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German Convention Bureau Bets Its Future On Event Tech Research

Skift Take

Germany has one of the most innovative business strategies and fresh content models to attract more international conferences by focusing on extensive research development and sector-specific industry expertise. But managing and delivering on those effectively and consistently comes with its growing pains.

— Greg Oates

Sascha Lobo is a popular German tech author, blogger, and speaker with a pointy red mohawk and an unfiltered opinion on just about anything relating to digital society.

The German Convention Bureau (GCB) recently published a Q&A with Lobo on its new content-driven website about the impact of technology on meetings. It’s not the most cutting-edge insight on the future of business events, but it does signal a shift at convention bureaus toward more multi-disciplinary, tech-driven content designed to both inform and inspire meeting planners.

The most innovative aspects of the convention bureau’s content strategy are the omni-channel delivery and the volume of research focusing on both macro and micro industry trends. However, there’s room for improvement in terms of how the bureau organizes the growing body of online thought leadership, and how it serves it to planners effectively.

The GCB has invested heavily in recent years toward developing a scalable online framework with two aligned missions. The first goal is to drive attention to the individual cities by positioning them as important hubs of specific industry sectors, ranging from automotive in Stuttgart to logistics and mobility in Hamburg. The second is to continue investing in big-budget industry research in an attempt to position the country at the leading edge of European meeting design innovation.

Looking ahead to 2017, one of the GCB’s primary goals will be educating the different German cities about how to create more informed online content individually for the national bureau to promote worldwide.

The following is an overview of the GCB’s multitude of research and content marketing initiatives during the last few years, and the strategy behind them.

Future Meeting Space

Germany’s newest research is a multi-phase, multi-year project called “Future Meeting Space,” presented in different formats on both the main GCB website and a dedicated microsite.

The first section of phase one of Future Meeting Space launched in December 2015 with the Meeting Space Innovation Catalogue, highlighting 30 new event technologies, industry trends, and group collaboration strategies. The themes range from 180-degree projection mapping to the role of 50-year-old-plus veterans in the industry, described as “silverpreneurs.”

The value here is somewhat of a shotgun approach to throwing every idea against the wall to see what will stick. Some of them, such as animal-shape “zoomorphic robots,” are questionable in their potential value for meetings. Others like the concept of physical telepresence are a little too futuristic or fantastic to be relevant any time soon, while still others such as “customization” need to be dialed in a little more specifically.

There are also many more compelling topics, including the fog screen projector being developed by Leia Display Systems, which builds 3D-holograph-like images that humans can engage with. As described on the Leia site: “Streams of barely visible fog become an image carrier, and their laminar (layered) structure allows to display high resolution contents.”

While some of the content in Future Meeting Space could be reworked or cut back, the bigger picture here is the GCB’s willingness to put technology at the center of the conversation around the future of meetings. That, in itself, is a kick in the behind for the convention bureau sector at large.

“We want to shape the future for our German, European, and international customers, and continue positioning Germany at the forefront of innovation,” said Matthias Schultze, managing director of the GCB. “Even though we’re ranked number one in meetings in Europe in the ICCA (International Congress & Convention Association) standings, we can never rest on our laurels.”

The Meeting Space Innovation Catalog, as it exists now, mostly provides a fresh marketing platform for the GCB. It’s the beginning of an introductory road map, so to speak, designed to be an “instruction manual” for phase two of Future Meeting Space, which is presently in development for 2017 publication.

The second half of phase one of Future Meeting Space was released in October at the IMEX America meetings industry trade show. It consists of the Management Summary and the Future Meeting Room, which is a subset of research under the Future Meeting Space umbrella of content.

The Management Summary expands on a few themes in the catalogue, although the content describing some of the event tech advances and the impact of the sharing economy on meetings is relatively rudimentary from a U.S. perspective. The most compelling research is in the last half of the document detailing six next-generation conference formats, including “co-working, hybrid, and multisite” event designs.

The takeaways from those six formats then inform the Future Meeting Room research to help planners design different room layouts to facilitate different types of learning, mostly for small to mid-size meetings. The value here is especially interesting for non-traditional meeting venues, such as universities, industrial and scientific companies, and creative commercial businesses, which can potentially use this research to attract more group events.

Discover German Expertise

The GCB’s jump into content marketing really started with the national Discover German Expertise meetings strategy launched in 2012. The convention bureau began encouraging the local city bureaus to promote themselves based on their specific knowledge-based expertise in advanced industries, versus merely their tourism-based infrastructure and meetings facilities.

As Skift covered before, the goal was, and is, to drive competitive advantage in the evolving global meetings market that prioritizes talent and technology over spaces and places.

Promoting a German city, for example, based on the volume of high-tech auto manufacturing in the region, will attract conferences revolving around automotive sales and distribution, engineering, IT, logistics and mobility, advanced electronics and materials, etc.

