This year the questions "should the Association hold a conference every year?" And "are conferences even relevant anymore?", were being thrown around, ironically, in a year the Caravan Industry Association of Australia 2018 conference attracted record numbers both in the Future Leaders forum and the main conference event.
The questions were based around the cost vs reward comparison with the observation that there's a fair amount of more accessible and less expensive technology that could quite potentially keep us connected.
As someone who genuinely loves a good 'catch up', I called bullshit on this early on in the piece. I'd say most people who attended this year's Caravan Industry Association of Australia conference would feel the same. It might even be fair to say that face-to-face communication strategies & opportunities have never been more relevant.
The catch-up opportunities at this conference were many.
Firstly, the Future Leaders committee had the opportunity to have a face-to-face meeting. The objectives of the committee are to attract young professionals to our industry, and while the ideas are flowing, there's definitely some challenges that need overcoming. One of these challenges is the geographical distance between us. Meeting face-to-face with each other, CEO Stuart Lamont, and his right hand, Maddy Sawyer, we were able to quickly identify our issues and form an action plan resulting in a more effective way forward for the committee and a follow up face-to-face in early June.
Side note: If you ever get the opportunity to participate in a Future Leaders event or join the committee I'd recommend taking it, and not just for the laughs. In this age of entrepreneurialism in an industry going through extreme levels of change, there's a fair chance that at least some of people in the room will end up being either business partners or life long friends (or both).
We were also given the opportunity to partake in a cocktail party with the National board and state leaders. While you might say you get all the information you need from LinkedIn status updates and media releases from the association, nothing confirms the positive industry position more than hearing it from the industry leaders themselves.
During the conference there's opportunities to upskill, discover new technologies and be inspired by your industry peers. You get an information overload but it's easier to take it in when someone is giving you the information face-to-face. When I attended the conferences as Parkie we would be more likely to take on new technologies that we discovered at the conference, than the ones we were 'cold called' about or those that popped up on our social media feeds.
Future leaders were given the opportunities to present their ideas. Among them we heard from the 2017 Future Leaders awards winner, April Winston as she presented her Lady Boss Brain & Cabin Connect business; 2018 Future Leaders award winner, Margaret Shannon on creative business ideas; Wesley Hetherington presented on why video is so important and how easy it is; Senior Sales & Marketing of Dometic, Justine Schuller sat on a panel to discuss Women in Business, and I even had the opportunity to give my 2 cents on a panel on "the truth behind pet friendly travel".
The industry social events offer an opportunity to break the ice. For me, when I attended as a Parkie, they made me feel less isolated in an industry that is hugely made up of remote positions. In my new role as a Content Creator they offered me the opportunity to meet people who want to work with me. The value of this is exponential when you consider the amount of resources put into advertising, social media and sales just to meet a potential client, then you still have to work with a 'client'. Meeting through a conference means you get to work with your mates.
This year the association put together a 'face-to-face' with industry leaders. Here the future leaders had the opportunity to meet with said industry leaders and discuss literally anything. I had the opportunity to meet with Chairman of the Caravan Industry Association of Australia CEO, Grant Wilkens to discuss the future of the Future Leaders committee, previous Chairman Mark Lindsay on advice on how to be a more effective board/committee member; Once I stopped 'fan-girling' over CCIA NSW, CEO Lyndal Gray she gave me insight into her tourism expertise and offered advice on my Content Creation business, and then I got to quiz Caravan Industry Association of Australia's director & treasurer, Martin Cotterell, about the best 4x4 tracks in Oz, because the best thing about this industry is that everyone loves a good adventure & is happy to share their secrets!! Other future leaders were able to present business ideas to potential partners and get advice on forging a career in a fast evolving space. These are opportunities that don't present themselves much, and those that got involved were pretty stoked to get the chance.
So to answer the question "do you think the association should have a conference every year?" I'd say abso-freaking-lutely. To answer the question "are conferences even relevant anymore?" I'd say, more. so. than. ever.