Worldwide, the MICE sector has developed over many decades as a maverick one. On the supplier/services side – the main supplier being the hotel industry – there was a time when the gathering of people was viewed as mainly glitzy gatherings primarily for generous hospitality and food and beverages. Great ballrooms were designed in hotels and sports clubs, complete with mirrors, columns, low chandeliers and swing doors leading straight into the kitchen to ensure the flow of potential elaborately dressed snacks, with beverage profits flowing copiously from those making merry at the bar.
Eventually it was realised that venues were being booked for serious discussions from sectors of the economy, primarily the association and corporate markets. Gone are the mirrors, chandeliers and the like, swiftly replaced with carpeted rooms of varying sizes and design while major cities have constructed purpose-built convention centres for audio visual, translation services and major lighting productions, and attracting other city amenities and services such as accommodation, restaurants, tours and others.
The art of event organising
Yet the real mavericks remain the organisers and planners who continue to co-ordinate the requirements of the end-user client or employer. With no formal training available to date in ‘eventing’ per se, their co-ordinating skills and knowledge of requirements have become almost an art, to ensure that preferred suppliers and services are recommended and appointed in order to have a successful event. Predominantly female – both salaried and independent – their abilities range from highly skilled to questionable.
A number of independent planners established small companies due to previously being employees, and therefore their knowledge of the culture of the company is an added plus and their previous employer forms the basis of an anchor client in which the small company may prosper. Other independent planners – including some within the tourism industry – have grown extensive lists of suppliers and services and recommend the most suitable ones for a client, dependent on the type of event. Remuneration varies, from fees, retainers and commissions – or all three – which become somewhat blurred as to who the actual client is, yet can prove a highly lucrative ‘occupation’ for the amount of co-ordinating expertise required or indeed undertaken.
A PCO by any other name?
Grouped collectively, yet unfortunately, under the acronym of PCO (Professional Conference Organiser) mainly by MICE suppliers and services, the real professionals – of which there are many – have to share the acronym with those that are far from professional. It stands to reason that anyone – and we mean anyone – irrespective of ability and knowledge is a PCO as far as the MICE suppliers and services are concerned. If a supplier/service only has to pay for getting the business once the event is complete with no marketing expense or retaining sales personnel, anyone who places business in this manner from a supplier/services viewpoint is a professional conference organiser. In other words, the MICE industry does not have planning or organising ‘standards’ on which a client or end-user can rely, between those that undertake exemplary co-ordinating services and those who raise an eyebrow as to their co-ordinating ability.
To date – and to the best of The MICE Academy’s knowledge – the foggy acronym or other titles have not been explained or standardised by any collective.
‘The times they are a changing’
However, it is encouraging that decision-makers and end-users, irrespective of whether corporate, association or public sector are getting wise. For a number of years, executives within finance, HR and procurement in particular, have not been able to grapple with determining event costs in an industry where back-handers are almost impossible to pin-point or control. Coupled with the enormous financial increases due to power, water constraints and the like, this is motivating a different and more discerning stance. Plans are under way to educate the decision-makers and end-users as to the requirements of MICE financial accountability while ensuring successful events.