INCON Expert Article
Destinations and International Congresses: The Importance of an Effective Partnership
From November 16-18, INCON, the partnership of leading event organizers were welcomed to St Petersburg by ExpoForum, Belmond Grand Hotel Europe and local DMC Russian Rhapsody. During the meeting the partners had an opportunity to explore the excellent facilities that the city has to offer and and debate relevant topics of importance to the industry. In this expert article INCON explores one of those topics "the synergy between city and event stakeholders, which is ultimately driving the impact of international events".
Professionals with different expertise and backgrounds gather together at international congresses, which can shape the future of their industry and the host city. Inversely, the event location empowers and influences the lives of international guests through the travel experience and local engagement. Apart from navigating the event logistics, the global attendees’ journey takes the form of multiple interactions with local culture, business and community. That is why location branding has become a key element in promoting international congresses. The dynamic between the city and event stakeholders appears as a natural partnership that drives growth for both players.
Global Cities between Atoms and Bits
Being an essential factor in jump-starting the quality of international congresses, multiple cities around the world have started to invest in reinforcing the event infrastructure. As Tatsuo Arai, INCON Partner and managing director at MCITokyo Office, highlights, "From fashionable restaurants and state-of-art theatres, to theme parks and casinos, we can observe how different cities are developing impressive meeting facilities, dedicated to energize and inspire international attendees."
Moreover, to level up the game, city branding ceased to revolve around physical infrastructure only. Apart from harnessing the ultra-modern congress centers, new hotels and "Michelin Star" restaurants, nowadays cities are willing to showcase and trade their intellectual assets such as digital innovation and business communities.
According to Patrizia Semprebene Buongiorno, AIM Group International Vice President and INCON Co-Chair, Convention and Visitors Bureaus (CVB’s) play a key role in stimulating the collaboration between the main city stakeholders. Being an important destination asset, CVBs enable the cohesion of the local community players, encouraging suppliers to work together. This approach ensures the success of international congress planners, also guaranteeing a high profile of the destination.
As Cristina Aru, INCON Partner from EGA Italy, notes, the collaboration between convention bureaus and local governments makes it possible to align the urban infrastructure and the strategic planning of the city with the needs of congress tourism. This co-operative dynamic positions the city as a competitive location for high-quality international congresses.
On the other hand, this collaboration enables the core PCOs (Professional Congress Organizers) and DMCs (Destination Management Companies) to concentrate more closely on the event’s added value, relieving them of the responsibility of administrative and bureaucratic procedures. It also provides a stress-free experience for the international attendees, who can benefit from free services (e.g. discounts on transportation and museums, etc.).
The Challenges of Planning an International Congress
When deciding on a new destination for their congress, planners and organizations have an entire pool of resources they can choose from, both physical and digital. However, as an event professional, you must be aware of the potential risks of organizing an international congress in a new city.
According to Carol McGury, INCON’s Co-Chair and executive vice president of Event and Education Services at SmithBucklin, the number one challenge congress organizers face is the uncertainty. As McGury specifies, event professionals can’t be sure about the quality of the meeting facilities, service infrastructure and urban transport.
INCON’s partner in Israel, Galit Shimshoni, vice president of Marketing & Sales at ORTRA Ltd., mentioned a series of challenges that could further complicate planning an international congress. The first challenge revolves around local currency conversion rate, which can cause budget-planning issues. The second problem is potential language barriers. Since communication might be in a different language, it is quite difficult to operate a congress efficiently. The third challenge is conditioned by the necessity of engaging with local stakeholders. Planners must create and maintain professional business connections with congress sub-suppliers. When operating in an unfamiliar city, this can be a big issue.
Rutger Hoorn, director of Global Sales at Ovation Global DMC, reflects that a major challenge congress organizers face is the lack of knowledge about the local community’s culture and customs. As an event professional operating in a different country, it is important to know when to enter into a business conversation, how to correctly engage in a discussion, and how to negotiate without having the door slammed in your face.
Planning an international congress in a different city comes with a raft of risks. However, event professionals can easily overcome these challenges by preparing themselves in advance with in-depth research about the congress destination, visiting the location and interacting closely with the convention bureau. Considering this, let’s break down the steps you must follow to harness the real potential of cities when planning your next congress:
Step 1. Engage with the local experts
When it comes to planning international congresses never underestimate the importance of local expertise. Event professionals who are unfamiliar with a destination will often position themselves as experts. They have an in-depth knowledge of the congress logistics and marketing. However, the lack of understanding of the destination (such as cultural knowledge, historical significance and local customs) may negatively influence the attendee experience and diminish the congress’ impact. Local expertise plays a key role in getting the right balance and perspective.
Step 2. Leverage the value of destination marketing to attract more attendees
According to Shimshoni, part of the PCOs’ mission is to actively participate in marketing the event and increasing attendee registration. One essential way to do this is by utilizing the value of the congress destination. You can offer pre- and post-event tours to help the congress guests create a memorable and unique city experience. On the other hand, Shimshoni argues, when marketing the event, it is important to draw on the expertise of the localcongress committee and academic community.
Step 3. Collaborate with the local influencers
Whether it is to promote your congress or enrich the event program, it is important to design an outreach strategy and connect with the local industry influencers. By integrating these influencers into your congress agenda, you will be able to open doors to all kinds of interactions and give the attendees access to first-hand knowledge regarding the local business context and customs.
Step 4. Ignite the local sponsorship opportunities
By collaborating with local businesses and companies, you will be able to strengthen the impact of your congress on the economic fabric of the host city, empowering its industry clusters to market their image and expertise at an international level. In exchange, you can offer those businesses greater exposure and access to international audiences.
Step 5. Provide a range of networking opportunities for the attendees
Set up a B2B matchmaking event during the congress, allowing your attendees to engage in meaningful conversations with local businesses and companies. Help your attendees connect with the local innovative talent. This will significantly increase the congress’ authority, positioning the event as a proactive platform for new business collaboration.
Planning an international congress in a foreign city involves a number of challenges and risks. From choosing a location to connecting with the local stakeholders, the entire process requires an in-depth understanding of the value exchange between the PCOs and the city itself. This is only possible if both sides (the PCOs and the local or central governments) are actively engaged in meaningful, cooperative dialogue.
International congresses and attendee travel constitutes one of the backbones of economic development. To ensure the success of their congresses, event professionals should take advantage of the urban physical and digital infrastructure’s rich pool of resources. This evolving reality is shifting the dialogue between PCOs and local stakeholders, opening new windows for co-creation and economic development.
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