GMID Exclusive: Tracing the History of the Meetings Industry

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generationsThe meetings and events industry has evolved along generational lines, shifting and changing with the times along with its members and the world as a whole. Here’s a quick scan of the past and present  generations of meeting and event planners, and the associations they brought to life.

While every generation is composed of a wide variety of people, interests, quirks and personalities, it’s always interesting to see how well we all align with the times in which we were born. So why not do the same for meeting industry as we celebrate Global Meetings Industry Day (GMID) 2024?

The Greatest Generation: 1901–1927

This generation went through no shortage of tough times during their lives, including the Great Depression and World War II. While this generation is known for popularizing jazz and swing music, they mainly are noted for their predilection for hard work and grit.

1920: Associations Flex their Meeting Muscles
Among the notable Greatest Generation meeting industry organizations that came into being was the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE). Founded in 1920, the Washington, D.C.–headquartered organization came into being the same year the 19th Amendment was ratified, giving American women the right to vote. The organization has changed a lot over the past 124 years, but it maintains deep roots in education and advocacy for all in the association and nonprofit profession. It brings the power of the ASAE Research Foundation, a separate nonprofit entity, and ASAE Business Services, Inc. (ABSI), ASAE’s wholly-owned subsidiary, to its cause: to help “associations and association professionals transform society through the power of collaboration.”

1925: The World Exhibition Industry Gains a Voice
UFI was brought into being in Milan, Italy, in the spring of 1925 by 20 leading European international trade fairs — hence its original name from whence its current acronym hails: “Union des Foires Internationales” (UFI). It officially became UFI: The Global Association of the Exhibition Industry in 2003, and now serves the world’s leading trade show organizers and fairground owners, as well as major national and international exhibition associations.

1928: Trade Shows Gain Another Advocate
Another leading trade show association came just a few years after UFI: the International Association of Exhibitions and Events (IAEE). Organized in 1928 as the National Association of Exposition Managers (IAEM) to represent the interests of trade show and exposition managers, the organization rebranded as IAEE to mark its broadening to encompass the entire global exhibition industry. Today IAEE represents more than 12,000 individuals in over 50 countries who conduct and support exhibitions around the world.

Baby Boomers: 1946–1964

While younger generations may like to discount the Boomers as out of touch (think, “OK, Boomer”), this generation, born in the wake of WWII, were out-of-the-box thinkers who were not content to accept the prior generations’ status quo as they protested and fought for civil rights, women’s rights and an end to the Vietnam War.

1949: Opening the Big Umbrella
Four organizations got together in early 1949 to formally organize as the Convention Liaison Committee (CLC, an acronym they didn’t have to change when it renamed itself the Convention Liaison Council in 1974), whose mission was to bring together three main pillars of the meetings and events industry: convention and visitors bureaus, hotels and venues, and meeting and event professionals. Now known as the Events Industry Council (EIC), it comprises 30 member organizations and represents more than 103,500 individuals and 19,500 firms and properties involved in the events industry. In true Boomer form, however, the EIC’s vision is “to be the global champion for event professionals and event industry excellence” by promoting professionalism in the events industry with the Certified Meeting Professional (CMP) credential.

1956: Leaders Start to Convene
While it didn’t officially incorporate as a nonprofit until 1958, that didn’t stop the fledgling Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) from holding its first annual signature event, CONVENING LEADERS, in 1956. In true Boomer fashion, PCMA’s goal to this day is “To drive social and economic progress through business events” that are “meaningful experiences where passion, purpose and commerce come together.” PCMA now has 17 North American Chapters, regional communities in APAC, EMEA and LATAM, and members in 59 countries.

1963: International Meetings Focus Broadens
While the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) was founded in 1963 by a group of travel agents who wanted to share information about the international meetings market, it rapidly expanded to include members of all the travel sectors that serve the meetings and events industry. Now ICCA serves a network of more than 1,000 suppliers to the international meetings industry.

