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Business Events as Change Agents


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Push is on to convince governments that events are about transformation — not just tourism.

A movement led by the Joint Meetings Industry Council (JMIC) is seeking to change governments’ perspective on the events industry: It’s not just about tourism.

The aim is for destinations to embrace a new way of looking at what business events really are, change agents. A forum at the recent IMEX Frankfurt brought to light some thinking on the topic.

The politicians and policymakers that gathered at the IMEX Policy Forum were reminded by The Iceberg, JMIC’s communication platform, about the transformational contribution that business and professional events have on a location.

Speaking in an Iceberg video titled “Business and Professional Events: Change Agents or Travel Agents?” GainingEdge CEO Gary Grimmer and Gregg Talley, president and CEO of the Talley Management Group, outlined how business events contribute and called on governments to recognise the value of events to help grow local economies, increase knowledge, and strengthen industries.

“The business and professional events industry is, in my mind, actually a transformative strategy for governments, that are trying to develop the knowledge and creative economies,” Grimmer said.

“This is a strategy for improving medical care, a strategy for improving standards, a strategy for attracting new talent,” he added.

If the JMIC-led effort is successful, the decision about where to take an event would no longer be based on the number of hotel rooms a destination has or the superiority of its convention centre, but on a destination city’s understanding of what the association or corporate client wants to achieve and how it can help amplify that message.

Talley said: “Now I am picking a destination that understands who I am, understands what I am trying to achieve, and is willing to work with me as a partner to extend the legacy, extend the leave-behind that I’m going to have in knowledge transfer, in business opportunity,  and in economic development ­— that’s a win, win, win, win.”

The video highlights that there is real thought leadership about what will help governments take the events industry more seriously as a vital component of growing intellectual clusters.

The identification of intellectual clusters is how governments focus on growing the economic strength of a particular city or region, particularly where there is already an academic base.

“Where it hits the sweet spot is when government says, ‘Here’s what we want to focus on, and there’s also an existing intellectual base to build on in that sphere.’ If you can combine that and roll that into business events and we’re going to go after and build an industry where we have intellectual knowledge and now attach that to pulling in the rest of the global knowledge in that sphere to help our local industry actually leap frog, if not lead, in that particular industry, that’s hitting on all cylinders. Now we’re starting to really move along and developing worldwide excellence in X — whatever X might be — and that’s going to attract investment, that’s going to attract people, that’s going to help grow your economy and grow that industry from a worldwide basis,” Talley added.

In another Iceberg video titled “DMOs to Collaborate on Destination Development,”  Nicola McGrane, managing director of Dublin-based Conference Partners International, said:  “I like this way of thinking that we’re not just looking at business tourism, we’re looking at the knowledge economy of a certain city and matchmaking the congresses we bring in based on the talent pool that’s there.”

In Hamburg, the CVB sits in the same office as the development authority whose role it is to look at clusters and bring in companies associated with the clusters and then feed back to the CVB so it can target appropriate events. Speaking in the same Iceberg video, Christian Mutschlechner, director of the Vienna Convention Bureau, said he believes city convention bureaus becoming more related to business and less with tourism is the likely progression.  “The other consequence will be probably that the convention bureaus will be completely split out of the tourism office”, he said.

The JMIC is calling for destinations to invest in case studies and storytelling to more effectively showcase the transformational contributions of business and professional events and their benefits outside of tourism. It believes that better story telling around events that match the destination’s “intellectual cluster” profile is the key to using sector strengths and local university specializations to attract events and investment from the industry sectors that can benefit from them.

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