In an interesting article in the Economist, the business columnist known by the name of Schumpeter makes a case for visiting conferences. In a review of the book “The Power to Pull” by John Hagel, John Seely Brown and Lang Davison he mentions the benefits of discovering something useful through a chance encounter (“managing the serendipity funnel’ in the management guru speak of the authors). Apart from living near a diverse group of people as well as using online social networks the authors suggest attending a variety of conferences where the corridor conversations are often the most interesting (hear hear).
It’s been a while since we last wrote on this blog and ironically the title of the last post related to the conference model being “broken and [needing] a rethink”. This, in all honesty, was also the case for our own business. Having started in 2007 with our website and having spent a good 2 years trying to get conference attendees coming to our website to name the price they would be willing to pay for a seat at one of these conferences, we realised that we needed to find more ways to get enough volume in order to get the best discounts. Understandably, conference organisers are not that eager to give a discount to one bidder but when several people make a bid, everything changes. Especially when that bid is reasonable and when a payment is made immediately upon acceptance by the organiser. Cash is King, also in the conference industry….
So we spent quite some time in 2009 thinking how we could get the volumes we knew we would need in order to succeed. And this is where the economic downturn actually helped us; most of the people we know who work for large multinationals always mention that a discount on conference tickets is not really what makes them interested. They are interested in our monthly overviews of what is happening in their industry and a more convenient and speedy registration process at conferences. However, we also know that many of the companies these people work for have made procurement of everything from copying paper and staplers to airline travel and hotel bookings central to their cost saving activities. And this is where the idea was born that we expect will radically change our business in 2010: we decided to go for the companies that large corporations use to book their hotel stays and air travel: Carlson Wagonlit Travel , American Express Travel and BCD Travel.
Basically it works like this: when you work for a multinational and you want to make a business trip you have to go through your corporate travel agency (the three mentioned above have about 80% of the multinationals market). They will book your flights and hotel and generally speaking get better deals for the company than if every employee would book him or herself. It’s also much more convenient for the corporate traveller; one phone call is enough and payment goes through a registered credit card or via the Finance department.
Since conference tickets cost on average between US$ 2,000 and US$ 4,000 we started wondering why large corporations did not book these centrally as well. In a company with 50,000 staff we (conservatively) estimate the annual cost of conference tickets to be US$30 million (based on 20% of staff attending one conference per year at an average cost of US$ 3,000). Not an amount to be sniffed at. Problem is: most companies have no idea how much they are spending on conferences because it is not booked centrally or even registered separately in the financial accounts.
So what is Conference Concierge? It is an extension of the service corporate travellers already enjoy. From now on they will be able to call their trusted travel agency and book a conference ticket, a hotel room and their flight, all in one go. Conference Bay will manage the conference ticket booking and the travel agent will do the hotel and flight booking. Payment will take place exactly the same way the traveller has always paid for his or her travel. The traveller can even mention a maximum price he is willing to pay for the conference seat, which of course is Conference Bay’s specialty.
We launched this service on January 1st with Carlson Wagonlit after signing the agreement with Martin Warner, Chief Operating Officer, Asia Pacific. So if you’re a corporate traveller and your company uses CWT, count yourself lucky. If you use one of the other travel agencies, let them or your travel procurement manager know about this new service! We’ll be on their case this year. Because the more tickets are booked through Conference Bay, the more everyone saves.
Conference Bay meets Carlson Wagonlit COO Martin Warner
Wise words, not spoken or written by anyone at Conference Bay (even though we agree with them partly) but by a columnist at the Financial Times in this weekend’s edition of the paper.
What he describes in his column (read the full text here: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/7564dd38-ee5b-11dd-b791-0000779fd2ac.html) is the difference between “Homo Conferencus” and “Homo Noninterestus”. Basically, Brulee identifies 2 types of people visiting conferences and comes to the conclusion there is a lot wrong with the current model of organising these events.
As you know, Conference Bay has at the basis of its business model and beliefs that one of the most basic things that conference organisers could do differently is the pricing of the tickets for their events. In most cases an Early Bird discount and some group discounts are available, but customers nowadays expect something more sophisticated than that, having experienced how (budget) airlines and hotels price their similarly perishable goods.