Generation X: 1965–1980

Gen X used to be dismissed as cynical slackers who just want their MTV or to play video games, but this generation also came up during the AIDS epidemic and the beginnings of the fight for LGBTQ+ rights. They also have made their mark as entrepreneurs and as the first generation to focus on actually achieving some form of work-life balance.

1972: When We Meet, We Change the World
That may not have been the mantra of Meeting Professionals International (MPI) when it first formed in 1972, but the power of meetings to in fact change the world has been in its DNA from the start. MPI has nearly 13,000 members and a global community of more than 110,000 meeting and event professionals in 75 countries with more than 70 chapters and clubs. Its signature events, World Education Congress (WEC) and the European Meetings & Event Conference (EMEC), are supplemented with its Digital Event Series and Experiential Event Series.

Millennial Generation (aka Generation Y): 1981–1996

Millennials may seem impossibly young to Boomers and older generations, but these intrepid souls lived through 9/11, remember when Amazon only sold books, and were born into the dawning of the internet age. While older generations complained that growing up techy made Gen Y self-centered and impatient, this generational cohort is actually incredibly community-oriented and environmentally conscious.

1982: Black Meeting Professionals Gain Visibility
The National Coalition of Black Meeting Professionals (NCBMP) was founded in 1983 as a non-profit organization dedicated primarily to the training needs of African American meeting planners. In its more-than 40 years, NCBMP has made a significant impact in the hospitality community by identifying the sizable purchasing power and impact of the African American convention.

1987: Live Events Get a Community
The International Live Events Association (ILEA), founded in 1987 (it formerly was known as the International Special Events Society), now serves more than 1,500 live events professionals in more than 40 chapters in 35 countries. Members include planners/producers, caterers, decorators, audio-visual technicians, entertainers, educators, journalists and photographers from sectors including corporate, non-profit, sports, tech, tourism, retail, fashion, arts, entertainment, government/politics and education.

1992: Hello, Event Marketing
Event marketing had been a thing long before 1992, but that was the year corporate event marketers got their own organization: CEMA. Open to all senior-level event marketers in a corporate environment, CEMA offers a non-selling, peer-to-peer sharing environment designed to enable the sharing of knowledge and best practices among its members. PCMA acquired the Corporate Event Marketing Association (CEMA) in November 2020. Since then, CEMA has been a subsidiary of PCMA, and its 800 CEMA members have now folded into PCMA.

Generation Z (aka iGen): 1997–2010

This is the first generation to grow up surrounded by cellphones, tablets and screens. They tend to be hyper connected digitally, not surprisingly, and tend to share attitudes of environmental consciousness, inclusivity and acceptance, and political savvy.

2003: Let’s Get Green
The Green Meeting Industry Council came into being December 10, 2003 to improve meeting management practices by promoting environmentally responsible strategies through the collaborative efforts of the hospitality industry, corporations, government and community organizations. This mission to educate as well as spearhead research, policy and standards has only strengthened since the nonprofit professional meetings association with member representation in over 20 countries became a council of the EIC a couple of years later.

Generation Alpha: 2010-2024

While kids born in the last 14 years haven’t quite hit the workforce yet, this generation is the most diverse in U.S. history, are born to social media (for better or worse), and so far appear to be very concerned about equality, diversity, climate change and other challenges facing the world today.

2016: LGBTQ Community Gathers Force
David Jefferys, President and CEO of the Altus Agency, a Philadelphia-based marketing enterprise firm specializing in LGBT travel, founded the LGBT Meeting Professionals Association in August 2016. The 501(c)(3) organization’s mission is to connect, advance, and empower the LGBT+ meetings and events community through education, research and idea exchange. Among its major goals is to educate about the importance of diversity and inclusion in the events industry and create best practices for industry leadership by collecting and reporting on research-driven data.

Do these industry associations — and those listed here are just a sampling and by no means include the full range of organizations that serve the industry — reflect the timeframe in which they first began? For those of us who came later to the party, it may be hard to tell since they all have continued to grow in scope and shift in focus as the environment in which their members work changes.

What will their future be? Let’s wait to see what those Gen Alphas have in mind once they join the always interesting and evolving meetings and events industry.

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