100 Years of Advancing Destinations

How European Convention Bureaus Partner with Economic Development

Author: Guest Greg Oates
Posted: November 05, 2015
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The following article is section of DMAI’s e-book The Evolving Role of DMOs in a Shifting Marketplace. To read the entire e-book, click here


European convention bureaus are developing strategic alliances with their local knowledge industries and economic development agencies to differentiate their destinations, following the rise in the overall quality of meetings infrastructure throughout the continent, and the emergence of second tier cities from Krakow to Zagreb.

For example, the Hamburg Convention Bureau was able to successfully secure the annual IATA World Passenger Symposium in October 2015 because the city has formally developed a cluster of mobility and logistics companies based in the region around the port city. “Destination ambassadors” at those companies now work together with the convention bureau to sell the destination to meeting planners who are sourcing destinations for large corporate and association events in the global transportation industry.

This idea of DMOs clustering their local knowledge professionals in a region, and packaging them as ambassadors to attract specific industry events, was first formulated by DMOs like the German Convention Bureau (GCB) over the last five years. However, it’s taken considerable time for the individual cities to define their strongest sectors—such as IT, financial, transportation, medical, bioscience, green energy, robotics, nanotechnology, etc.—and then create collections of ambassador companies around those specific knowledge industries.

With those clusters now more firmly established, the GCB is positioning its brand message with the tagline: “Germany. Success Through Expertise.” It’s basically a shift from marketing the destination’s convention infrastructure hardware to promoting a region’s intellectual software. Anecdotally, the numbers suggest the strategy is paying off. The GCB's 2015 Meeting & Event Barometer report shows that 25.6 million international meeting attendees visited Germany in 2014, a jump of 54% over the 16.6 million arrivals in pre-recession 2007.

The GCB is also developing a new website organized by industry sector, segmented by each destination’s specific areas of expertise. That content will then be further bucketed by the type of groups booking Germany, including corporations, associations and third party agencies.

“In 2012 we asked event planners how important it was to offer industry-specific expertise, and we had over 80% of them say it was important, but at that point, there were only about 25% of German suppliers focusing on that,” said Laura d’Elsa, North American director of the GCB. “We’re now preparing an official survey where we’ll be asking German suppliers directly: ‘Are you incorporating local expertise in your key industries in your marketing strategy?’ And then the new website will show a lot of case studies where you will see how that clustering of industry expertise in key industries, and promotion of that industry expertise, is driving new meetings and convention business. Hamburg and IATA is a perfect example of that.”

The Netherlands Board of Tourism & Conventions (NBTC) is also launching a new website this year geared mostly toward the association meetings market where industry education is a top priority. Antonia Koedijk, director of business development for the NBTC, emphasizes how it’s becoming more difficult for tourism companies to differentiate themselves to association planners without a significant amount of industry-specific educational content.

“We’re trying to get the message out to our partners about how we differentiate our knowledge economies, and how we communicate that to international planners, so that’s the reason for this new online portal,” Koedijk told us. “We have had an association focus since 2007, and we have the hardware in place. So now it’s all about where the expertise can be found, who the university faculty are, and who are the business thought leaders, because those are the questions we’re receiving from planners in the marketplace.”

Rotterdam provides a good example of how DMOs are officially partnering with economic development and delineating industry expertise. The newly established Rotterdam Partners alliance includes the Rotterdam Partners Tourism Board & Convention Bureau, Rotterdam Economic Council, and the Rotterdam Knowledge Ambassadors network.

“Now we’re trying to focus more on leveraging Rotterdam’s network of academic and corporate colleagues to reach our clients abroad to deliver a better convention experience,” says Baris Soyogul, account manager of business events at Rotterdam Partners. “So we are basically professionalizing the experience more because it is a very competitive market in Europe.”

In early 2015, the newly formed Manchester Growth Company incorporated the consumerfacing Visit Manchester and trade-specific Marketing Manchester DMOs with the city’s business and economic development organizations to further exploit the potential to create new conferences revolving around the city’s expertise in science. Manchester can now bring an exponentially larger number of potential partnerships to the table when showcasing the city during advanced negotiations with planners.

“Destination marketing organizations do know the most about a city’s infrastructure for congresses and meetings, but there’s no way with 50 staff members, for example, that they can know all of the companies operating in the city,” says Nick Brook-Sykes, director of tourism for Marketing Manchester. “So it’s not just the convention bureau acting alone anymore. By working with our colleagues in investments, by working with our colleagues in research, that gives us a whole new network within our organization, because we’re all under one organization. That provides opportunities for a much richer conference experience, deeper immersion into the city within that conference theme, and the possibility of working with more academic and business specialists rooted in those fields.”