Making the Case for ConferencesBy the time this article is published, many of us will be getting ready for the annual ICHRIE conference, held this year in Dallas. I know from speaking to many members over the years, that this is a key function on your calendar and one not to be missed. A number of us have also recently returned from a wonderful APacCHRIE conference in Bangkok, hosted by Dusit Thani College. There was a fantastic turnout for APacCHRIE with 331 delegates travelling from 34 countries to attend research papers, expert panel sessions and workshops. Most of us will have left Bangkok with very fond memories, particularly of Professor Kaye Chon’s Thai dancing at the gala dinner. Other ICHRIE members will also be preparing travel plans for the next EuroCHRIE Conference in October, hosted by Budapest Metropolitan University of Applied Sciences. Over the course of the academic year, ICHRIE members will also be attending the NENA, Central, SESCA or West Federation conferences in the US.
It is clear to see that within ICHRIE we have a number of conference options, something that you told us you valued from your membership. In addition to being spoilt for choice within our association, there are a growing number of conferences within the hospitality and tourism sectors and within our disciplinary areas. As the majority of us also face the realities of restricted or limited conference and travel budgets, we are forced to make a choice over which conference(s), if any, to attend. Research suggests that as technology offers us an increasing array of alternatives to keep in touch within our professional communities (podcasts, YouTube and blogs to name but a few), many people are now opting out of conference attendance all together. Millennials, in particular are reported to not only shun conferences but also to forego membership of professional associations such as ICHRIE in favour of ‘freemium’ benefits from different sources.
Unsurprisingly therefore, there have been numerous studies conducted by a wide range of professional associations and academic institutions about the benefits of conference attendance. These studies identify between 5 and 12 different ‘top reasons’ why attendance at conferences remains important despite the alternatives available. A review of these studies reveals that these benefits fall within the following broad categories:
To Learn: about new research, new industry trends, new vendor products and services. Conferences can help cut through the ‘clutter’ of what might be available online so that you reach what is relevant to you quickly and directly. Attendance can even help you to ‘relearn’ things you may have forgotten about.
To Break Out Of Your Comfort Zone: Many argue that taking a break from your usual workplace helps to enhance learning and sharpen skills. Experts agree that this type of action helps to prevent you getting ‘set in your ways’ of thinking, or getting ‘ stuck in a rut’ in the workplace. As a result, you go back to work with new ideas and are likely to be more efficient and effective.
To Be Inspired: Closely related to the previous point, mixing with like-minded individuals who want to learn about new ideas and who want to share their learning can inspire you to try new things. As such, conferences encourage learning by increasing your motivation to adopt new approaches or ideas.
To Network: Sharing a business idea with someone you admire, with an expert, or with someone who is influential in your field can help you to make a connection that can lead to finding a mentor. Making these connections in real life (IRL), through face-to-face contact is considered far more valuable that making these connections online.
To Have Fun: This last benefit may sound frivolous, but having fun is important; from both a learning and networking perspective. It can also support the development of strong bonds between members of professional associations.
While these benefits may be clear and obvious to regular conference attendees, they may be less so to others who are new to professional fields. They are also difficult to quantify when making a case for conference funding. As such they highlight the need to be as clear and specific about benefits when applying for funding. For example, naming specific conference sessions which have relevance to your faculty or institution; naming specific workshops or training where you will have something concrete to ‘take away’; explaining how what you ‘take away’ will benefit you or others within your institution. For the latter, you may wish to make specific reference to any Personal Development Plans (PDP) or appraisal documents to support your argument. These factors might also influence which specific conferences you choose to attend.
At the CHRIE Conference in Dallas, we have tried hard to ensure that you can realise all of these benefits and thereby make a clear case for funding. Through the efforts of the Director of Networking, Sheryl Kline, and her Conference Committee, the Board of Directors and the ICHRIE staff members you have the opportunities to get out of your comfort zone and learn through the Career Academy, Deans and Directors, Industry Partner Sessions, the Marketplace, research and poster presentations and SIGS. You will hopefully learn and be inspired by Karim Khalifa, SVP Global Design Strategies, Marriott and by Melissa Kendall, SVP Marketing, Freeman Expositions in the general sessions and other experts in the industry partner sessions. We are also introducing master classes as well as additional evening networking sessions and a new mentoring programme. And of course, we have not forgotten to add in the ‘fun’. You will have received details of the optional Grapevine Wine Tour on the Thursday evening which will give you a chance to learn about local wines, network and have fun all at once. We also must not forget that we will be celebrating the 70th anniversary of ICHRIE!
All in all, we think you will find that all the ‘top reasons’ to attend a conference are in place for Dallas. I would encourage you therefore, to invest in yourself and register if you have not already done so. After all, you’re worth it! So too are your colleagues, so please encourage them to attend, especially graduate students and new faculty members who may not be aware of the benefits of CHRIE membership, conference attendance and ‘IRL’ connections. I look forward to seeing you in Dallas.
With kind regards