According to Schultze, the general idea didn’t exactly fly off the shelves across Germany right away. At the beginning, the local convention bureaus were comfortable selling their cities to meeting planners the same way they sold to group-package tourists, promoting the hotels, restaurants, and tour operators for large numbers of people, while tossing in various conference facilities to the mix.

“When we first did the research in 2012, about 80 percent of meeting planners told us that it is important to align the content of the meeting with the expertise of the region,” Schultze said. “But back then, only 29 percent of the destination marketing organizations, the hotels, and conference centers in Germany said that was an important marketing tool at the time.”

Since 2012, the GCB has consistently pounded home the message of sector expertise as a destination differentiator, both internally and toward meeting planners worldwide.

“Today it’s almost 50 percent of all destinations, hotels, and venues in Germany that are working with this kind of strategy now,” Schultze explained. “So we can clearly see an increase in the importance and implementation of our vision throughout Germany.”

The new GCB website was specifically funded and developed to drive that percentage higher.

Following the roll-out of the Discover German Expertise campaign, the GCB published two trend reports in 2013: “Meetings and Conventions 2030: A Study of Megatrends Shaping Our Industry,” and “The Evolution of Germany’s Meeting and Convention Industry.” Anyone can request both of those at the GCB’s download page.

And then in 2014, the GCB began promoting its emphasis on destination expertise marketing more in the Meetings & EventBarometer study tracking the performance of the German meetings industry.

That series of research platforms illustrates the GCB’s content strategy to develop thought leadership around both macro trends for the industry at large and more micro, granular destination research to drive exposure toward its specific industry partners.

New GCB Content Push In 2017

Schultze said that the GCB’s mission in 2017 will focus on showing the regional convention bureaus how to develop more sophisticated meetings-specific content. The goal is for the cities to all be delivering the same messaging across their local channels, which can then be shared to a wider audience on the national platform.

“We’re trying to educate our partners in content marketing, because since we know that planners are interested in learning about our industry expertise, now it’s about what our partners need to do to reach planners to really show it,” said Schultze. “It’s hard to turn this into reality. I think we can all talk about this expertise strategy, and say, ‘Yes, this is great,’ but to really make this a reality, where everyone understands what we are doing, is going to take years.”

Last month, with that in mind, the GCB launched the Germany Meetings Web TV channel to shift the existing online webinar format into a television studio experience. One of the participants in the first TV segment was the Camonsite destination management company, which discussed its strategy behind the logistics and gamified programming during the IFA 2015 consumer electronics show in Berlin.

Some of the more interesting takeaways involve how the DMC developed a street art scavenger hunt for the launch of a Lenovo smartphone. Camonsite also hired bloggers to join the event to push out content in a coordinated social media campaign.

The Hamburg Convention Bureau and Munich Messe convention center also participated in the web TV show. Hamburg, especially, is producing some interesting content projects like this coverage of a recent meeting planner familiarization trip. (Other German cities with surprisingly antiquated websites like Munich and Stuttgart would do well to follow the lead of the new GCB, Hamburg, and Frankfurt websites.)

Linda Nuss, regional manager for the GCB in New York, said the goal of the new Germany Meetings Web TV channel is to showcase compelling event case studies in a more creative TV studio atmosphere, because Germany needs to walk its tech-savvy talk.

“We’re trying to find a good medium between traditional presentations and a live expert panel with live visuals,” Nuss said. “We want to give our partners a topic to get them all thinking along the same lines, so they can present their companies and organizations in a new way.”

Packing and Personalizing Innovation

Ideally, all of the above research should be presented on the GCB website so any meeting planner or industry supplier can easily pull the information they want specific to their individual needs. Presently, the information is a little too randomly scattered and lacks enough categorization. Nuss explained that the website is still relatively new, and the bureau is making improvements to the overall user experience based on ongoing feedback from planners and its partners.

Another challenge, the newsfeed/blog combines both editorial content and more traditional partner promotional copy, without any delineation between them. Therefore, content such as the convention bureau overviews and hotel advertorials tend to somewhat dilute the punch of the rest of the content.

That is the biggest challenge with most content marketing. The quality of the delivery is just as important as the quality of the content.

Some of the best information right now is the collection of case studies illustrating the Discover German Expertise strategy in action. For example, the “Brahms in Hamburg Conference Hits the High Notes for Manhattan String Quartet’s Annual Meeting” post emphasizes the alignment between the programming of an annual conference and the destination’s local capabilities to deliver a heightened experience and a higher return on investment.

It reads: “Dovetailing perfectly with the knowledge-sharing goals of the conference, delegates visited the Brahms Museum in the Composers Quarter (in a building built in 1751), and the Brahms Institute in Lübeck, a city that is part of the Hamburg Metropolitan Region.”

The GCB should blow out this much more with professionally produced content to drive home the value of Germany’s sector-specific, expertise-first initiative to engage meeting planners around the potential business outcomes of gathering in Germany.

The organization should also continue to keep interviewing the Sascha Lobos of world to bring more human color into the tech-driven discussion around the future of meetings.

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