Leaving More Than Money Behind

The Best Cities Global Alliance is helping meetings effect lasting change in their host destinations in five ways.

As part of the World Confederation for Physical Therapy Congress 2015, held in Singapore last May, the Singapore Physiotherapy Association and the national Ministry of Health formalized the creation of a four-year bachelor’s-degree program in physiotherapy at the Singapore Institute of Technology. When Melbourne hosted the International AIDS Conference in 2014, Australia’s health ministers pledged to eliminate new HIV infections by 2020. And to help woo the 2017 One Young World Summit, Bogotá created a public-relations campaign that spotlighted the destination’s ongoing transformation and fostered lasting relationships among its public and private stakeholders.

Not coincidentally, each of these destinations is a member of BestCities Global Alliance, a partnership of 11 convention bureaus on six continents. Recently, BestCities committed to strategically helping meeting clients leave contributions to their cities in five “legacy currencies”: financial, physical, educational (e.g., Singapore’s new degree program), emotional (Bogotá’s PR campaign), and social (Melbourne’s public-health initiative).

“BestCities recognizes that not all clients’ legacy objectives will be consistent with those of each individual partner’s cultural, legal, and political fabric,” said Paul Vallee, BestCities’ managing director. “Therefore, the alliance recognizes the need for pan-legacy objectives and parameters, which give clients guidance yet freedom to shape objectives that are also relevant and offer value to the host destination.”

Michael Foreman — founder of Kindology, a U.K.-based agency that specializes in creating CSR programs for professional events, and a member of BestCities’ customer advisory board (CAB) — helped flesh out the five legacies. “It’s not good enough anymore just to hold a meeting in the city,” Foreman said. “In order to get support from the various local governments, national governments, etc., etc., it makes sense that the event would leave a legacy behind.”

If that sounds like something that a lot of meetings and conventions are already doing, well, it is. “This is already happening,” Foreman said, but often without “any kind of significant investment or budget to achieve real tangible returns. I don’t think that the meetings industry is currently taking advantage of the potential to develop these types of initiatives.”

Different BestCities members will have different legacy drivers. “A city that’s located in Africa and has a developing-world agenda,” Foreman said, “will have a very different take on things than one in North America.”

For Foreman, it comes back to a conversation he had with a client — the CEO of a major medical association in Europe — when he first started Kindology, at the beginning of 2015. “She said to me, ‘We don’t really think that hotel rooms, coffee cups, restaurants, etc. are enough in terms of the impact of the meeting,’” Foreman said. “‘When we choose a destination, we want the destination and everyone in the destination to understand that for the three or four days that we’re in the city, what goes on in the congress center is going to change people’s lives forever.’”

Good Vibrations

BestCities Global Alliance wants to leave legacies that spread not just throughout a single member destination, but from one to another. Since 2006, for example, the World Diabetes Congress has been held in four BestCities destinations: Cape Town, Dubai, Melbourne, and Vancouver. Even before the formal creation of five legacy currencies, “learning on legacy creation was being carried from one venue to the next,” said BestCities’ Paul Vallee. “In addition to helping support the activation/growth of identified legacies, BestCities and its partner destinations also encourage clients to make storytelling those legacies a key deliverable.”

Christopher Durso

Christopher Durso is executive editor of Convene.