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Destinations are still hurting from the loss of inbound tourism, but spare a thought for those cities particularly impacted by being unable to host conventions, conferences and other large scale events.

While the tourist’s discretionary spending will be missed, two destination experts have warned how a host of more intangible benefits are being lost, which range from events’ potential to attract overseas talent, to supporting a wide range of local jobs.

Meeting planners will now play a critical role helping those cities recover.

Identifying the Long-Tail Effects

So what’s at stake exactly?

In Toronto, Canada, the knock-on effect is being felt across the board, according to the president and CEO of Destination Toronto.

“The absence of the visitor has been noticed. In urban destinations, tourism is not necessarily well recognized,” said Scott Beck, speaking at the Skift Live Destinations and Sustainability Summit on Wednesday.

Scott Beck, president and CEO, Destination Toronto., and Lyn Lewis-Smith, CEO of BESydney, speaking with EventMB's Miguel Neves at a Skift Live event.

Scott Beck, president and CEO, Destination Toronto., and Lyn Lewis-Smith, CEO of BESydney, speaking with EventMB’s Miguel Neves at a Skift Live event.

For example, water taxi operators are hit because the convention center is closed. “There’s an ecosystem around the convention center, it’s not just heads on beds,” he added during the Beyond Leisure: How Destinations are Attracting Business Events for Economic Growth panel. “It’s restaurants, linen suppliers, all of the farmers who bring in organic food — that whole ecosystem has been impacted.”

As a result, events are a large part of Toronto’s economic ethos, and economic community.

In Sydney, one organization has been spearheading attempts to count the invisible costs of hosting events, thanks to ongoing research with the University of Sydney Business School. It’s been looking at the long-tail benefits of hosting global meetings in Sydney for more than 10 years.

“There are many things we’re missing out on, and that’s being recognized,” said Lyn Lewis-Smith, CEO of BESydney, also speaking at the Skift Live event.

According to research of 1,000 international delegates, over five industries, who had visited Sydney for a conference, 41 percent said they wanted to live and work, or study, in the city, and seven percent had already applied, she said.

“That shows you the power of hosting global meetings. What’s missing now is that we’re not attracting that talent,” Lewis-Smith added.

The lack of events also prompted many people to quit the hospitality sector, due to job security issues. “We don’t have immigration, so no students, and our labor force is struggling, as well as the supply chain,” she added.

And while virtual/hybrid events can offer some level of continuity, they only really focus on people’s faces, and are unable to shine a light on aspects such as a city’s infrastructure or tourist hotspots — “they’re great, but you need broadcasting rights to be able to showcase that in a virtual environment.”

Strategies To Kickstart Economic Growth

Governments are now sitting up and looking at their recovery strategies.

And to get a headstart, Beck said that cities shouldn’t go after attracting audiences to fill a gap in a particular sector, but should rather go after industries where there’s already some affinity.

“Align with what’s already happening in your community organically,” he said, citing Toronto’s strength in artificial intelligence. “We know that there are several business events, or key conferences, in that business space, (so) we then go and work collaboratively with these thought leaders in our community,” he said.

“We leverage and lean into what our community is already doing, take leaders from that community and go out and win business, and target business, that reflects that community,” he added, citing Sydney as well as Washington, with Destination DC, as leaders in this area.

On top of this community-first approach, destination marketers need to align themselves with what’s happening at a state level. Sydney, for example, was adhering to the state’s economic blueprint

Sydney is currently in the process of building a smart city in Greater Western Sydney, where it’s also building a second international airport. BESyndey is now looking around the world to bring over events that are about building cities, where themes could include urban design, architecture, waterways and intelligent transport networks.

“Our research is purely focused on where can we bring in the world leaders, that can discuss and debate what we’re doing, and give us the opportunity to showcase to a global audience, but collaborate on getting the best outcome,” Lewis-Smith said. “It leans back to beyond tourism benefits; it’s not just the delegates’ expenditure, but look at all the outcomes, from foreign direct investment, trade and global talent, that we can expand from that strategy.”

Photo Credit: Events are a large part of Toronto's economic ethos. Maarten van den Heuvel / Unsplash