CMP Series

In the Know

As the knowledge-based global economy expands, meeting planners are looking for destinations with brains as well as beauty. And cities are stepping up to share their intellectual bounty.

As the new Orlando Veterans Affairs Medical Center rises at Lake Nona Medical City, southeast of Orlando International Airport, a lot of attention — not all of it admiring —has focused on the facility’s construction. The first VA hospital to be built in the United States in nearly 20 years, the $665-million center has been subject to congressional hearings and has suffered the delays that often accompany large public projects.

But as the physical building rises from the ground, another kind of construction also has been taking place: assembling the state-of the-art equipment and world-class medical talent it will take to create a new standard of veterans’ care in the United States. The hospital, designed as a prototype, will serve as the national site for medical-simulation training, including programs involving surgical robotics, and is being built as part of the 600-acre Medical City campus, where dozens of life-sciences institutions will be clustered together to spur collaboration and innovation.

The hospital’s scheduled opening next year will coincide with the 2013 Annual Conference of the American Congress of Rehabilitation Medicine (ACRM) on Nov. 12–16, creating a perfect storm of opportunities for ACRM, according to Lise Puckorius, CMP, the organization’s global event strategist. “The VA hospital system is continually challenged with rehabilitation,” which will only intensify, Puckorius said, as thousands of U.S. soldiers return from Afghanistan, many of them requiring rehabilitative care. And the clinicians and researchers who will work at Orlando’s new VA hospital and simulation facility face the same professional challenges as ACRM’s members.

The proximity of Medical City’s rehabilitative resources will benefit ACRM’s meeting in a number of ways, including offering the potential for pre- and post-event meetings and site visits. Medical City has captured worldwide attention in the medical community, Puckorius said, and the opportunity to tour the facility is likely to attract international attendees.

In a global ideas economy, the transfer of knowledge between a destination’s intellectual and innovation resources and a meeting’s attendees has become more than ‘a nice extra.’

Beyond that, Puckorius expects that ACRM will benefit next year and in future years from the connections made between the association and Medical City’s growing rehabilitative- medicine community, many of whose members are potential meeting attendees. The 2013 Annual Conference will serve to educate them about ACRM, which is the only professional association to represent all members of the interdisciplinary rehabilitation team. In many ways, both ACRM and Medical City’s rehabilitative-medicine professionals “are in a growth mode,” Puckorius said. “We are looking into the future.”

The Knowledge Economy

As the world continues to move from industrial economies based on manufacturing to service economies fueled by information and innovation, the meetings industry is an “increasingly significant element” in economic growth and the knowledge economy, members of the Joint Meetings Industry Council (JMIC) asserted in an official statement of principles released last year. Specifically, JMIC said, the meetings industry serves as a vehicle for collaboration between business, professional, and academic communities.

In a global ideas economy, experienced planners say, the transfer of knowledge between a destination’s intellectual and innovation resources and a meeting’s attendees has become not just a nice extra, but an important way for professional events to offer better value to every participant. “We already know where our meetings will fit, and if a destination has enough rooms,” said Kristin Mirabal, CMP, director of global programs for The Optical Society (OSA). “You may have a wonderful, attractive facility, but I am looking beyond that. We want to know what will attract our scientists and researchers beyond the beach – or whatever is the big attraction.”

Asking those kinds of questions is a given, Puckorius said. “It’s part of a meeting planner’s job to look past what’s obvious. You have to ask yourself: ‘What can help your organization, and what can make an impact on that organization?’” For ACRM, “cost is still the major factor in determining where a meeting is held,” Puckorius said. “But the costs have to come in the right places.”

And for destinations that are competing for meetings business, serving as an expert guide to local intellectual and business resources that can enrich a meeting is a way to stand out from the rest of the pack. In the case of ACRM’s Annual Conference, it was a national sales director for Disney Destinations – the meeting will be held at Disney’s Contemporary Resort – who mentioned Medical City to Puckorius. “The bureau is key in this puzzle,” Puckorius said. “They have to have a really good relationship with the business community.”

