The Meetings Industry has for some time been recognized as an important economic driver for many destinations. Vienna Convention Bureau’s statistics for 2012, for example, state that the city played host to nearly 3400 events, which brought in half a million participants and generated more than 1.5m overnights. Across the UK in 2011 meanwhile, there were an estimated 1.3m meetings, generating spending of just under £40bn.
Thus, it is hardly surprising that the industry has become hypercompetitive. In 2013, the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA), probably the leading global membership body for meeting industry suppliers, now counts more than 1018 member companies and organisations from 92 countries.
It is therefore no longer enough merely to provide the meeting planner with the accepted ‘hygiene factor’ standards of easy access and good in-destination infrastructure and support services in order for a destination to stand out amongst their competitors. Rather, destinations who wish to attract this lucrative market should aim to exploit their “specific sector expertise”, meaning their links with local/regional/national scientific, business, academic or professional competences. The paragraphs below list some examples of how this can be achieved in practice. Conference Ambassador schemes, as run by many city convention bureaux, are no doubt some of the better known examples of this type of strategy. By motivating leading professionals, academics and medics to bid for their international congresses to be held in their home city, the convention bureau creates civic pride among the destination’s opinion leaders, heightens awareness of the region’s areas of excellence among global professional audiences and fills the destination’s convention centre(s) and hotels, thereby achieving major economic benefit for its members and the destination’s businesses. In Glasgow alone, the economic value of confirmed conferences to the city through the Glasgow Conference Ambassador Programme was reported to have been in excess of £50m in 2012-13, more than a third of all conference business to the city.
Destination Marketing Organisations (DMOs) can also work hand in hand with inward investment agencies to identify important new business contacts and invite and initiate conferences that highlight the specialist skills of the country and are aimed at developing international trade. This has proven to be successful for Estonia, Play to your strengths:How to attract the meetings
market to your destination AM Reports: Global Report on the Meetings Industry 29 where the Estonian Convention Bureau, the agency responsible for attracting business tourism to Estonia, is a “non-profit organization established jointly by the public and private sectors. ECB is co-financed by Enterprise Estonia (EE) ”.
The German Convention Bureau used a similar approach when working with national and regional trade bodies to identify and locate clear fields of expertise in Germany (industries such as biotechnology, transportation & mobility and micro-nano-opto sciences). GCB then mapped these areas of expertise against core industries of target markets (e.g. the USA) to identify potential overlaps of interest and hence reasons for holding meetings in Germany.
Cannes, on the other hand, is an example of a destination that knew how to take advantage of one event, albeit a highly publicised one, in order to develop other related industry spin-off meetings. The International Film Festival was created by the French government in 1946 to establish a cultural event in France to rival the Venice Film Festival. Since then, the destination played to its glamorous positioning and expertise in holding creative industry meetings and is now host to leading conferences and exhibitions on advertising, entertainment content, TV and music.
Lastly, and inversely, it is interesting to note that business tourism has a positive impact for a host destination that can go beyond mere economic benefit (money spent in the destination and creation of jobs) to bring about additional legacies. In 2011 Business Events Sydney released the second phase of its “Beyond Tourism Benefits: Measuring the social legacies of business events” research, which quantitatively examines the extensive social, innovation and knowledge benefits of the meeting industry. The research reveals that it is important to measure the effect of business events in tourism terms but also to consider other outcomes from business events – educational, intellectual, trade and investment. These benefits in turn nurture local expertise, which then will bring about further meeting business to the destination – a virtuous circle.