Let scholars make waves in the events industry

Over the years I have had the pleasure to speak and attend many event-industry con- ferences, but ICE2015 (Inter- national Conference on Events, “Making Waves in Macau”) was my first academic conference. 

The three-day event was organised by IFT (Institute for Tourism Studies, Macau) and the content quality far exceeded anything we see at industry conferences. The depth and knowledge about the events industry the attendees brought was a veritable goldmine.

I would like to see more academics presenting at industry events.

The knowledge they are bringing to the industry is phenomenal. My concern, however, is that they only publish in academic journals that are only read by other academics and taught to students. It could be years before these ideas are brought to the industry.

It was also great to see academics actually practising what they teach. I was particularly impressed with conference co-host Ubaldino Couto and the team at the Grand Hyatt showing their superb event management skills and organising flexibility when the early evening performance of the House of Dancing Water that delegates were due to attend was suddenly cancelled. They managed to reschedule drinks and dinner for 80 people and get everyone to a later show without anyone noticing anything was wrong.

As a representative of the industry I was asked to give one of the keynote speeches and I quickly realised this conference was not the usual business first affair. Most were doctors and professors of event management and tourism from institutions around the world, but senior executives from Macau, Government Tourist Office, Venetian Macao, MGM China and Grand Hyatt Macau spoke at keynote sessions.

All the speakers, including the industry panel (below), stayed for lunch and made a hasty retreat in the afternoon leaving me as the only industry professional in a jungle of academics. I waded in to see what they had to say and I struck gold in the form of content I have never experienced at any industry “educational” event.

As is traditional in academic conferences they were given only 15 minutes to deliver their findings and then a short question and answer period. One of the biggest struggles seems to be summing up years of research into 15 minutes. Luckily, the conference was small with plenty of time to mingle so if you found a topic you were interested in you could corner the expert who was always happy to share the knowledge in depth.

At most of the industry conferences I have attended, the speakers tend to be successful event entrepreneurs telling their story and showing their portfolio. Though inspirational, they tend to be thin on real content.

The ICE2015 conference was overflowing with actionable and usable knowledge for seasoned event professionals. For instance, Dr Hilary Du Cros’s “Fresh Art: Maintaining The Sustainable Creative Advantage of Repeatable Arts Events” brought great insight into how working professionals can keep those yearly events fresh and full of vitality.

As an event designer I was intrigued with talks on motivation and experience. Miguel Moital and Amy Bain presented interesting findings on “Emotional Reactions to The Consumption of Prestige in Events” while Dr Caroline Jackson presented “The Lived Experience of Popular Music Festival-Goer”.

I was marvelously inspired with big thoughts and deep insight. I was thankful for the quality of minds brought together in this one place and I wanted to figure out how to share this knowledge with the world.

Sadly this cutting-edge knowledge is not readily available to the industry for several reasons. In the academic world you must publish your findings in journals to be relevant. If the research gets quoted too many times in too many locations, software designed to detect plagiarism can pick this up on the Internet and give each paper a “score”. Too high a score can make publishing further findings more difficult.

Another reason is that we in the industry get so wrapped up in the business of events we forget the value of education. In a candid discussion with one professor whose university had sent him to Imex, he vowed never to go back to an industry conference again. “Everyone just wanted my business card. When they saw I was from a university and couldn't do business with them, they were not interested in talking.” 

In future I hope we see more crossovers with academia. There is a wealth of treasure in the education they are happy to share. In the meantime, I have discovered a secret goldmine and a wealth of information from my new friends.

Robert Rogers is a Certified Special Events Professional who runs Hong Kong-based Eventsman. This is an edited version of an article on the Eventsman blog.

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