Editor's Blog

Youthful abandon

Maybe they’re rebelling against rebellion. Maybe they care more about their health and wellbeing. Maybe religion and ethnicity is playing a role. Maybe they just can’t afford it. Or maybe it’s the threat of being shamed on social media. Whatever the reasons, young people are drinking less than their parents - and less frequently. And more and more are shunning alcohol altogether.

Meeting planners should take note of this trend – because that’s what it is, not a blip. The UK’s Office for National Statistics, for example, has been tracking a decline in drinking among young people dating back to 2005. A similar fall in alcohol intake amongst young adults, which dates back even further to 1998, has been noted in the US by The National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Why does  it matter? Because until now alcohol has played a significant role in the meetings industry. If that sounds a little tragic, it is, nevertheless, true. Opening receptions, gala dinners, networking events, they all have a common denominator: the free and abundant supply of booze.  

Personally, this has never struck me as a problem. I like alcohol. For social discourse it is the facilitator par excellence, especially when just enough has been consumed for people to start saying what they really think. With self-control it can be the most delicious and friendly of drugs, and who knows how many successful collaborations have begun with a rendezvous at the bar?

But I understand, too, that attitudes are changing, and this is probably a good thing. For the meetings industry must surely bear responsibility for facilitating its own share of alcohol abuse and alcoholism. And for every business partnership forged in booze, how many appointments have been missed as a result of over-indulgence the night before? Far too many, one suspects.

At the very least delegates should have some options. Think about those opening receptions, for example, where, after a few preliminary speeches, the entertainment consists of nothing more than standing around cocktail tables networking with complete strangers. Surely the only thing that makes those occasions bearable is booze? Planners would never risk a ‘teetotal’ version?

As more people abstain or restrict themselves to a thimbleful, planners are going to have to rewrite that tried and tested ‘Room + Booze = Event’ formula. They’re going to have to work harder to show delegates a good time.  But where to start? Well, they might take some tips from The Shine Movement  – a series of ‘alcohol free’ events in LA centred around meditation and grassroots philanthropy, whose aim is to inspire people to do more with their lives. Their core demographic is millennials who think interaction is more meaningful when sober.  Or they might think about organising a Juice Crawl, a healthy-living alternative to the pub crawl, where delegates can hop from one juice bar to the next indulging their passion for various fruit-based drinks. Yes, really!

I can’t imagine anything more dispiriting, frankly, but many people must feel the same way about the endless alcohol-fueled nights that accompany most conferences. And for too long, these people have just had to lump it. It’s time meeting planners recognised that delegates have different ideas of what constitutes fun – and for an increasing number of young people it doesn’t involve alcohol.



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