Important contemporary motivators and inhibitors in association delegates’ conference attendance choice
Start date: 12 December 2017
Conference Tourism is considered a lucrative tourism niche that brings a number of benefits to successful host destinations (Horváth 2011). This has led to fierce competition between host destinations (Hussain et al. 2014). The success of an association conference is often measured by meeting or exceeding attendance predictions (Ramirez et al. 2013). The association delegate may thus be considered the end client of both the conference organiser and the hosting destination (Jago and Deery 2005) as delegates choose whether to attend a conference or not (Tanford et al. 2012). A number of motivating and inhibiting factors, which planners and destinations constantly attempt to understand, direct the delegates’ attendance choice.
This study explores the factors that have an impact on the association delegate’s choice of attending a conference and attempts to classify them in order of importance. The data, collected from association delegates, was collected through a self-administered quantitative questionnaire survey and utilised a Likert scale technique to measure the extent of importance of each variable. The questionnaire was carried out at six different international association conferences held in Malta between February 2016 and March 2017, hosting 2050 delegates cumulatively.
A total of 285 delegate responses were collected. The questionnaire included 144 variables of which 82 were potential motivators and 62 were potential barriers to conference attendance. Factor Analysis tests were carried out on the motivators and barriers that scored highest (mean ≥ 4) in order to examine the structure of the factors that mostly affect conference attendance decision making. The Principal Component Analysis (PCA) with orthogonal rotation (VARIMAX) and Kaiser Normalization was employed. By channelling the variables into larger factors the most significant factors that deserve to be prioritised by destinations were singled out.
The results have reaffirmed the significance of a number of traditionally important factors while it also exposed increased importance given to emergent factors. The conventional motivators that this study has reconfirmed importance of included the educational improvement element, conference-related factor and socialisation factor. This thus supports findings in other similar studies (Severt et al. 2007; Zhang et al. 2007; Yoo and Chon 2008; Ryan et al. 2008; Yoo and Zhao 2010; Tanford et al. 2012; Ramirez et al. 2013). Likewise, traditionally important inhibitors to attendance were also identified in this study. Expectedly, cost emerged as one of the barriers. Lack of sanitation, both at the accommodation venue and at the destination, was also considered a problem by delegates. This factor has also been highlighted in other conference literature frequently being referred to as ‘hygiene’ (Ryan et al. 2008; Yoo and Chon 2008). This study also revealed a much stronger delegate reliance on technology than previously predicted. The variables forming the technology component factor were rated as the most 45 important amongst both the motivating and inhibiting variables. Fast WiFi was identified as the strongest motivator to delegate attendance while lack of Wi-Fi at the conference venue was considered the strongest inhibiting variable, followed by slow Wi-Fi in second place. Lack of Wi-Fi at the accommodation venue was also ranked as an important barrier, making the Technology-related factor the strongest by far. Wi-Fi has been identified before, mostly in studies amongst millennials (Fenich et al. 2014), but the importance given to it varied according to continent of origin of respondents. Furthermore this study reveals the importance of the availability of power supplies for delegates which past studies have failed to identify altogether. Finally, this study reaffirms the importance delegates give to the destination’s safety. While safety in general has been conventionally considered important by delegates (Mair and Thompson 2009) this study reveals the importance given by delegates to the specific safety issue of terrorism within the safety factor. Authors (Crouch and Louviere 2004) have predicted the possible increase in importance delegates would give to such variable, but it has not been highlighted in delegate attendance studies. Such findings imply that the immense importance given to technology indicates that variables such as Wi-Fi and power supplies have become a pre-requisite, rather than an add-on to the conference experience. This study’s results suggest that conference organisers and destinations should pro-act in terms of technology and ensure that their destination and venues satisfy the increasing technological needs of the delegates. Increased research on other important technology variables is also being suggested. Furthermore the increased need to connect online by delegates suggests that the future structure of the conference might change, possibly increasing breaks to ensure that all delegates are satisfying their need to connect, and being able to concentrate during the sessions themselves. Planners should also increasingly use technology to the conference’s advantage, by increasing communication through apps and introducing interactive seminar speeches. With regards to terrorism, a destination needs to uphold its reputation as being safe. Studying the duration of negative effects following terrorist attacks might be beneficial when planning promotional strategies, such as increasing levels of security and offering guarantees against terrorism.