Since its inception in September 2007 Conference Bay has been chipping away at reactions from organisers like “this is the way we have always done it” and “we do not offer discounts as we have a very high quality event”. In many cases, reactions such as these were followed a few weeks later by phone calls and e-mails asking us to help the organiser sell some additional seats. We believe that especially in the current economic situation conference organisers have a great opportunity to change the way they market and price their product. By asking people how much they are willing to pay for a seat they will not only get a much better understanding of the price point at which they would sell the optimal number of seats (from a profit point of view) but they would also be able to find out if there are price points at which they might be able to sell additional products (say a 3 hour or one day conference instead of the standard 2-3 days).
So when it comes to rethinking the conference model, Conference Bay is ready to help conference organisers to change one of the most important aspects of the marketing mix, namely the pricing dimension. We welcome any courageous and ambitious organiser to join us on this journey.
It’s hard to believe but the turbulent economic times we are in actually provide opportunities for some: Conference Bay has seen a marked increase in the number of bids for conference seats recently, which we believe has to do with the difficult economic climate.
While some people have experienced a total travel ban until at least the end of the year, others have found that visiting a conference is an excellent way to save money on business trips to meet several clients (in many industries it is easy to meet a lot of people at some of the key industry events). Less widely admitted, but no less true, is the fact that at a conference a lot of networking takes place which may help finding a job when the times are rough.
Conference Bay would be interested in finding out what your attitude towards visiting conferences is at the moment, which is why we have developed a little poll. Please let us have your views by choosing one of the responses.
As you know, making a bid for a seat at a conference (and saving significant amounts of money) is quick and easy on our website www.conferencebay.com and if you can’t find the event you are looking for there just drop us a line.
Matin Brown of Isite wondered if it could be “The future of conferences?”. He was refering to the BarCamp a form of unconference that’s gaining a lot of popularity among the tech savvy conference-goers. Pam Broviak has so interestingly reported her Barcamp Chicago event in a post entitled Barcamp, Social Media and Pizza.
In a previous post, we have pointed out a few shortcomings of the unconferences and to read that you may hop in here. All these notwithstanding, we understand how innovation is so crucial to the growth of the conference industry thoughout the world. While we do not think mainstream conferences will take the form of Barcamp and other unconference types on the whole, just the same, we are of the opinion that the way future conferences are organized may consider a lot of the elements of uncoferences in it. Here, we came up with this list of what mainstream conference organizing can learn from those who calls themselves “unconference unorganizers”:
1. No Spectators. That’s the Barcamp motto, and is reflective of how a conference, ideally, ought to be designed for maximum participation.
2. More Participant-focused. A regular conference can evolve from the speaker-centered events to an exciting mix of experts engaging the delegates with the more participatory workshop type where the audience are active co-creators of content.
2. Networking Value. Pam Broviak tells of how “I retained more from this conference than I normally would at a more traditional event and met more people”
3. Pricewise. Its low-cost if not totally free. While it certainly cannot be duplicated by high-fee corporate mainstream events for the infrastructure and preparation they mount for every event, it can make organizers re-think pricing models and innovations that gives conference-goers options for smart conference going at less price.
4. Social Media rules! “Because many of us were following each other on Twitter, we could post comments or converse online with others in the room or even with people we knew who were not there.” Pam Broviak on Be2Camp.
4. Real global interconnections. Pam Broviak recounts “I sent out a Twitter about the online tool with a link. Martin Brown picked up on this, as we follow each other on Twitter, and he visited the Web site noticing that it was run by someone in Hungary….So within hours, information from a presentation given in Chicago reached London and then Hungary resulting in the participation of a professional in Hungary at a future barcamp in London.” That’s lightning speed in today’s interconnected world and emphasizes how important connectivity is to a well put-together conference.
5. Conferences can be “fun”. “The basis of the conference seems to be that it is totally informal and completely engaging “. While a lot of conference goers are keen to go about their events in style–urban tastes, exciting destinations– there can be ways to make the rmainstream events features more spontaneous, fun and stimulating.
6. Persistent conversation. Unconferences run attractive wiki pages prior to and after an event where ideas for topics are welcome prior to the event, and collaborations are made persistent and structured long after the event is over. This can be adopted as a way of incorporating social media softwares as a way by which new conference learning styles can be constructed and propagated.