Are reusable water bottles the new tote bags at conferences?

I was fortunate to be one of chosen few to give a Bl!nk style presentation at last week’s Sustainable Meetings Conference of the Green Meetings Industry Council in Montreal.  Conceived by Judy Kucharuk, these were presentations of up to 5 minutes and at your own pace – no automatic slide changes every 20 seconds like you would have with a Pecha Kucha style presentation, for instance.  My presentation, Things that make me go hmmm?,  could mostly be described as a stand-up comedy act interwined with a few key observations regarding sustainabilty in the meetings and events industry.  What follows here builds upon one of those few lucid points.

The conference tote bag.  I remember watching my coworkers return from attending the annual conferences of IAEE, PCMA and MPI with these bags filled with handouts and tchotckes.  Finally, in 2005, my immediate supervisor was able to convince the Powers that Be that I should be sent to one of these conferences in spite of the fact that I was not in Sales. Yikes!

I arrive in Atlanta, check into my hotel and then head over to the Convention Center to get the lay of the land and pick up my packet at registration.  I get my badge, tickets, ribbons and everything else I need for the three days of meetings, learning and networking, but no conference tote bag.  I made a quick inquiry about getting a bag and learned that they were being eliminated in an effort to go “green.”  I think the registration worker was afraid I was going to cry by the look on my face.

I understand the concept of reducing waste by not giving out these conference tote bage, and agree with the idea of what is trying to be accomplished.  Eliminating the conference handouts, cutting down on the number of glossy brochures that destinations would give to me and fellow attendees, and the number of give away items at booths are all tremendous improvements to reducing waste and also make the return trip home so much lighter!  Proponents of eliminating the conference tote bag advocate that many of us have our fill of these from past years and having them laying around our residences and offices.  One group attempted to encourage their attendees to bring thier own conference tote bags from other events as a conversation starter in the registration area.  Great idea!  However, I don’t know how well it worked.  I didn’t see anyone run across the lobby to someone and say “You were at World of Widgets 2008 too?!?” based on the tote bags that were brought.    In the years that have followed, I have satisfied my need for tote bags thanks to the pledge drives of my local public television stations.

I’ve been to a lot of conferences since that first one in 2005.   In preparing for my trip to Montreal last week, I went to my kitchen to grab a large reusable bottle to fill up for my train ride to the conference.  Upon looking into the cupboard, I realized that I have a large number of reusable water bottles and coffee mugs. Twelve, to be exact.  Upon returning from that conference, the number is now at 13.  So, my question to you, are these resuable mugs and bottles the 2012 equivalent of the 2005 tote bag?

Should the conference mugs now be eliminated?  I can make the same arguments that proponents of eliminating the tote bag have made as proof of why these can be eliminated.

Do we need to have some type of physical give-away at meetings and conferences?  Between conference registration fees, hotels, air fare and time away from work, there is a heavy investment by the attendee to be at the event.  I have flashbacks of being at a conference last year, where a meeting planner was complaining about the size of the fruit basket that the hotel placed in her room as an amenity.  The planner thought it should have been larger due to the amount of business her organization did with the hotel chain.  This event had several hundred planners in attendance and I wondered how many did more business with the hotel.  It has always struck me that in our industry, we are very interested in making sure we get “something” for staying somewhere or attending something.

In an attempt to wrap up this point in my presentation, I asked what could be a new giveaway at conferences for our industry and I suggested the flask.  Having seen many of my fellow industry colleagues at receptions and other functions, there could be a need for this.  This could have come in handy for me and my fellow Convention Service Managers as we dealt with the specifications some of our clients would present to us.  It could come in handy for the planner who has to deal with a uppity board member or speaker with many demands.  Hotel staff members could use this when dealing with a planner who asks “Do you know how much business I do with your chain?

What would you like to receive when you check into a conference, if anything at all?

4 Responses to Are reusable water bottles the new tote bags at conferences?

  1. I have seven, but only because I’ve already given a few away. I like not having a conference tote, but how many reusable water bottles do people need?

    Still better than a bag, though.

  2. Great post! As someone who was lucky enough to hear your recent Bl!nk presentation, it was very funny AND made some very important points.

    I will start by answering your question, “what do I want to receive when I check into a conference?”

    The conference experience begins from the time we register online and is reinforced at that moment that you check in physically at the conference registration desk.

    Was online registration easy? Was the online form user friendly? Did the website answer all of your questions? Did they make it easy to ask questions, i.e. provide email or phone number to contact.

    Now that I have arrived to check in physically at the desk: Did they greet me? Are they smiling? Does it seem organized? Do they look happy? Are they able to answer my questions?

    This is what I want when I check into a conference. I want a pleasant experience that will set the tone for the rest of the event.

    I don’t need a giveaway. I do not necessarily need a souvenir from the event. Do not give something away just because you feel you must – consider the audience, consider its purpose.

    Greg – you hit the nail on the head with your Bl!nk presentation and we loved the Austin Powers reference.

    Judy Kucharuk

  3. I’m right there with you Greg. I loved my first water bottle. I loved my second one even more when I forgot to empty the first one of my iced tea and it grew mold. But now…I have about 8 now and that’s 6 too many. I’m wondering…what’s worse…a paper cup in a landfill or a reusable water bottle?
    I love what Judy said…give me a great experience from beginning to end and I will forgive you your lack of souvenirs.

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