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Should the convention bureau be integrated into economic development?

Should the convention bureau be integrated into economic development?

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We have seen in another article how the value of our industry is shifting from tourism to economic development, a very strategic change in terms of the relevance of our sector, its added value. The next logical step could be to integrate the convention bureau with the city's economic development agency, to maximize synergies. We saw that quite a few destinations have taken this step. In Spain, the pioneer has been Bilbao, which has integrated its convention bureau into the City Council's Economic Promotion area. And at an international level, there is a movement and a debate about the opportunity of this change. What is correct? We bring you here a quick answer, of the great arguments of each side… but we will continue investigating. Eric Mottard

Several destinations have taken that decision, which can be sensitive since MICE was always seen as part of tourism and has to connect with tourism assets of the destination. So we can’t give you a definitive answer. Here are the two sides of the argument.

In favour of being in the tourism promotion dept

  • First: the need for change is not so obvious, since the vast majority of CVBs worldwide are still “in tourism”. A CVB can bring all these new values ​​even if it is part of the tourist office, simply by establishing the right connections (with the chamber of commerce, for example). Oscar Cerezales from MCI and a great expert in destination marketing, speaks to us about Singapore as an example of an excellent convention bureau, which is part of the tourism promotion agency but is highly coordinated with various agencies within the Government and, therefore, It perfectly fulfills its function of stimulating economic development (innovation, knowledge, investment…).
  • Another argument in favour of this solution is that, as much as the objective is economic, an important part of the candidacies, of the actors to be mobilized, are touristic. Still at ibtm or imex, hotels and conference centers are seen more than innovation offices, and MICE agencies attend more than strategy consultants. Knowing how to interact with actors who continue to be very identified with tourism, knowing how to add value to them, knowing how to manage the logistics and production of an event, knowing how to coordinate hotels… they continue to be the basis on which the rest of the added value (legacy, investment, contribution of knowledge).

In favor of being in economic development

  • First, coherence: if the greatest value of our industry is to open strategic opportunities (investments, commercial collaborations, talent acquisition, research and development), then it makes sense to be part of the economic development in the organization.
  • Even if the vast majority of CVBs are still in tourism, the trend is following that path, slowly but surely, as we have seen in the other article, with examples of CVBs merging with economic agencies. As Sydney Convention Bureau Director Ms Lewis-Smith put it: “Our research shows convention bureaus should come under the industry and trade ministries. We’re in the business and innovation business.”
  • Another benefit is that there are more economic resources in the economic development agency, or at least as Oscar says, more capacity to obtain financing if a project is considered more strategic. “A key difference is that a CVB that thinks “tourism” tries to get a piece of a fixed market (there are only x big congresses in a specific field), while being in economic development leads to think more broadly and seek connect local strategic groups with events.

Oscar Cerezales leaves the debate open: “There is no clear correlation showing that it is better for the convention bureau to be in tourism, or in economic development. The important thing is to have the right understanding of the strategy of the city, and effective connections with the various entities which can benefit from hosting these strategic events (economic development, innovation, etc.). Globally, most are still in tourism, and still have a primary objective of volume of delegates and economic impact”.

Besides, economic development goes way beyond events, and wherever it is, the convention bureau will always be subject to the global strategy that the economic development agency designs and implements. Beyond the congress of the field, we are talking of attracting the companies of that field, the influencers, designing local assets (a research centre, a university specialty, tax incentives, etc.). As a balanced conclusion, wherever they are in the city’s organisation, convention bureaus should report to several entities, says Oscar, innovation, economic development, and tourism. There lies the value, more than in a mere organisational chart.

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