkan. And the Internet will undoubtedly change business as we know it. "I know that the current services aren't going to cut it in the future," he said. "Everybody's striving for quality and excellence -- that's now the baseline standard."

Burkan is the author of "Wide Angle Vision: Beat Your Competition by Focusing on Fringe Competitors, Lost Customers and Rogue Employees." To order, call (800) 236-7323.

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