|By Richard N. Velotta, Las Vegas
SunMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Jan. 13, 2011--Will technology-fueled Generation Y turn the convention and meetings industry on its ear and back away from the traditional gatherings that help drive the Las Vegas economy?
If the views of a panel of students attending this week's Professional Convention Management Association conference at the MGM Grand are an indication, the next generation of meeting planners will embrace technology -- but it won't replace face-to-face meetings.
Six student panelists, including a senior at UNLV, agreed that Gen Y would attend meetings and conferences for the social opportunities they present and for the experience they get when attending. They also said that while they think they may be able to learn more by combing the Internet for information, there's no substitute for meeting with industry leaders, mentors and peers on issues.
"I think the general feeling is that that meeting itself is just a highlight," said Yasha Bergmann, a student at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh, Scotland.
"Once people meet at events like this, the communication and the relationship can continue for years," said Bergmann, who organized and introduced the panel.
Panelists also said that green environmental policies and sustainability measures will continue to be important in keeping the interest and support of Gen Y customers.
"That's non-negotiable," said panelist Renea Anderson, a student at the University of Central Florida, explaining the importance to students of recycling and sound environmental policy.
Panelists said they'll use technology for learning about topics and places they'll visit before they arrive and then to communicate after the meeting ends. And contrary to popular belief, students said, they know the difference between e-mail and text shorthand communications and formal letters and business contact.
"I'm still going to write a formal letter in my business contact," said panelist Kira Short, a student at East Carolina University. "I'm all about technology, but some things are more appropriate than using IM (instant messaging) style."
Panelists had mixed feelings about the practice of turning a cell phone off during a meeting. They acknowledged that a ringing cell phone is a distraction during a presentation but noted the environmental value technology can provide.
"Why write down questions on paper to forward to a speaker?" Anderson asked. "We could be texting questions instead of writing them out. I think attendees would love being on the cutting edge. And it's all about business."
Panelists also were asked to give their impressions of meeting in Las Vegas, and most of them delivered comments that would make the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority happy.
"I've seen a few places, and I think Las Vegas definitely is the best place to meet," said Sam Lee, a UNLV senior. "Las Vegas is the center of entertainment and is full of great venues, so there are things to do after the meetings."
Students also noted that easy flight access is important.
Anderson, who knows the distance between the airport, convention venues and the various hotels in Orlando, said she was appreciative of Las Vegas' transportation infrastructure.
"Kudos to Vegas for having easy transportation between the airport and the hotels," Anderson said. "It's important to have the infrastructure in place to get to the convention areas. I was able to get here for less than $10. I think it gets you off to a good start when you don't have to pay $50 or more for the cab ride from the airport to your hotel."
But not everybody was on board.
"I think places like Las Vegas can be a distraction," Short said. "I know that a lot of people like to meet in Las Vegas because they can have fun and it often helps the attendance of shows. So for something like an association meeting or a trade show, this would be good. But for a corporate meeting, to avoid distractions, you should avoid those distractions and go someplace in the middle of nowhere to meet."
Eventually, the students circled back to the technology debate. The bottom line: Despite all the leaps in technology, it'll never replace the experience of sitting with an expert with colleagues and peers.
"You can get a lot out of a webinar, but I much prefer the networking that occurs face to face," Lee said. "It's more enjoyable and memorable."
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