Meetings with many views. Interview by MIM Europe Magazine with Gary Grimmer
The meetings industry needs people like Gary Grimmer. At the head of Gaining Edge, a specialist firm focused on the international events industry, he’s been helping setting up convention bureaus, offering consultant services on bids, organizing education sessions… and way more. In fact, no matter where you go, it’s hard not to see the extent of Gary’s contribution to the industry. Here he tells us more about his company, the way the world has changed and where to look for growth.
MIM Europe: Can you let us know how you started your company and how it has evolved in recent years?
Gary Grimmer: I ran convention bureaus for 23 years, first in the US and finally in Melbourne. Eight years ago I decided to start a consultancy, originally thinking that it would just be me and maybe a couple of associates. We’ve got 12 team members now and I’m in the process of forming partnerships in certain parts of the world. So, yes, it has changed some from the original idea.
I also originally thought that it would be only consulting. However, as we learned more about what the industry needed, we have evolved a broader range of services. We do a lot of education and training now and also are moving into sales support, helping clients to bid for conventions.
MIM Europe: You work on all continents – can you describe what, according to you, their specificities, their weaknesses and their growth possibilities are?
Gary Grimmer: Asia – should be the big growth story in the next two decades. China and India are the two biggest growth economies and the association world is seeking to engage in both places. Both are embryonic in terms of their meetings industries. Other parts of Asia are developing quickly. Malaysia has a new national convention bureau as an example which in my view is becoming a new model bureau for Asia. That’s important, because most of Asia’s bureaus are new, or have limited resources and sophistication.
What Asia needs most are governments that understand the industry. Most of their governments express support and then either do nothing or do the wrong things. However, when Asian governments grow to understand the importance of the industry the way Singapore does and become more focused and strategic, Asia will become a major player in the global market.
South America – Enormous growth potential, but, they are new at the industry and need to develop stronger convention bureaus and more mature supplier communities. Brazil will be the obvious leader, provided that its governments get their minds around why they need the meetings industry to prosper there.
Africa – A real draw card for associations with social agendas. If Africa becomes the world’s next big outsourcing centre its economy will grow and it will draw more corporate and association meetings. Like South America, Africa needs convention bureaus, modern convention centres and more experienced supplier communities. It also needs stronger association communities for both social and economic reasons. In my view, South Africa will lead the charge and the rest will follow.
Australia – Australia has a strong economy, a strong resource base, lots of innovation and strong representation within the leadership of international associations. Those strengths have allowed it to do well despite its long haul disadvantage. Asia’s rise will give Australia a new challenge to overcome if it wants to remain a strong player.
North America – Traditionally North America has been domestic market focused. However, as the world goes global so ultimately will North American associations. This outward focus alone wouldn’t likely have a big impact on the market, but, add that to the fact that associations headquartered in Europe are rotating to other parts of the world more frequently and what you will have is fewer international association meetings happening in the US. While corporate meetings are down, the global financial crisis and its aftermath can’t last forever, and one would expect a resurgence of corporate meetings in North America, despite the US government’s misguided negativity towards them. I would anticipate a lot of growth there overall, especially if the US leads the revival of Western economies.
Europe – Traditionally the most mature and international meetings market. It’s clear that there have been a lot of meetings there recently about saving the Euro and the EU. I’m an optimist about the prospects of all that, and Europe will recover as well. Again, it starts off a high base and globalization means that it will have to compete for meetings that used to be captive audiences. As Europe expands, so do the meeting options, so, destinations in the East will begin to give traditional Western European destinations a run for their money.
MIM Europe: We understand you just opened an office is Latin America. Besides the interest of international assocations do you also foresee a growth in the meetings and incentive market on this continent?
Gary Grimmer: We recently hired our first team member in Brazil. We wanted to establish ourselves in Latin America because we see it as another big growth area for the meetings industry. Brazil is booming, but, all of Latin America should see a lot of economic growth in the future. With that will come more corporate and incentive meetings as well as conventions.
MIM Europe: Do you think that sustainability will have a big impact on the future for international events?
Gary Grimmer: Yes, a growing global consciousness about sustainability will affect international events just as it will every other social and economic activity. I don’t think that sustainability factors will be a differentiator in terms of service providers and destinations, I think they will gradually become mandatories. In the current economic environment I think sustainability issues are more the boxes people tick after making their decisions. But, in the future I think they will begin wanting to tick the boxes before they shortlist destinations and suppliers.
MIM Europe: You mention in your corporate goal that you will spend $1 million per year in pro bono work for the industry and in the developing world. Can you give some examples?
Gary Grimmer: That is part of our CSR program and we hope to be at that level within the next 4 years. We recently teamed up with IMEX to provide support to their ‘wild card’ exhibitors, destinations that are usually from the developing world and have limited resources. This year they were Sendai, Japan which is still recovering from the 2011 tsunami, and El Salvador. We also provide volunteer or deeply discounted advisory and educational support to bureaus in developing countries. We’re currently working on a plan to identify third world cities and countries where we can ‘adopt’ bureaus and help them to do things that they otherwise could never afford to do.
MIM Europe: We have published articles on ’emerging destinations’. Serbia seems to lead the way in this area. Can you let us know how you worked them and what your advice has been?
Gary Grimmer: We wrote the plan for establishing the Serbia Convention Bureau and then worked with them for three years to build it. This was all done with financial support from USAID. We helped them set up their systems, trained their staff and conducted education programs for their local industry. Serbia has come a long way and the key to their success has been their work in bringing the industry together and developing a more pro-active market approach. They’ve got some really bright young people there who are absolutely committed to the cause because they see it as socially and economically transformative for their nation.