By Michel Couturier, as published on IMEX Exhibition's Blog.

The International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) estimates that there are approximately 24,000 different association meetings organised on a regular basis. In the same report ICCA also highlight some of the common features of association meetings such as their regularity, the rotation of host destinations and the long lead times. (Source: ICCA Statistics Report Public Abstract 2015)

The thought of so many events taking place around the globe raises questions in my mind:

  • How do association executives make their destination selections?
  • How do destinations attract these events?
  • Do they have a common goal?

Associations plan meetings to reach out to their membership, offer education, facilitate exchange, acquire new members, share knowledge, advance social or medical issues, connect with local experts and raise funds for research or scholarships.

Associations are by their nature structured and the planning of annual conventions needs to follow a set structure too. The selection of destinations for future conventions is made years in advance and the decision process is made clear, in most cases, through committee board and general assembly meetings.

It is a strategic business decision.

On the other side, destinations want to attract these global events. They invest in new airports, state-of-the-art” convention centres, new hotels, trendy coffee shops and offer a vast array of services from qualified service providers (DMCs, PCOs, etc.). It is crucial that these destinations are equipped and well prepared should they be selected as the host destination for thousands of association members.

Infrastructure is an important criterion for association executives when making the decision on destination, but it is not the only one. Associations are looking beyond infrastructure and towards universities, industries, and scientific research connected to their specialties. They are making a strategic decision for the association and not simply selecting an attractive destination for their members.

Destination marketers must learn to influence that strategic decision by being equally strategic in their approach. They need to investigate and become knowledgeable on their local universities, industries, scientific research, leaders and influencers to grow a network of contacts. In addition, they have to communicate this expertise to association executives.

It’s important to note that associations and destinations have a common goal, legacy. The recent Best Cities Global Meeting held in Dubai, with the theme “From Success to Significance for Events and Destinations”, focused on long-term business development opportunities. in other words, the legacy impact, for both the association and the destination. This type of common goal is critical to the success of any business relationship and therefore vital to the success of association events.

Associations and destinations need each other. They must get to know and understand each other beyond the mere size of the convention centre and the potential revenues.

So, how do they connect? How do they share that understanding and that knowledge to reach the common goal? The answer is research, discussions, meetings, conference calls, Skype, you name it! But most of all face to face, one on one. No one can deny the significance of in person interactions. And as the selection of a destination is a lengthy process; constant contact is necessary, in person whenever possible.

Both association executives and destination marketers have tight schedules and even tighter budgets so trade shows, forums, seminars or conventions that provide opportunities to connect are very valuable.

The association industry is one that continues to grow and which no destination marketer can afford to ignore. By looking beyond the obvious merits of their destination, such as efficient infrastructure, and by taking every opportunity to build personal relationships, they can work with associations to achieve their common goals while reaping long-term rewards for their destinations.

Michel Couturier, CDME, Managing Partner, Marketing Challenges International