Terrorism and Mice

By John Fisher, Director, FMI Group

Terrorist attacks in Paris, Brussels, Istanbul and elsewhere have prompted lots of media comment about ‘safe places’ to take corporate meetings and conference delegates. It makes interesting editorial copy, but it’s closing the stable door after the horse has bolted.

Professionals in the business sign up to destinations many months in advance and for member associations it could even be years. The key issue for most organisers is whether to pull out of a high risk destination for an imminent event or reassess a destination in, say, two years’ time as a result of heightened security issues.

Arguably, some might say that the safest place to choose is the destination with the most recent problem. Security will be state-of-the-art, the intelligence about ‘undesirables’ will be excellent and those who planned to perpetrate such deeds will be long gone. It may mean lots of extra work for border control and the indigenous police services. However, the argument could run, in terms of the safety and security of delegates, it doesn’t get much safer.

Looking further ahead
The more difficult assessment to make, though, is whether such places should be side-lined for an event taking place in, say, two years’ time? The first evidence most organisers look for is what one’s own national government says. Not everyone has access to such information, but most organisers do.

However, be aware of what you are reading. The main role of the Foreign Office in the UK or the State Department in the USA, for example, is to promote the national interest. They very much take account of current or potential trade with foreign countries. It comes as no surprise, then, that some countries with a dubious history with regard to terrorism may not be named in official government documents for fear of harming export opportunities.

The next place to look for guidance might be associations of business groups. They will be quick to identify good places to do business and also the risks involved. For most businesses there is a fine line between risk and reward. But I would guess most corporate organisers have a duty of care to their delegates not to endanger lives. This leads to certain, business choices when it comes to likely destinations.

Most destination decisions also need to take into account the perceived as well as the real risks. After all, you want people to attend your event, so destinations that provoke immediate concern are unlikely to produce positive applications, even if you can prove with facts that the perceptions are wrong.

It’s not always about politics.
Quite apart from personal risk, some destinations are simply hard to get to for many delegates. With a global delegate base you may think that it doesn’t matter which destination is selected. But logistics always prevail. Small islands are often tricky if flights are less frequent than to mainland cities. If the national air carriers of most delegates do not fly direct to the chosen destination, then you may struggle to get people to attend.

Choosing a destination which requires one, two or three plane changes is not going to help attendance levels. There will also be a significant drop-out rate towards the end of the event, as delegates will worry about getting home in good time.

Weather can be another important factor where attending an event is of marginal business interest. The hurricane season, sub-zero temperatures, high summer, monsoons – they can all play a part in a delegate’s decision to balance the risk of disrupted travel against the reward of getting some worthwhile business benefit.

Peer-group pressure
In these days of being in a connected world we should never under-estimate the power of peer pressure. ‘I’ll go, if you’re going’ is not an unusual response to a party invitation anywhere in the world. If you apply that principle to corporate and trade events, the power of social media comes into play. To get higher attendance you have to run a pre-event campaign that makes it difficult for potential delegates to say no. ‘Missing out’ is a powerful motivator for action.

Making your choice
So, where to choose? Of course, you should take account of perennial terrorist issues in certain destinations. One bomb is extremely regrettable but does it necessarily mean we should never go there again?

Would you never take delegates to London, Paris or Brussels again because there have been criminal incidents? That would be like never boarding an aircraft because there was once a crash.