In today’s highly competitive world a decision to engage in any part of the visitor economy necessarily involves a significant investment. In the case of the meetings and business events sector, this investment will likely extend well beyond program and promotional investment into the development of facilities that may be amongst the biggest infrastructure projects undertaken by a destination. For a government owner – which is the case with well over 75% of convention centres worldwide today – this investment must be weighed against other investments in their community, many of which may be much more popular with local residents.
So that decision must be based on very good estimates of what kind of return can be achieved from the required investment. While this is reasonably easy from the point of view of the economic impacts associated with incremental visitor spending by event organizers and delegates, there are many other returns that need to be taken into account in order to get a full picture. Here are some of the places to look for the added value associated with business events;
First, meetings and conventions grow the visitor base by attracting people who are primarily attending their event rather than having chosen that destination exclusively on the basis of its own merits – people who might otherwise not have come at all. Further, they often come at times of the year when other kinds of visitors won’t, which helps support the development and maintenance of tourism infrastructure such as hotels and attractions that support other types of visits as well. Secondly, delegates are typically bigger spenders than the visitor average, and often on corporate or professional expense allowances. This means they stay, on average, in more expensive accommodation and are able to indulge in more costly restaurants and transportation options. At the same time, it’s not just about what they spend themselves but also what others are spending on their behalf – for every delegate there are a host of people organizing events, arranging meeting space and buying services to support their participation.
There are also exhibitors who show up and spend even more money in order to pitch products and services at those same delegates, and all this spending is directly attributable to those delegates being there in the first place. However, as attractive as the financial returns are from the meetings business, these are often far outweighed by broader community and economic development benefits. Meetings and conventions essentially take place for the purposes of business, professional and scientific development as well as sharing knowledge and expertise -so it’s not surprising that both the events themselves and the people who attend them have a lot to offer to the host community.
From an economic development perspective, meetings and conventions attract people who are much more likely to be business decision makers – and this can generate not only local business prospects but trade and investment potential as well. Events also inevitably act as showcases for local products and services, if only because these will get exposure during the course of the events and the related social, educational and entertainment activities that take place around them. But there is an even broader benefit to the host community. Events in any area of discipline – particularly major national or international events – often attract literally the very best expertise in the world, which means local access to a high level of knowledge transfer and international exposure for local professionals. In areas like medical practice, this can have huge implications for how local skills develop – which creates, in turn, big benefits for the quality of service in the community. All these factors combine to create a strong and diverse return on an investment in the business events sector – and that is exactly what many governments are looking for today as they seek to build a more robust local economy in the face of lingering global financial challenges.