Law of Unintended Consequences

In common with most attendees, I began my San Diego odyssey on a plane: a US Air flight from DC. I’m a platinum elite muckity-muck member (or whatever it is), so I’ve mercifully been shielded from much of the current unpleasantness in travel. I check in first class even when I’m not flying first class, so my lines are never long, I never pay overweight charges, and I never pay for extra bags.

My high muckity-muck status could not, however, protect me from the latest indignity: no free beverages. Not even a glass of water. Isn’t that illegal, given that the water in the bathrooms is not potable?

So of course one of the topics of conversation at the Membership Section Council dinner Friday night at the lovely Canela’s restaurant in San Diego was everyone’s travel horrors. Outgoing chair Greg Fine of the Association Forum of Chicagoland and I got talking about the second level consequences.

It’s no shock to say that airline travel is becoming increasingly unpleasant. It’s also becoming increasingly unsustainable. Just look at what your annual flight total does to your carbon footprint. It’s not pretty.

So Greg and I got chatting about what that might mean for the association industry. How much longer is a big meeting of 6000+ people coming in from all over the country – and the world – going to possible? If the era of cheap air travel ends (as it seems likely to), does it also mean the end of the era of annual meetings? And what does that mean for our organizations?

Greg postulated that it would result in a return to the era of smaller, regional meetings. And he’s probably right. But the association execs who are still resisting social media technology might want to start thinking about what they’re going to do if their members can no longer gather face to face. Sure, Cisco offers telepresence (and from what I hear, it’s frappin’ amazing), but can your organization really afford MULTIPLE telepresence studios at $300K EACH? Isn’t it time to embrace the change?