A combination of small-city hospitality, modern facilities, a collaborative approach, and an effort to show off individuality is winning over event organizers who tend to select big cities for their conferences.
Smaller cities are aggressively chasing major events to capitalize on rising costs and availability constraints in the traditional convention capitals.
Cities like Manchester in the UK, Gothenburg in Sweden, and Adelaide in Australia are harnessing all their resources in both private and public sectors and academia to attract major events and to ensure good outcomes for event organizers and delegates alike.
These cities are notching up successes at a time when the meetings sector is more receptive to change, and organizers are willing to look beyond the established host cities like Las Vegas, London, Berlin, and Singapore, which are still struggling to meet demand.
The British Small Animal Veterinary Association, organizer of the largest and longest-running small animal congress in Europe, announced it will move to Manchester in the UK from Birmingham in 2021 as part of a three-year deal.
The bid, which was secured through a partnership approach between convention bureau Marketing Manchester and the venue, Manchester Central, will bring up to 10,000 delegates to the city for five days of lectures, practical sessions and presentations – and is expected to add $140 million (GBP110 million) to the city’s local economy over the three-year period.
The move from the ICC Birmingham, host of the conference for the past 30 years, was prompted in part by the facilities at Manchester Central which will maximize delegates’ time at the congress by centralizing all activities under one roof.
The latest win comes in the wake of the successful 15th International Congress of the Society for Melanoma Research which attracted 750 delegates from 38 countries in October, generating around $2.56 million (GBP2 million) in economic value to the city.
This congress was secured for the city through a partnership approach including the Manchester Convention Bureau, venue Manchester Central and the University of Manchester.
The Manchester Central Exchange Hall hosted the formal elements of the conference over four days, supplemented by a seven-day fringe meeting schedule. And it seems the event has put Manchester on the medical conference map, with the European Association for Hemophilia and Allied Disorders and the European Society for Clinical Virology signing up for conferences there in 2020 and 2021, respectively.
“Manchester offers a myriad of major events and conference facilities and centers in the heart of the city center,” said Sheona Southern, managing director at Marketing Manchester. “The diversity of venues available within a relatively compact area, supplemented by numerous places to stay, eat and relax within close proximity, all make it really easy to host a meeting in Manchester.”
The city’s other advantages include “a year-round, vibrant and well-rounded tourism offer,” Southern explained, making it more than a convenient place to meet. It’s an inspiring and vibrant place to spend time, and a great place to eat, stay, relax and network with a thriving culture, heritage and arts offer.
Another of the city’s selling points is its well-developed transport infrastructure. The city center is compact and walkable and benefits from a tram network, a free bus service, and three major national train stations.
COLLABORATION WORKS FOR GOTHENBURG
Sweden’s Gothenburg is another secondary city which punches above its weight in the events space.
“Gothenburg is just the right size for giving a large meeting or an event a high visibility,” said Annika Hallman, director of the Gothenburg Convention Bureau.
The 1,200-room Swedish Exhibition & Congress Center is Europe’s largest fully integrated hotel and congress facility in the city center and only 20 minutes from the international airport. “Everything in the city is within walking distance (and there’s) no need for transportation between venues, event arenas, hotels, restaurants, etc.,” she said, adding that her city has been voted the most sustainable meetings destination in the world for the third year.
The city’s events success can be attributed in part to the Gothenburg Convention Bureau, established more than 30 years ago to promote collaboration with academia and the public sector on the one hand, and tourism and events suppliers on the other.
“We have a strong relationship with our two universities and they are represented in our steering group. Since Gothenburg is relatively unknown, we need to work a bit harder and always involve a local professor in the bidding process. In addition, we have an established collaboration with the private sector in the region, especially with international companies with research and development.”
The collaboration is clearly working, with three associations which recently held events in the city signing multi-year contracts to return for yearly congresses for more than 3,000 delegates each.
Gothenburg’s promoters are justifiably proud of their track record: “Being a relatively small city, and not a capital, located in the far north means that we must have a holistic perspective and be a little more innovative. It’s about letting your personality show,” Hallman added.
ADELAIDE REACHES FOR THE STARS
The Australian city of Adelaide is still patting itself on the back over the success of the week-long 2017 International Astronautical Congress which drew 4,500 delegates.
While there was nothing quite on that scale in 2018, the city did host 2,300 travel industry professionals at the Australian Tourism Exchange and another 750 at a Joymain incentive group event, and planning is underway for the 3,000-delegate World Routes Conference to be held for the first time in Australasia next year.
Adelaide takes a very personal approach to event bids, with its civic leadership playing an important role in helping sell the city.
According to a member of the marketing team, the ease of access to meet with The Lord Mayor and government officials is particularly appealing to the Chinese incentive market and it gives Adelaide a unique edge over many of the larger competing destinations.
The current mayor, Sandy Vershoor, said her city is “the perfect city to host meetings and events”.
“The City of Adelaide is such a beautiful place, easy to get around, and our facilities such as the newly developed Adelaide Convention Centre are ideal for meetings and events. At the end of the day, meeting attendees can stroll out to find world-class eateries in the CBD and North Adelaide. If staying on for the weekend, they can visit Adelaide Oval, North Adelaide Golf Course, shop in Rundle Mall or take in a show at the Festival Centre”.
Like Manchester and Gothenburg, Adelaide presents itself to the meetings industry as a smaller city – with big city infrastructure.
Also like other successful events cities, the Australian city uses a collaborative framework, Team Adelaide, comprised of State government, city council, agencies and the private sector, “for quick decisions, coordinated, seamless experience to maximize the outcome for events.”
“The collaboration and opportunities to promote Adelaide that we enjoy through our partnerships with the City of Adelaide, the State Government and the entire Team Adelaide is most certainly one of the biggest assets we have in attracting events to Adelaide,” said Damien Kitto, CEO of the Adelaide Convention Bureau. “Not only does access to this caliber of local decision-makers for event owners always impress, but to also be able to assist organizers with the likes of closing down a city street or gaining access to the gardens of Government House or private room within the Town Hall for functions are invaluable tools that this group may effect”.
Matt Grant, associate director of economic development & tourism in the city administration, understands the importance of the visitor experience, whether it’s for business or holiday.
He said the city’s economic development program recognizes that the more meetings and events Adelaide hosts, the more its brand awareness increases. This, he said, “has a large impact on city business profitability and future growth, potential to attract new businesses, investment, and future residents.”
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Photo credit: A dinner event in Adelaide, Australia. Adelaide Convention Bureau