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Looking beyond ICCA statistics: A guide to destination benchmarking with The Business of Cities

When it comes to marketing and PR opportunities based on rankings, we are keen for our members to know that the possibilites go far beyond our annual Statistics Reports! It all depends on how you want to profile yourself or your destination...
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Updated in May 2019

When it comes to marketing and PR opportunities based on rankings, we are keen for our members to know that the possibilites go far beyond our annual Statistics Reports! It all depends on how you want to profile yourself or your destination.

As one of the very few reports which compares destinations’ meetings-related performance on a global scale, the annual ICCA rankings are one of the most eagerly anticipated industry publications. Due to lack of global figures on other meeting segments, they are often mistakenly perceived as the destination rankings for the meetings industry as a whole, even though they only cover a narrow segment of the total meetings market. To be included, meetings must be organised by associations, must be held on a regular basis, have at least 50 delegates, and rotate between at least three countries.

Whilst these ICCA rankings provide some evidence of a city or country's relative performance, it is only when all data on all the meetings taking place in a destination are considered - corporate, intergovernmental, non-rotating, etc - that a true, complete picture can be seen. ICCA always advises its members to collect their own statistics on all meetings they organise, or consult other rankings - such as AMI Magazine's 'alternative ICCA rankings' that it releases each year with different meetings criteria, often providing different results - to provide a full picture of their performance. 

Alternative approaches to benchmarking according to The Business of Cities

ICCA has partnered with our friends Greg Clark, Tim Moonen and Jake Nunley at The Business of Cities to share with ICCA members their comprehensive analysis of the most useful and insightful global cities benchmarks. This additional resource demonstrates that there are numerous alternative approaches to the analysis of competitive position and performance! 

The Business of Cities has been tracking the comparative benchmarking of city performance for over a decade. By synthesising all of the global comparative benchmarks published since 2007, it analyses trends in the development patterns of over 800 cities, and in Autumn 2019 will publish the update to its latest global review of the benchmarks and the evolution of the science of measuring cities, in collaboration with JLL.

Dr Tim Moonen explains the role of global rankings in destination marketing at the 2015 ICCA Congress in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

How can I make comparative benchmarks work for me and my destination?

Urban benchmarking yields many insights into how cities can position themselves in the global urban system, including:

  • how perceptions match up to measurable performance
  • how cities are managing urbanisation and the unintended consequences of growth
  • the extent to which cities can deliver dependable outcomes over whole cycles

But benchmarking is currently in a period of rapid expansion, and the number of studies continues to grow exponentially. With over 600 comparative benchmarks now in existence worldwide, the comprehensiveness and robustness of these measures, and their ability to be leveraged by destination marketers, now varies more than ever before. As a result, it is important to know how to use them most effectively. According to The Business of Cities' guide to understanding comparative city performance, it is more useful to:

  • Look at all the studies that compare cities - not just simple rankings lists, but also multi-factor index reports, large-scale perception surveys by international polling firms, and other comparative analysis of city competitiveness. This means looking beyond raw measures of destination appeal and consulting studies that measure cities' performance across the whole spectrum of audiences - visitors, investors, residents, students and others.
  • Analyse your city’s performance across as many measures as is possible, rather than just a small sample of individual indexes, which may have specific focuses and methodological strengths and shortcomings.
  • Make sure to analyse and understand the full growth potential of the city. This can be achieved by:
    • Looking at year-on-year change to identify patterns over 2 to 5-year timescales that reflect the impacts of real projects and policies
    • Tracking indices that look to the future and measure themes such as long-term economic and environmental sustainability and resilience.
    • Keeping an eye on how successfully cities are responding to challenges and managing growth externalities - e.g. congestion and housing unaffordability   
  • Compare cities that really are similar to yours. Tracking comparative change among cities with similar population sizes, assets or specialisations is more revealing than examining all cities en masse, because 'peer' cities tend to share similar imperatives and capacities for improvement, and in some cases compete with one another for contested opportunities (e.g. high-level rotating meetings).

Which benchmarks can I choose from?

A sample of some of the more robust and comprehensive measures includes:

The Business of Cities also provides diagnostic assessments for individual cities and offers support to government and businesses seeking to create their own public or in-house benchmarking tools. Some recent examples include Oslo and Sydney.

The Business of Cities

The Business of Cities is an urban intelligence firm whose mission is to help organisations to make the most of the changing 21st century relationships between businesses and cities. Headquartered in London, the firm works with more than 100 cities and companies worldwide each year. A key part of their work involves providing cities, metropolitan areas and regions with comparative benchmarking services and developing tools that help to shift attention away from short-term branding exercises towards the creation of more balanced and compelling identities and narrative strategies.

Looking for even more PR tips when it comes to rankings? Find out how you can successfully use the ICCA rankings in your promotional activities!

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