As the knowledge-based global economy expands, meeting planners are looking for destinations with brains as well as beauty. And cities are stepping up to share their intellectual bounty.
As the new Orlando Veterans Affairs Medical Center rises at Lake Nona Medical City, southeast of Orlando International Airport, a lot of attention - not all of it admiring - has focused on the facility’s construction. The first VA hospital to be built in the United States in nearly 20 years, the $665-million center has been subject to congressional hearings and has suffered the delays that often accompany large public projects.
But as the physical building rises from the ground, another kind of construction also has been taking place: assembling the state-of the-art equipment and world-class medical talent it will take to create a new standard of veterans’ care in the United States. The hospital, designed as a prototype, will serve as the national site for medical-simulation training, including programs involving surgical robotics, and is being built as part of the 600-acre Medical City campus, where dozens of life-sciences institutions will be clustered together to spur collaboration and innovation.
The hospital’s scheduled opening next year will coincide with the 2013 Annual Conference of the American Congress of Rehabilitation Medicine (ACRM) on Nov. 12–16, creating a perfect storm of opportunities for ACRM, according to Lise Puckorius, CMP, the organization’s global event strategist. “The VA hospital system is continually challenged with rehabilitation,” which will only intensify, Puckorius said, as thousands of U.S. soldiers return from Afghanistan, many of them requiring rehabilitative care. And the clinicians and researchers who will work at Orlando’s new VA hospital and simulation facility face the same professional challenges as ACRM’s members.
The proximity of Medical City’s rehabilitative resources will benefit ACRM’s meeting in a number of ways, including offering the potential for pre- and post-event meetings and site visits. Medical City has captured worldwide attention in the medical community, Puckorius said, and the opportunity to tour the facility is likely to attract international attendees.
Beyond that, Puckorius expects that ACRM will benefit next year and in future years from the connections made between the association and Medical City’s growing rehabilitative- medicine community, many of whose members are potential meeting attendees. The 2013 Annual Conference will serve to educate them about ACRM, which is the only professional association to represent all members of the interdisciplinary rehabilitation team. In many ways, both ACRM and Medical City’s rehabilitative-medicine professionals “are in a growth mode,” Puckorius said. “We are looking into the future.”
The Knowledge Economy
As the world continues to move from industrial economies based on manufacturing to service economies fueled by information and innovation, the meetings industry is an “increasingly significant element” in economic growth and the knowledge economy, members of the Joint Meetings Industry Council (JMIC) asserted in an official statement of principles released last year. Specifically, JMIC said, the meetings industry serves as a vehicle for collaboration between business, professional, and academic communities.
In a global ideas economy, experienced planners say, the transfer of knowledge between a destination’s intellectual and innovation resources and a meeting’s attendees has become not just a nice extra, but an important way for professional events to offer better value to every participant. “We already know where our meetings will fit, and if a destination has enough rooms,” said Kristin Mirabal, CMP, director of global programs for The Optical Society (OSA). “You may have a wonderful, attractive facility, but I am looking beyond that. We want to know what will attract our scientists and researchers beyond the beach - or whatever is the big attraction.”
Asking those kinds of questions is a given, Puckorius said. “It’s part of a meeting planner’s job to look past what’s obvious. You have to ask yourself: ‘What can help your organization, and what can make an impact on that organization?’” For ACRM, “cost is still the major factor in determining where a meeting is held,” Puckorius said. “But the costs have to come in the right places.”
And for destinations that are competing for meetings business, serving as an expert guide to local intellectual and business resources that can enrich a meeting is a way to stand out from the rest of the pack. In the case of ACRM’s Annual Conference, it was a national sales director for Disney Destinations - the meeting will be held at Disney’s Contemporary Resort - who mentioned Medical City to Puckorius. “The bureau is key in this puzzle,” Puckorius said. “They have to have a really good relationship with the business community.”
‘Beyond Rate and Space’
Leveraging the region’s scientific resources is not a new idea in Orlando, which is a top destination for medical meetings in the United States, said Tammi Runzler, CASE, senior vice president of convention sales and services for Visit Orlando. But as plans for Medical City began to develop a few years ago, it prompted Runzler to begin looking at the new complex’s resources within the context of the overall medical and scientific infrastructure of Orlando and Orange County. Medical City will - and already is - having a big impact on the meetings landscape in Orlando, she said, but “my responsibility at Visit Orlando is to market all of our assets.”
Over time, Runzler has became more systematic in how she gathers information about the region’s intellectual resources and brings those assets to the table at a much earlier point in conversations about potential meetings in Orlando. “I believe that meeting planners in general are moving in the direction of truly understanding a destination’s value beyond rate and space,” Runzler said. “Those things - airlift and the basics of what we as a destination offer - are still very, very important. But planners are getting more savvy about looking at community assets to see where there may be more value to their organizations in some destinations.”
Runzler has gotten smarter, too, she said, about how she looks at the region’s assets. As technology has gained prominence in medicine and science, she’s begun to inventory innovative medical equipment and patents generated in the area, along with academics and scientists who might serve as speakers at meetings and specialized companies, research institutes, and facilities that might host site visits. “I’ve worked with industry experts,” Runzler said, “and now have a very comprehensive list of projects that are going on here.” Her sources often tell her that people fly in all the time to see a specific piece of equipment or program that isn’t available anywhere else in the world, and she considers it part of her job to make sure planners also know about those resources. “The last thing I want is for a group to come here,” Runzler said, “and then two weeks later, read about something we have here, and think, ‘I would have loved to have gone to that robotics center.’”
Runzler takes a hands-on approach to cataloguing Orlando’s intellectual and scientific assets, personally calling researchers to ask them about their work and specialized resources, and whether she can share information with meeting planners. “If I have a profile, that means I have already established a relationship,” she