superstars in their fields, such as AIDS scientist Sharon Lewin, an infectious-diseases researcher at Burnet Institute in Melbourne, who is known not only for her discoveries about the HIV/AIDS virus, but for her push for a cure. Lewin will serve as the local co-chair of the 20th International AIDS Conference (IAC), to be held in Melbourne in 2014.
The MCVB also is in frequent contact with Dean Morris, the head of operations for the Australian Synchroton, a football-field–sized machine that moves high-energy electrons at nearly the speed of light, allowing researchers to study molecular structures. Joint efforts with synchrotron scientists in other countries have resulted in five scientific meetings scheduled to come to Melbourne between November 2013 and October 2015.
In the coming years, Melbourne will host numerous other high-profile international science meetings, including the World Diabetes Congress, the World Congress of Cardiology, and the World Cancer Congress. Such meetings bring significant benefits well beyond the economic impact of business travelers, Bolinger said, including raising the profile of local institutions and putting the spotlight on local research.
In emerging destinations, the meetings infrastructure often is developing alongside modern knowledge-based economic assets. When Ernesto Orillac, vice-minister of tourism in Panama, lists his country’s meetings assets, for example, he includes its accessibility, many new international hotels, and plans for a new convention center, scheduled to open in 2015. He also mentions Panama City’s charm and the country’s natural beauty - and emphasizes its intellectual assets, including its position as a center of international finance and logistics, and the collaboration taking place at the City of Knowledge, an international complex for research, education, and innovation built in the former Panama Canal Zone. With an economy growing at 10.6 percent, the fastest in the world, Orillac described Panama City’s newly flourishing meetings industry as poised to go “from the Little League to playing in the majors.”
Searching for Solutions
“The Knowledge Economy” was the theme of the IMEX Politicians Forum, held at IMEX 2012 in Frankfurt, Germany, last May, where leaders gathered with meetings industry executives to discuss the role that meetings can play not only in generating jobs and fueling industry, but also in finding solutions to the biggest problems and challenges that face governments. Among the speakers was Isabel Bardinet, CEO of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC), who told the audience: “Meetings are the most efficient medium for research and development that has ever been found.”
Bardinet discussed how she makes the decision on where to hold ESC’s annual Congress, which has the same impact, she said, “as if a mid-sized town drops down for five days on top of a city.” Each year, approximately 40,000 attendees collectively will use 100,000 hotel room nights.
But Bardinet urged destinations to look beyond those figures, to numbers that are of even greater concern to her organization: the millions of deaths caused each year by cardiovascular disease, as well as the billions of dollars spent annually to treat heart disease. When she looks at destinations, she seeks out those that will look to magnify ESC’s impact - because its annual Congress helps determine how many doctors will have access to innovations in treatment. When you begin to talk about the impact of the disease and the search for solutions, Bardinet said, “We’re far, far away from coffee cups and hotel rooms.”
Sidebar: The Science of Meeting Face-to-Face
Maryann P. Feldman, a professor of public policy at the University of North Carolina, works at the intersection of geography and innovation. Her research, she explained to Convene, looks at “why certain places are able to generate greater innovation and economic activity, while investments made in other places are not as productive.”
In studying interactions in economic clusters, Feldman has observed that “when you bring together a community of people in a confined geographic space, they are going to bump into each other. The opportunity for chance interactions - serendipity, if you will - and bumping into someone who may have an answer or whose work or products you may have heard of, is really rich.”
What is true about computer scientists who clump together in places like Silicon Valley also is true about people interacting at conferences. “What we believe is that the transfer of knowledge is enhanced by face-to-face conversation,” Feldman said. “While people could email each other, or they could read papers or correspond in a variety of ways, the ability to meet and ask questions is something that is much more fruitful.”
“In Glasgow, our academic community understands the importance of conferences to assist with their knowledge-exchange objectives,” said Aileen Crawford, head of conventions for the Glasgow City Marketing Bureau. More than 2,400 professionals from medical, scientific, and academic backgrounds act as “Conference Ambassadors,” collaborating with the bureau to bring national and international conferences to the city.
There are big benefits for both the bureau and the academics. By hosting a conference in their specialist field, Crawford said, academics “can network with their peers and establish a platform for national and international collaboration.” More than 80 percent of the international conference business in the city comes as a result of the involvement of the ambassadors’ involvement, Crawford said, including 70 conferences confirmed last year.
In the United States, supporting access to conferences is “a really important science-policy issue,” Feldman said. “With all the budget craziness, a lot of scientists who work for federal agencies are not able to participate in conferences to the same extent as they had been.” And if scientists are precluded from the discussions they have at conferences, we won’t realize the full benefit of all of the investment we make in federal research and development, Feldman said. Curtailing scientists’ travel to conferences, she said, “is a policy that is penny-wise and pound-foolish.”
Sidebar: Tangible Benefits
Calculating the impact of meetings, including knowledge transfer, beyond the money spent directly by meeting organizers and attendees is a field of research that is “still in its infancy,” said Martin Sirk, CEO of the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA). But there are several practical - and measurable - benefits that come from tapping into local intellectual and business resources. The following list was suggested by Laura d’Elsa, the regional director for USA/Canada for the German Convention Bureau:
- Financial aid and sponsorships Many CVBs can steer planners to educational and other grants, as well as industries that may be willing to sponsor meeting activities.
- Keynote speakers Local institutions and businesses can offer experts who are willing to speak at meetings.
- Attendees Planners can boost attendance by making contact with relevant local professional, academic, and business communities.
- Program content Local institutions or groups with shared interests may be willing to partner with meeting organizers to create joint sessions or forums.
- Site inspections Tours and talks can be arranged at local facilities that dovetail with attendee interests.
Earn Your CEU
Here’s how to earn your CEU hour. Once you finish reading this CMP Series article, read the following material:
- A summary report on IMEX 2012’s Politicians Forum, the theme of which was the knowledge economy, at convn.org/IMEX-politicians.
- “A Scoping Study of Business Events: Beyond Tourism Benefits,” a recent report from Business Events Sydney on the “social legacy” of meetings and conferences, at convn.org/sydney-events