said. “That cuts out a lot of the initial digging and research for planners.”
The German Convention Bureau (GCB) has adopted a similarly proactive approach to identifying key industries and clusters of expertise that align with meetings, said Laura d’Elsa, regional director for USA/Canada - a strategy motivated in part by the GCB’s recognition of the fact that it needed to better differentiate itself. “There used to be a greater difference between European destinations,” d’Elsa said, “in terms of accessibility, meetings infrastructure, and value.”
But those gaps are disappearing, she said, as competition among the destinations has grown more intense. “The offers are moving closer and closer for major cities like Paris, Berlin, and Rome, because everyone is so competitive,” d’Elsa said. “We all have lots of flights and good value for the money. We all have pretty countries and lots of pretty locations. Those are good arguments that we all use - and they are valid arguments.” But, she noted, Germany is also a top global exporter, - second only to China. The GCB realized that, along with automobiles and pharmaceuticals, the country’s strengths could also reside in exporting knowledge.
Two years ago, the GCB adopted a strategy of asking regional and local convention bureaus and conference centers to inventory clusters of expertise within key industries - including logistics, financial services, energy, technology, medicine, and pharmaceuticals - by contacting local universities, research facilities, associations, and companies. “My main role,” d’Elsa said, “is putting meeting planners in contact with the right organizations, and trying to foster relationships.”
Among the GCB’s successes was its bid to host the XXVII Congress of the International Society for Advancement of Cytometry (ISAC), which was held this past June in Leipzig - the first time that the meeting, described by organizers as “the world’s most important event in the field of cell diagnostics,” convened in Germany since the congress was first held there in 1978. It is more than a good fit: Leipzig is considered one of the birthplaces of cytometry. In 1878, a medical student at the University of Leipzig was the first person to use dye to identify different cell types in blood.
The academic and research culture carried weight when ISAC was choosing between locations and venues, according to Joan Goldberg, principal and managing director of Strategic Assessment & Solutions, who acted as interim executive director for the society earlier this year. But an added bonus was support from the local government and industry, which included grants from the Free State of Saxony, where Leipzig is located. Another factor were the links created between ISAC and a regional cluster of biotechnology research institutions and pharmaceutical companies. Biosaxony, the local German industry group, in particular was a real partner, Goldberg said, and worked with ISAC to create a one-day symposium that showcased local technology companies and research collaborations, and included an emphasis on how scientists can effectively partner with entrepreneurs. The symposium “was a great venue to discuss opportunities and trends,” Goldberg said, “as well as the latest technology.”
The symposium also was likely to have been good for business, according to Maryann P. Feldman, a professor of public policy at the University of North Carolina, and an expert on economic innovation, including technology transfer. “When people ask about how university and industry partnerships get started, and how people identify who they want to work with,” Feldman said, “conferences are really important for creating those kinds of connections.” (See “The Science of Meeting Face-to-Face,” at bottom of page.)
The level of support from Saxony was significant, Goldberg said, and she advises meeting organizers to be direct about requests for funding, including them as part of RFPs. “You should know the value of your meeting and what it brings to the city,” Goldberg said, “and the city should know that you are looking for additional support.”
At OSA, Mirabal takes a long-term view, looking for destinations with scientific and academic resources that align with her organization’s industry specialties, and that will extend beyond the course of a single meeting and promote the society’s growth. At IMEX America in Las Vegas in October, Mirabal deliberately scheduled meetings with destinations where OSA did not have high concentrations of members, but where there may be untapped potential to attract new members, such as South Africa, where OSA has only a couple of chapters. Of particular interest to Mirabal in her conversation with a South Africa Tourism representative was whether the organization could serve as a conduit to other government entities, including the Ministry of Science and Technology.
“We are looking beyond the norm, and asking [CVBs] to be more of a partner, especially in terms of marketing and as an advocate to local government,” Mirabal said. “A lot of CVBs are run by governments - they have the ability to establish contacts with other government officials and industries.”
Mirabal also asked about industries in South Africa that might represent demand for OSA’s products and services - and that might be potential exhibitors - as well as about academic institutions with which the organization might have common interests. Mirabal’s role includes introducing CVBs to OSA, and demonstrating “how we can be a resource for local departments of science and technology, because our industry is very important right now,” she said. “When we work with a CVB or with a minister of tourism in a particular country, we are looking beyond that meeting and trying to establish a partnership. If it is successful for us, and if we see that our attendance increased because we were able to establish contact - we will be back.”
Content is Still King
A city’s infrastructure plays a supporting role for conferences, according to Karen Bolinger, CEO of the Melbourne Convention + Visitors Bureau (MCVB). “The bigger questions,” she said, “are: ‘What is the content, and how can a meeting tap into local resources?’” The glossy brochure for the MCVB’s recent “Melbourne IQ” initiative reflects that point of view, touting the city’s convention center, accessibility, and livability only after delineating its intellectual assets and its strengths in knowledge-based industries.
Over the last two or three years, there has been a definite increase in the number of cities that, like Melbourne, are “consciously trying to position themselves as intellectual destinations,” said Martin Sirk, CEO of the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA). “Some cities are positioning themselves as ‘knowledge capitals,’ others as ‘design capitals,’ and some are investing to research the non-direct impact that international meetings bring. I feel these are all part of a trend that will only get stronger, as there are so many pressures that are turning the focus away from tourist appeal and towards the intellectual content and › knowledge generation that these meetings represent.”
In Melbourne, the MCVB has aligned its business priorities directly with the region’s economic-development priorities and business strengths, Bolinger said. Each conference is different, but the MCVB can apply for local grants or tap into services available from local government agencies. Some meetings make local connections with experts who are