It’s a pretty common practice. Lots of conferences have themes. Some good, some terrible.
We’re in our second year of Arival, our new conference for the Tours, Activities & Attractions sector of travel and tourism. Should we introduce an annual theme for Arival? My partners and I have been noodling on this a bit.
Why do conferences have themes?
For most run-of-the-mill conferences, a theme is just a tagline. It’s a jumble of trendy buzzwords on which event marketers hang some messaging and advertising.
At the worst – typically corporate sales meetings – they are hackneyed one-liners. I’ve spoken at these conferences (for a fee) more than I care to remember. How many times can we go “Back to the Future”? Can anyone really get excited by a “World of Opportunities”? There are even websites where the least-inspired event organizers can pick from an abundance of overused conference themes. “A Prism of Possibilities” anyone?
For really good conferences, whose creators care deeply about their content and customers, the theme can be an anchor of ideas to drive not just marketing, but programming and speaker selection, creative design and unique on-site experiences. At Phocuswright, the bellwether conference for online travel, the analyst team would spend countless days in debate to define and craft a theme that would resonate deeply with its attendees and stand the test of time.
When a Theme is Obvious
For my partners and me at Arival, once we dug in, for us the theme for our second year came to us almost instantly. Arival is the only event dedicated to creators and sellers of Tours, Activities & Attractions – the things travelers do when they get there. It’s the third largest sector of travel, but long overlooked by the traditional travel and tourism industry (hence why there’s been no event or platform serving this audience).
So our theme was obvious: Arival is about the Best Part of Travel, and the Biggest Opportunity. We’re assembling and celebrating a sector that truly is at the heart of travel. It’s why people travel in the first place. Arival is devoted to the many thousands of companies seeking to capitalize on this incredible opportunity.
For us at Arival, it’s more than just a theme. It’s our mission. It’s why we started the conference and the company.
…and When It Isn’t
The decision to have or not have a conference theme is not always obvious. Creating something new and innovative to inspire an audience is never easy. Having a theme can certainly make some things easier (like copywriting). And if easy is what you’re after, “A Prism of Possibilities” is a meaningless as anything else. Just don’t expect me to pay to attend.