Legacy has been the talk of the industry for some time now. Some will think it has everything to do with the efforts some people make to justify what they do, others will point out it is the industry itself trying to come up with a special raison d’être, while there will be the occasional callout for ‘value redesigning’ of events themselves. At a time when the word tends to be overused, meaning everything and its opposite, it might be time to go back to the basics of legacy.

There was a time when the meetings industry was viewed as solely based on what delegates and organisers would spend during an event. It was an easy thing to measure: people would fly in, rent event space, book accommodation, go to restaurants, commute by taxis… that gave a pretty good picture of the financial impact of business events in a particular destination/venue. Today, the focus has clearly shifted to the value of what these events actually achieve for organisers, participants and host communities and the legacy that they leave.

But first are legacy and impact the same thing? In the business events industry, the two words are trendy, but people tend to use them interchangeably, thus creating blurred lines sometimes. Genevieve Leclerc, founder of Caravelle Strategies, says the difference is quite clear. Legacy is something left or handed down by a predecessor; a notion hard to measure, as it implies changing the lives of the attendees and the community, but it might not be what an association set out to do in the first place. On the other hand, impact makes a significant change by addressing an existing challenge, social, economic or other type. It is durable and deliberate.

Broader values

There are many ways in which association events can leave a legacy. If you want to demonstrate the kind of broader “output” values that are associated with meetings, congresses or conventions, you have to think in broad terms and look at the economic, business, professional, academic and community benefits that such events create. If those are a bit more difficult to grasp sometimes, that also places the meeetings industry as a whole at the very centre of the global economy and the related scientific, professional, academic, business and social advancements it helps achieve.

But how exactly to appreciate the legacy that association events can leave? That is exactly what the long-standing collaboration between the University of Technology Sydney and Business Events Sydney aims to do. Since 2010 indeed, BESydney has partnered with UTS to produce a series of reports that identify the social legacies of business events. Their findings reveal a strong correlation between face-to-face collaboration and the growth of the global ‘knowledge economy’ – vital to government, associations and communities alike.

The first industry study released by BESydney in 2011, Beyond Tourism Benefits: measuring the social legacies of business events documented the broad and long-lasting legacies of five international congresses held in Sydney between 2009 and 2011, reporting these events facilitated the sharing of knowledge, ideas, techniques, materials, and technologies by providing local educators, practitioners and researchers with access to a network of international colleagues. This networking gave delegates an avenue for new business and research collaborations, which in turn generate innovation, ideas and research agendas for years to come. A more recent study with UTS – Conferences: catalysts for thriving economies – also supported that face-to-face networking opportunities can spark global collaboration, which in turn can progress into new products and services.

Embarking on a project

The Joint Meetings Industry Council (JMIC), a communications platform established in 1978 connecting international meetings industry associations to share industry trends and best practices, has also embarked on a project to identify and document a series of representative events that illustrate those broader economic, academic, business and professional achievements of global meetings, conventions and exhibitions. 

JMIC President Joachim König explains that “it consists of two key components: first, an academic one consisting of a team of university researchers who can provide the academic rigor we need to enhance credibility of the results and help advise organisers on best practices for value measurement, and secondly, a vehicle that can make the most of the very compelling “stories” that arise from the project – events that illustrate benefits in ways that the readers and, most importantly, our key audiences – can understand and relate to.”

The latest progress of the project can be reviewed on The Iceberg (www.the-iceberg.org), which provides a communications platform for the advancement of the industry’s value proposition. The scope of the case studies is indeed quite wide: think about knowledge expansion, relationship building, collaboration, the attraction of global talent, the improvement of education, or fundraising and investment, among many, many other fields of endeavours. 

Real-life case studies

In the course of Boardroom’s existence, we have published quite a few stories relating to how association conferences have had lasting legacies in destinations. Far from being anecdotal, legacy, in these contexts, is not a mere outcome of an activity or an effort. It has everything to do with building values and engaging communities.  

Representing the Rehabilitation International World Congress, Secretary General Venus Ilagan emphasised the need for the empowerment and inclusion of people with disabilities, which was also the congress’s main theme. Held in Edinburgh in 2016, the challenge was to prepare the city for the hundreds of attendees with disabilities. Rehabilitation International’s vision is to ensure that when it holds its world congresses, it should leave a legacy behind; this time, in close collaboration with Convention Edinburg, it went far beyond having an economic impact and a global prestige for the city, it fundamentally changed Edinburgh’s and Scotland’s approach to accessibility and inclusion and in shaping a better future for all. As a legacy from the Congress, there has been a destination-wide working group that was created, focusing on accessible and inclusive tourism, called Everyone’s Edinburgh.

Linda Garzón, from the Greater Bogotá Convention Bureau, explains how the vision of leaving a legacy should start already from the bidding process. In Bogotá’s case, bidding for One Young World Summit (OYW) engaged young citizens to participate in different movements around the world; they are now measuring the impact of the projects regarding their contribution to the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals. In the same way, the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates raised the level of dialogue around peace and contributed to the peace building process of the country by live streaming the event in seven countries. 

In Sapporo, Japan, the 5th International Wildlife Management Congress in July 2015 brought together 1,400 participants from all over the world, with a goal to enhance global sustainability and the conservation of wildlife. The legacy component of the Congress was impressive. Delegates and citizens joined forces for a good cause, clearing out and cutting down thickets and tall grass along Toyohira River, while Rakuno Gakuen University and Sapporo City Government signed an Agreement on Policy Proposals on Biodiversity. Thanks to this, research activities on alien species countermeasures and wildlife management discussed at the event are still continuing to this day.

This article is written by Rémi Dévé, Chief Editor at Boardroom, and was originally featured in ICCA's new industry report on the 55-year history of international association meetings, "A Modern History of International Association Meetings - UPDATE: 1963-2017". Download the full report from www.iccaworld.org/55years for more insights into the legacy of association meetings.