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At the end of the day, the success of any international conference comes down to the strength of relationships developed between people from both the local host community and visiting organizations.
Here is an example of that in action, where the convention bureau and the conference planning team co-designed a long-term legacy impact into the event programming.
Helena Dean, director of communications at the Society of Architectural Historians (SAH), based in Chicago, organized her association’s 70th SAH Annual International Conference in Glasgow last year. It was the Society’s first meeting outside the U.S. in 40 years.
“The purpose of the event is to present research on the built environment and celebrate the host city,” says Dean. “The Glasgow Convention Bureau was extremely, extremely helpful, which is part of the reason why we chose to go there. VisitScotland was also very helpful promoting our event to get the word out, more than we could have accomplished alone.”
The program included 36 academic paper sessions and numerous networking events at the University of Strathclyde and University of Glasgow; industry roundtables with architects, preservationists, and technical experts; and 33 professor-led architecture tours and seminars open to the public.
By making so many events available for residents, the Society was able to begin building a legacy around the event by educating Glaswegians interested in better understanding, protecting, and developing their city responsibly.
“It was also a chance for our attendees to really explore the city firsthand by meeting the local people and exchanging knowledge face-to-face,” says Dean.
Christopher Kirbabas, director of programs at the Society of Architectural Historians, adds that the dedication of the regional stakeholders in the urban development sector fostered a spirit of collaboration among all of the attendees, local and international.
“The great thing about regional cities like Glasgow is there’s usually a much deeper pool of community availability, because they’re so eager to showcase their city,” he says. “I felt like it was easier to have access to people in Glasgow than a larger city. We also had an extraordinary local planning chair (Marina Moskowitz at the University of Glasgow), and having her support and access to people helped fill out the conference.”
Kirbabas especially acknowledges the academic community at the University of Strathclyde and University of Glasgow.
“So many times an organization comes into a city, invades it for a few days, and then leaves,” he says. “For us, we relied on the universities, pulling their knowledge and access to people, to create what we hope is a long-lasting conversation about the future of cities between us and the people of Glasgow.”
Aileen Crawford, head of conventions at the Glasgow Convention Bureau, says the biggest value that convention bureaus and their ambassadors provide is relevance. They deliver that by customizing the destination experience and expertise to produce a higher return on investment, as they did working with the Society of Architectural Historians.
“We constantly ask ourselves, ‘What do conference organizers need from the convention bureau of the future?’” says Crawford. “I believe that just offering information on new hotels is not representative of the era we’re in anymore. Maybe it was 10 years ago. Now, I think it’s all about being as relevant as possible to planners and relevant to our city and stakeholders. The level of support and expertise that we provide isn’t available in other European cities.”
Crawford sums up that access to sector expertise is the new currency for delivering the world’s most innovative and productive meetings and events.
“Our ambassadors are always up to date on the latest research in their fields, so they’re also a direct resource for us to keep up with the trends in each sector,” she says. “So for us it’s about being smarter about what’s happening across our sectors, recognizing when there’s new world-class research, and plugging that in with conferences in that sector.”
The above content was produced by the branded content SkiftX team for the upcoming Skift Cities platform, defining how cities are connecting visitors and locals to co-create the future of urban UX.
For more insight into designing meetings in the U.K., download the Skift 2018 report: How UK Cities Excel at Hosting Conferences in Advanced and Creative Industries.