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Last Updated : Oct 01, 2019 06:25 PM IST | Source: New York Times

As business conferences change, their hosts are changing, too

Business conferences and events are changing, and traditional meeting destinations are changing along with them. In addition, more smaller cities are getting into the market.

New York Times @moneycontrolcom

Cannes has been a hub for meetings and events since the Cannes Film Festival began in 1946. But, said Régis Faure, director of tourism for Cannes, the gatherings are moving beyond the convention center, the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès, and are looking “more and more like a festival.”

“People want to have some fun,” Faure said. “They want to meet in nice settings,” on the beach, in restaurants and at places near the convention center.

Business conferences and events are changing, and traditional meeting destinations are changing along with them. In addition, more smaller cities are getting into the market.


Hotel capacity, meeting space and airport access remain the basic needs, but more destinations are playing up their distinctive venues and creating unique experiences. Authenticity, sustainability, technology, community engagement and of course, reasonable prices, experts say, are increasingly important to attract business groups.

For the largest gatherings, only “a handful can compete, but we’re seeing the emergence of more and more smaller cities,” said Chris McAndrews, vice president of marketing for Cvent Hospitality Cloud, a division of Cvent, a meetings, events and hospitality technology provider.

Top destinations have not changed significantly. Orlando, Florida, remains the No. 1 meeting spot in the United States, followed by Las Vegas and Chicago. London, Berlin and Barcelona, Spain, are the top cities in Europe. But cities like Napa, California, Edinburgh, Scotland, and Beirut were added to Cvent’s annual lists of Top Meeting & Event Destinations Worldwide for 2019, while surprising or unexpected locations including Aurora, Colorado, continue to gain popularity among corporate event planners. Cvent is one of several groups that rank meeting locations.

“The continued growth of supply and options has leveled the playing field,” McAndrews said. “Destinations can compete more effectively than ever.”

The meetings and events industry gained traction in the 1980s and ’90s and “grew exponentially,” said Richard Aaron, who has long been in event management and is an adjunct assistant professor at the Jonathan M. Tisch Center for Hospitality and Tourism at New York University. “Now it’s exploding. But it’s up to destinations to start rolling up their sleeves and be creative. If they don’t, they get left behind.”

The potential payoff is substantial: The Events Industry Council estimated that the business event industry contributed $2.5 trillion to the global economy in 2017; events generated $1.07 trillion in spending, from planning to travel.

The 2008 recession was an events boon for smaller cities, according to Kristi Casey Sanders, a director for Meeting Professionals International, a global association with some 17,000 members.

“When it was a sellers’ market, hotels could charge whatever they wanted,” Sanders said. “Some of the smaller cities offered more negotiating room, excellent amenities and special treatment, without the price tag of a better-known destination.”

Locales like Athens, Georgia, the Outer Banks of North Carolina and Medellín, Colombia, “offer a lot of culture, great natural beauty and fun, funky local color,” she said. “And smaller cities often have tighter relationships with local vendors, and often bend over backwards to attract your business.”

Randi Morritt, director of marketing for Visit Aurora in Colorado, said that is exactly her point. “We like to delight and surprise and impress our clients” with customized experiences, like roping lessons, cowboy poetry readings or a demonstration by a local nonprofit group that rescues raptors, she said.

In 2019, Aurora moved up nine places on the Cvent Top 50 Meeting Destinations in the U.S., to 33. It also ranked higher in 2019 than better-known destinations, including Louisville, Kentucky, Portland, Oregon, and St. Louis.

A recent hotel building boom helped, but so did the city’s marketing strategy and a “boots on the ground” approach, Morritt said. “Being small and new, we move quickly and nimbly to make things happen.”

Some cities have been too successful in luring meetings. Antonia Koedijk, director for North America for the Netherlands Board of Tourism & Conventions, said overtourism has lead to some changes in the Netherlands.

“In certain months, there is hardly any availability to be found at meeting venues in Amsterdam, and hotel capacity can be sparse and more expensive than usual,” she said. “The focus on Amsterdam is important, but venues are bursting at the seams.” She said that was one of the reasons “we absolutely try to direct business travelers to other destinations.”

One strategy that helps to mitigate the negative impact of tourism, she said, is when events engage the community in a meaningful way. During a recent medical conference in Amsterdam, for example, sponsors set up a booth to offer free lung examinations to residents.

“Ten years ago, distance from the airport was the main selling point,” Koedijk said. “It’s still relevant, but now it’s much more the whole story around the convention; there is more of a focus on content rather than logistics.”

Like Amsterdam, smaller cities like The Hague and Rotterdam are easily accessible by train from Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. “You can arrive at Rotterdam Central Station by high-speed train from Schiphol in a maximum of 26 minutes, before you’ve checked all your emails,” said Catherine Kalamidas, account manager for Rotterdam Partners Convention Bureau.

The number of meetings and events in The Hague nearly doubled in 2018 from 2013, and Rotterdam also won some big gatherings in recent years, including the 65th Eurovision Song Contest in 2020.

“There is a niche for everyone; the key is figuring out what your DNA is,” said Bas Schot, who oversees meetings and events at The Hague Convention Bureau. The only city in the Netherlands with direct access to a beach, The Hague is walkable, compact and centralized, he said. “If you’re a small group of 2,000, you could own the city.”

Rotterdam features several unique venues, including the solar-powered Floating Pavilion, three transparent half-spheres that float in Rotterdam’s harbor and can be arranged in flexible ways, and the Floating Farm, a working farm with milk-producing cows, for small events and presentations on topics like sustainability, agriculture and solar energy.

c.2019 New York Times News Service


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First Published on Oct 1, 2019 06:25 pm

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