Monaco is a destination measuring just 2km2, just the size of a park in many cities… but has positioned itself as a leading destination for meetings. Sandrine Camia, Director of the Monaco Convention Bureau, invites us to rethink the role and key success factors of convention bureaus, “from a passive destination marketer to an active business enabler”.
She summarises the new role and skills you see necessary for convention bureaus: “There is a change of mindset. Our role is becoming wider than answering bids and promoting the destination: convention bureaus have to provide leadership in the destination, be an expert in meetings and bring expertise on how to offer more services and ROI to meeting owners. Being a marketer is not enough; people want us to knock on the door, to impact, to be entrepreneurial in our vision and our actions.
One of their challenges was a problem of perception. “Up to 2008, the DNA of our destination was our best selling argument: glamour, good facilities, a shiny destination… Those arguments turned away because of the crisis, casting doubt over whether ours was a proper place to meet. So we embrace this heritage (a prince, a casino, a glamorous history, great hotels and venues, stable environment) but we complete it with a more serious legacy. We looked at what was good in our economy and saw we had great industries: healthcare, high tech, for instance. We work very closely with the chamber of commerce, and try to have a winning strategy together, by seeing how the conferences these companies participate in can take place in Monaco, but also seeing what local industries we can include in those events. And being a public entity makes it easy to reach everyone, all the way to the Ministry of Finance. If I have a cardiology conference, we have one of the best cardiology centers and I can involve them in the content. We place our business tourism on the table not of tourism, but of the economy! This gives us a legitimacy we were lacking”.
She goes on: “People look for elements of the city brand that will resonate with attendees, and this now goes far beyond tourism: destinations have to promote themselves using their economic and intellectual assets. Criteria for destination selection now include knowledge, heritage, local industries and know-how.”
South Africa thinks of meetings as knowledge, not delegates. The meetings industry is a huge job generator in South Africa, employing 200,000 people according to the South Africa Convention Bureau. It could be tempting to focus on all those hotel rooms and convention centers filled thanks to meetings, but Amanda Kotze-Nhlapo, Chief Convention Bureau Officer, focuses on what meetings mean for the development and growth of the country. “Our strategy is aligned with the developing sectors in our country. We know that if industry congresses can rotate within Africa, more people will learn and grow. If a meeting takes place in Australia, maybe 50 African people will go, but if it takes place on our continent, many more professionals, even students, can go and learn. So hosting congresses and getting them to rotate within Africa is very important as part of our economic strategy, not merely as a way to stimulate tourism”. But meetings bring other values: “they help us showcase our innovation; and they leave an important legacy. An example? After a pediatrics’ cardiology congress, a factory making the tools to operate on children’s hearts was set up in South Africa. Or the International AIDS conference led to the development of two HIV/AIDS research centers in Africa.”
In what industries do they especially focus? “The first one is medical meetings, where we have a strong local knowledge base. We had the first heart transplant here, for instance. IT is another one, as well as mining and geology”. Sustainability is another important focus area. Meetings are clearly integrated with their development strategy: “We remind international players that we are developing, so people should come and bring their meetings, so they do not lose our on all this development”.
Supporting associations and spreading the word in universities. The SACB needs plenty of support and local infrastructure of players, to achieve this new goal. “Only 10% of the ICCA congresses we host are from African associations. In a city like Paris, most congresses have a regional delegate base. That is why we partnered with the African Society for Association Executives (AfSAE) which holds annually their educational conference at Meetings Africa in Johannesburg. Also, when an international event is hosted in our country, we try to make sure this industry includes an African association. Our aim is for national associations to have a broader focus as African associations, offering them the required support. The money goes to enhance the meeting, get better speakers, and fund projects related to that industry”. The convention bureau also offers university support workshops, going to universities and telling them about the congress market and the role of convention bureaus; a way to strengthen this integration of meetings and knowledge.
These are just two case studies as examples of what is undoubtedly a trend, even though most convention bureaus still have some way to go. But it is a very welcome change of focus, which will make our industry more relevant than ever!