There can be no doubt that delegates who attend meetings, exhibitions, conferences and congresses of all types are part of the visitor economy of a destination. What is still somewhat amazing is that many policy makers and the civil servants who advise them, and implement policy, believe it is simply enough to call all those who visit for meetings and events, tourists, and that a generic tourism strategy will bring increased numbers from all visitor sectors.
While there can be no doubt those leisure tourists and those attending meetings and events use many elements of a similar supply chain, the purpose of the visit, the content of the visit and how the visit is assessed as being successful vary dramatically.
Also, there is an enormous difference in how a destination is chosen for leisure and for a meeting. If these differences are accepted, a distinct business development and marketing approach is needed for any given sector.
This basic premise of market segmentation would generally require different strategies for each sector – again nothing revolutionary here. However, what is now emerging is that successful destination marketing strategies in a world of fast developing competition (there are some 5,000 towns and cities in Europe alone) should ideally incorporate a macro destination strategy. What do I mean by this? Essentially, a destination strategy needs to be a carefully crafted relationship between the businesses which goes to make up that economic base of the destination, (such as in the fields of healthcare, sciences and technology, agriculture, creative industries, manufacturing and finance, to name a few) the academic and research focus of their higher education institutions, the investment strategies of the destination, and the destination marketing and business development activity and objectives of a convention bureau (whatever the destination marketing organisation is called) is key.
This “joined up” approach should not only generate more meetings, conferences and trade events for a destination (and the direct spend, taxation revenue and employment stemming from this economic activity), but should also underpin the economy of that destination by reinforcing core economic activity, and facilitate knowledge transfer from the speakers/delegates who attend to the professionals in the sector locally, thus reinforcing the notion of a centre (destination) for excellence.
It is also generally accepted that by focussing on core sectors, the pool of future talent can be enhanced, which serves to reinforce competitive advantage and economic success.
Recent examples of London seeking to generate more bioscience conferences linked to the research undertaken at the new Crick institute and technology events in turn linked to London’s Tech Week, where a whole range of business events are focussed in a way which helps promote London as a centre for technological start-ups, are good examples of this link between the destination marketing strategies and the existing/developing economic strength of a destination through its core sectors.
Any joined up strategy needs a joined up operational plan and it’s not enough to simply do some traditional marketing and business development.
Targeted research about which international associations, companies and which of the many relevant international NGOs is also needed to identify what meetings, conferences events are actually happening and who decides on the destination where they are taken.
Alongside this, the clever destinations are now deploying a range of tools to generate demand. Ambassador schemes are now fast emerging and rightly so if the Belfast example is anything to go by, where a very high percentage of the international business won was secured through the work of its 1,000 member ambassador programme.
Subvention (or investment incentives,) of both cash and/or cash in kind type is also becoming more common. Interestingly, some industry commentators call “foul” if destinations offer substantial subvention. I find such a reaction strange when manufacturing and research companies have been benefiting from just such investment support for decades, why not our industry? So, if we want to demonstrate just how important our sector is, why would we not deploy such a business olive branch?
For any strategy to be effective, it’s key to have the right human resources and cash budget that are able and equipped to interact with the market place. There is simply no point in having an ambassador programme if there is not a well-crafted plan to make it happen with sufficient management resources and budget to ensure the ambassadors themselves have the right tools to persuade their professional community or organisation to bring their event to the ambassador’s destination.
In the world of meetings and events marketing and business development, activity really needs to be based on face-to-face engagement as the choice of a destination often involves considerable expenditure by the client and you can be certain that as a destination representative your competition will get face-to-face with prospective clients to offer a personalised business solution to their needs.
I continue to observe many destinations striving to compete in an increasingly competitive market with a depressing number doing it the way they have always done or simply employing a scattergun approach to marketing and business development because frankly this can be the least line of resistance.
Strategy can be a mystery to many; to those who are bold enough to drive through a strategy linked to the wider economic activity of a destination WILL reap the benefits, those that don’t will find their success rate less than their clever destination competitors.
Paul Kennedy MBE, is Director and Owner of Kennedy Integrated Solutions, a meetings industry consultancy. He focuses on destination, event and venue strategic business development and his client list has principally been international. Paul advises companies, venues, convention bureaux and national tourist bodies.
Kennedy is also part of Advantage Consultants, a global collaboration of six independent consultancy company owners with extensive experience and expertise in helping destinations, venues, individuals and event companies improve their business positioning in markets to generate more business.
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