This fall, 17 European convention bureaus across the continent announced the formation of a new alliance, designed to pool resources and share best practices to protect market share in the global meetings and convention arena.
This initiative—presently positioned as the European National Convention Bureaux—parallels the leisure consumer-facing Visit Europe consortia of 33 tourism bureaus, operated by the European Travel Commission. The launch date for an official website has not yet been announced.
U.S. bookings for meetings, conventions and incentive travel are coming back strong throughout Europe, as they are in many other long-haul destinations that were also deemed prohibitively expensive during the recession.
“We’re increasing our group sales staff 20% in Europe for 2015,” says Christopher Koleros, area director of sales/marketing, Europe, InterContinental Hotels. “There’s a lot of pent up demand for Europe right now, including secondary markets like Prague and Budapest, because so many groups curtailed their European programs after 2009.”
Therefore, the motivation behind the launch of the new European meetings destination marketing organization (DMO) is two-fold. One is to maintain top-of-mind positioning for Europe as a primary meetings location. With so many emerging destinations from Brazil to New Zealand rising on planners’ radars, it’s paramount for European countries to proactively ensure they remain competitive.
The second is to expand the breadth of the continent’s attractions for the next generation of more globally-attuned and adventurous business travelers seeking non-traditional, second-tier meeting destinations. An example of that, the Dallas-based Meeting Professionals International organization is bringing its European Meetings & Events Conference to the new ICE Krakow Congress Centre in Poland in 2015.
Above all else, underpinning the new European DMO alliance is a willingness among European convention bureaus to collaborate and share proprietary information. That is much more rare in other regions like the U.S., where for example, you’ll rarely see cities such as New York and Chicago giving away market intelligence to each other.
“There’s absolutely a shift today among all of the European DMOs when it comes to seeing the value of sharing information,” says Laura d’Elsa, regional director, USA/Canada, at the German Convention Bureau. “Even direct competitors are working together…. Because at the end of the day, my competition strictly speaking is not so much a France or an England or Switzerland. It’s really more like meeting planners are asking, “Are we going to go to Europe or somewhere else?”
Protecting & Expanding European Interests
Eric Bakermans, marketing manager of meetings/conventions with the Netherlands Board of Tourism & Conventions, and Matthias Schultze, managing director of the German Convention Bureau, are the two architects behind the formation of the national DMO initiative.
“Europe is the number one meeting destination worldwide for association meetings, hosting nearly 2.5 million business visitors a year,” explains Schultze in a prepared statement. “Our partnership approach unites the individual and unique offerings of each member to simplify and strengthen the approach towards key markets.”
Among the 17 members, many of them have a tiny percentage of marketing dollars and human resources available to the larger DMOs like Germany. That can be due simply to a country’s size, such as Slovenia or Serbia, or a lack of government investment in tourism promotion as is the case in Hungary.
For example, the Hungarian Convention Bureau won second place in the Tourism Films category at this year’s Cannes Corporate Media & TV Awards for its promotional video: “Think Hungary – More than Expected.” Budapest provides some of the best values, venues and infrastructure for international meetings in Eastern Europe, and yet, the video didn’t receive a lot of play among U.S. media outlets and meeting planners.
Part of that is because Budapest doesn’t have a dedicated convention bureau like many other European capitals its size, relying instead on the services of the national DMO responsible for promoting the entire country. With the new European alliance, however, the Hungarian Convention Bureau will have additional resources and new platforms to help raise their profile and open new communication channels.
Alice Sipos, senior project manager for the Hungarian Convention Bureau, explains that it can be a challenge to secure the right U.S. planners for familiarization trips to the destination, which are sponsored by the bureau, due to the level of global competition for meeting planners’ attention.
“We have noticed growing interest coming from American planners for Budapest and the eastern part of Europe,” she says. “But the first goal is getting the appropriate people to accept our invitation to come visit. Showing them our city is actually the easy part.”
Miha Kovačič, director of the Slovenian Convention Bureau, is not surprisingly one of the most vocal advocates for the new European DMO alliance. Kovačič aggressively promotes what he calls “co-opetition” among smaller bureaus to help get their message heard among the maelstrom of U.S.-directed marketing.
For Kovačič, knowledge is the currency of the future. He wants to amass as much industry insight and connections as possible by collaborating with neighboring national DMOs and stakeholders within his own country to drive the value of meeting in Slovenia higher.
That then becomes Slovenia’s positioning statement and differentiator. By itself, the small country has a difficult time making a dent in the U.S. market, with its capital city of Ljubljana impossible to spell for most Americans let alone locate. On the other hand, by cooperating with 16 other European DMOs, Slovenia raises its legitimacy on a world stage as a more mainstream meetings, convention and incentive travel destination.
“True added value of an event organized in a different country is not to experience other countries’ culture, gastronomy, people, weather, etc.,” says Kovačič. “It is the specific knowledge that the country has and is willing to share with an international audience.”
To date, the heads of the 17 European DMOs have met three times to discuss strategy over the last two years, with the next meeting to take place in Copenhagen in 2015. Topics of discussion will include website and PR/communications development, participation in industry trade shows, and new marketing partnerships.
“It’s all about us collaborating on a European level now,” says d’Elsa. “A lot of us are already collaborating anyway, and sharing knowledge and experiences and best practices, so now we’re just trying to institutionalize it.”
Greg Oates covers tourism and hospitality development. Email him at email@example.com.