Behind the Scenes: Events Business, Tourism are Different Species

Author: Michelle Russell       

Michelle Russell

On a recent walk with my daughter and my dog, I saw something bigger than a bee buzzing around a flower patch up ahead. We stopped to take a look. It was brightly colored with a yellow belly and its wings were a blur as it hovered to draw nectar from the blooms — too big for an insect but too small for a hummingbird. Could it be a baby? We quickly Googled images of baby hummingbirds, and bingo, got a match in the pictures that popped up. We recorded a video of it darting around the flowers, which I posted to my Facebook page: I had spotted a baby hummingbird!

How beautiful, a Facebook friend commented back — but what’s up with those antennas [insert smiley face]? Good question. That hadn’t made sense to me either. So I searched “baby hummingbird” again, this time clicking through the images to learn more. It turns out that we had seen a hummingbird imposter, called the Hummingbird Clearwing, hemaris thysbe. In other words, a moth.

I quickly got over my disappointment as I read more about this amazing creature. Why would a moth mimic a hummingbird? Birds prey on moths, and a day-flying moth is a big target. But insectivorous birds won’t feed on other bird species, so it has evolved to fool birds (and people like me).

What’s this nature lesson got to do with our industry? It seems a good metaphor. To the outside world — and government officials — the events business looks a lot like tourism. They share the same goal: to draw visitors and drive economic growth. But we’re not the same species.

Events have evolved to become something more lasting than just a group of people flitting in and out of a destination. Through events’ CSR activities, many leave the city better off than when they arrived. But often what remains is less physical — and far more material — than a spruced-up playground or freshly planted garden. Events change the places they meet in by instilling ideas and sharing knowledge. In this issue, read how LEGO’s events spark children’s creativity and help build communities where they meet. And in another example, how a medical event has helped a tiny Italian island better cope with its role in the European migrant crisis.

To complement our Best in Show cover story, we cast a wide net to ask thought leaders how this business has improved in recent years, and evolution was a common theme. That includes the role of event professional, which might look like it used to, but has become a very different animal. “Savvy meeting professionals,” Velvet Chainsaw’s Jeff Hurt told us, recognize that “their competitive edge is in designing transformative learning and networking experiences that change attitudes, behaviors, and skills.” They’re using, he said, “evidence-based education methods developed in the fields of anthropology, biology, cognitive sciences, design studies, educational psychology, information sciences, neurosciences, and social sciences.”

Which puts my little entomology lesson in very good company.