By putting so much emphasis on the attractiveness of a destination, are convention bureaux doing a disservice to delegates who attend meetings primarily to share and advance their knowledge? Possibly. When the Vienna Convention Bureau asked 4,000 visitors their reasons for attending a medical conference the charms of “The City of Dreams” barely registered as a motivating factor.
“…the 'destination' did not feature in the top 10 list of answers,” said Christian Mutschlechner, director VCB, “(however) science, education, networking all featured strongly. Therefore the future for attracting healthcare events to a destination is primarily about the exchange of science."
Martin Jensen, head of international congress and events at pharmaceutical giant Lundbeck, agreed: “It is not necessarily the most attractive destination that wins the day but the one that suits the scientific focus of the association and the delegates." And so did Caroline Mackenzie, of Congrex Holdings, who added: "…the way people learn and communicate, (and use) social media are all having an effect on the structure of face-to-face medical congresses, as well as compliance and regulation."
The latter is a salient point, with various codes governing how the pharmaceutical industry interacts with physicians having an impact on the bidding process for medical congresses. The PhRMA (Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America) code for example bans medical meetings from being held in ‘resort locations’ although the wording is left grey to allow for interpretation.
The overriding message appears to be clear. Scientific delegates do not come to sample the local cuisine or go sightseeing. They come to learn. Show them how your city can best facilitate that learning and you’ll stand a better chance than if you just concentrate on its tourism offer.
And yet we must take all of this with a teaspoon of salt. How associations decide where to convene is a notoriously murky area, with politics no doubt playing a huge part. And let us not pretend a destination’s attractiveness – its food, its architecture, its culture – plays an insignificant role. Vienna’s 4,000 physicians may not have cited the city as a draw, but would you expect them to?
I am reminded of an association executive I spoke to recently who said “…it would be nice to think our delegates are here primarily for the science, but there’s always a difference between the number of people who register for congress and the number of people in session. Where are they?”
· A seminar presentation is available online www.iapco.org as of end June.
Right picture: It means nothing to me!