For changes to happen, conference-goers need to do something different when they get back to their office, says MSC Cruises executive director Giles Hawke

Having not attended a single travel conference in 2014, I know people might wonder why on earth I have chosen to write about them in my first column. Well, as the saying goes, absence makes the heart grow fonder.

There is plenty of choice – and certainly enough to bring on liver failure: Abta’s Travel Convention, the Association of Independent Tour Operators, Travel Counsellors, Travel Network Group, Institute of Travel & Tourism, Advantage and the multiples’ managers’ conferences, to name a few.

All claim to offer great speakers, excellent networking and a promise that, by attending, you’ll instantly find your business improved when you get home.

Act on your learning

The reality is that it’s not as simple as all that. For change to happen, conference goers need to do something different when they get back to the UK.

Having attended my fair share of conferences, the type of conference-goer you are may well have a bearing on how you respond to what you have learnt when you return to the office.

In my experience, there are two types. The first are those who rarely get to travel as part of their job. They see it as a real business benefit, attend every business session, network heavily and write up an action list based on what they have seen and learned. They then go back to their business, share stuff with colleagues and try to act on what they heard.

Then there are those who go out two days early and come back a day or two late, manage at least two rounds of golf, spend lots of time by the pool (or bemoaning the weather if that isn’t possible), rarely make a business session, arrange their own dinners with their industry friends, get up at midday and go to bed at 5am – and repeat to fade at every conference in the calendar.

I know which type of conference-goer I want working for me, using company time and money. I am not begrudging anybody a little fun. I have been known to make it back to my hotel room as it gets light and I’ve even been in the odd swimming pool at a conference, but there is a balance to be struck.

Clearly, proof of a successful conference is how it empowers people to work differently. Over the longer term, it should result in an improved business performance.

Choose wisely

I haven’t attended any conferences this year because I have been busy in my new role and have had to prioritise where I have spent my time.

That is not to say I don’t think they are of value. Connecting with others and sharing ideas help us all prosper.

But with so many conferences, finding new themes and discussion topics can be difficult, so choose your attendance wisely.

With any luck, I will be back on the conference circuit in 2015 – and I intend to be a “type one” conference-goer, while having some fun along the way.

I would recommend it – it’s easier than it sounds.