Seoul’s convention bureau is promising to expand the
criteria for financial help given to international association meetings. The
bureau, a division of Seoul Tourism Organisation, wants to introduce an element
of quid pro quo beyond the
nitty-gritty of room nights and delegate numbers. When dishing out financial
support it will now consider applications from associations who pledge to
improve the environmental performance of their meetings, for example, or who promise
to hire more local suppliers.
This is a positive step, which should be embraced by associations - not least because it adds legitimacy to the whole business of subvention. Lest
we forget, the financial help associations receive to stage their meetings is public money: with it should come responsibility.
Details of the new See You in Seoul special package are still being finalised,
but it could be seen as a welcome corrective to the largesse of too many
destinations and the complacency of too many associations.
Can this idea be taken further? Destinations vying for
meetings business are busily repositioning themselves as knowledge or
intellectual capitals. Increasingly they regard association events as a way of
attracting inward investment and talent. Delegates are finally being seen as disseminators
of knowledge, potential ambassadors for a city, not just people who spend a lot
of money in hotels, restaurants and taxis. In making a more grown-up case for
meetings, convention bureaux are desperate to show examples of legacy benefits
to gain the support of their political leaders.
This is where the quid
pro quo could be expanded. It is obviously much easier for associations to
keep track of the outcomes of their meetings than the host destinations: where
a member signs a lucrative deal on the back of an exhibition, for example, or
when a White Paper unveiled at congress goes on to influence public policy.
Therefore destinations could offer subventions on the proviso that associations
promise to report back significant legacy outcomes of the meeting in question
over a set period of time.
Not only would this help bureaux make a stronger case for meetings,
it would also encourage associations themselves to investigate the lasting
benefits of their events to show their members. In an age where face to face
meetings are under constant attack from social media and open access publishing,
real evidence of their worth, not
just supposition, may well prove their saviour.