London is playing catch-up when it comes to securing international association business and will succeed only if the city’s hoteliers, congress organisers and convention bureau pull together. Those were the findings of an intriguing debate, co-hosted by the Association of British Professional Conference Organisers (ABPCO) and Association Meetings International magazine, at International Confex.
London’s first convention centre, ICC at London ExCeL, opened in May 2010 along with a commitment from the city to win a greater share of the lucrative association market. Today’s meeting - Removing Barriers: Can London be a Success in the International Convention Market? - brought together PCOs, hoteliers, and tourism chiefs to discuss the way forward.
It emerged major hotel chains in the capital are largely ignorant of the international association market, which - according to suppliers’ organisation ICCA - is worth more than US$17bn a year. And despite repeated invitations to attend the half-day session, only a handful of hoteliers turned up. Yet other cities have shown how a joined-up approach to bidding can be successful.
Scott Taylor, head of the Glasgow City Marketing Bureau, explained how his organisation had formed close alliances with hoteliers and congress organisers to attract major conventions. Perhaps uniquely among destination marketing organisations, GCMB will often pay for hotel rooms up front to help professional congress organisers overcome cash-flow problems.
He said one in 20 hotel beds in the city were now sold to conference delegates.
“I don’t get out of bed for less than 1,000 delegates, because, simply, big events make more money. The hotel community is essential to all of this and that’s why we meet with them on a regular basis.”
Taylor said a good working relationship between a city and its hoteliers could reduce the likelihood of distressed inventory – where hotel rooms discounted at the last minute to fill capacity. He described wholesalers like GroupOn and Laterooms.com as the ‘vultures’ of the industry: “Don’t feed the vultures."
Meanwhile, Ernie Kane from Marriott Hotels said ‘a big education process’ was needed to bring hoteliers up to speed with the international association business, while Michael Levie, from CitizenM Hotels, said the horizons of hoteliers and congress organisers were ‘mismatched’, with most hoteliers looking no further than a month ahead. Levie said it was in the interests of hotelier to start thinking long-term.
Dan Ritterband, director of marketing at the Mayor’s Office, and Gordon Innes, CEO London & Partners, presented powerful cases for London, but conceded it was an expensive city and subventions for travel, one of the main draws for associations, are unlikely while city coffers remained tight.
Pictured: Scott Taylor