‘Beyond Rate and Space’

Leveraging the region’s scientific resources is not a new idea in Orlando, which is a top destination for medical meetings in the United States, said Tammi Runzler, CASE, senior vice president of convention sales and services for Visit Orlando. But as plans for Medical City began to develop a few years ago, it prompted Runzler to begin looking at the new complex’s resources within the context of the overall medical and scientific infrastructure of Orlando and Orange County. Medical City will – and already is – having a big impact on the meetings landscape in Orlando, she said, but “my responsibility at Visit Orlando is to market all of our assets.”

Over time, Runzler has became more systematic in how she gathers information about the region’s intellectual resources and brings those assets to the table at a much earlier point in conversations about potential meetings in Orlando. “I believe that meeting planners in general are moving in the direction of truly understanding a destination’s value beyond rate and space,” Runzler said. “Those things —airlift and the basics of what we as a destination offer — are still very, very important. But planners are getting more savvy about looking at community assets to see where there may be more value to their organizations in some destinations.”

Planners are getting more savvy about looking at community assets to see where there may be more value to their organizations in some destinations.

Runzler has gotten smarter, too, she said, about how she looks at the region’s assets. As technology has gained prominence in medicine and science, she’s begun to inventory innovative medical equipment and patents generated in the area, along with academics and scientists who might serve as speakers at meetings and specialized companies, research institutes, and facilities that might host site visits. “I’ve worked with industry experts,” Runzler said, “and now have a very comprehensive list of projects that are going on here.” Her sources often tell her that people fly in all the time to see a specific piece of equipment or program that isn’t available anywhere else in the world, and she considers it part of her job to make sure planners also know about those resources. “The last thing I want is for a group to come here,” Runzler said, “and then two weeks later, read about something we have here, and think, ‘I would have loved to have gone to that robotics center.’”

Runzler takes a hands-on approach to cataloguing Orlando’s intellectual and scientific assets, personally calling researchers to ask them about their work and specialized resources, and whether she can share information with meeting planners. “If I have a profile, that means I have already established a relationship,” she said. “That cuts out a lot of the initial digging and research for planners.”

Exporting Expertise

The German Convention Bureau (GCB) has adopted a similarly proactive approach to identifying key industries and clusters of expertise that align with meetings, said Laura d’Elsa, regional director for USA/Canada – a strategy motivated in part by the GCB’s recognition of the fact that it needed to better differentiate itself. “There used to be a greater difference between European destinations,” d’Elsa said, “in terms of accessibility, meetings infrastructure, and value.”

But those gaps are disappearing, she said, as competition among the destinations has grown more intense. “The offers are moving closer and closer for major cities like Paris, Berlin, and Rome, because everyone is so competitive,” d’Elsa said. “We all have lots of flights and good value for the money. We all have pretty countries and lots of pretty locations. Those are good arguments that we all use – and they are valid arguments.” But, she noted, Germany is also a top global exporter, – second only to China. The GCB realized that, along with automobiles and pharmaceuticals, the country’s strengths could also reside in exporting knowledge.

Two years ago, the GCB adopted a strategy of asking regional and local convention bureaus and conference centers to inventory clusters of expertise within key industries – including logistics, financial services, energy, technology, medicine, and pharmaceuticals – by contacting local universities, research facilities, associations, and companies. “My main role,” d’Elsa said, “is putting meeting planners in contact with the right organizations, and trying to foster relationships.”

Among the GCB’s successes was its bid to host the XXVII Congress of the International Society for Advancement of Cytometry (ISAC), which was held this past June in Leipzig – the first time that the meeting, described by organizers as “the world’s most important event in the field of cell diagnostics,” convened in Germany since the congress was first held there in 1978. It is more than a good fit: Leipzig is considered one of the birthplaces of cytometry. In 1878, a medical student at the University of Leipzig was the first person to use dye to identify different cell types in blood.

The academic and research culture carried weight when ISAC was choosing between locations and venues, according to Joan Goldberg, principal and managing director of Strategic Assessment & Solutions, who acted as interim executive director for the society earlier this year. But an added bonus was support from the local government and industry, which included grants from the Free State of Saxony, where Leipzig is located. Another factor were the links created between ISAC and a regional cluster of biotechnology research institutions and pharmaceutical companies. Biosaxony, the local German industry group, in particular was a real partner, Goldberg said, and worked with ISAC to create a one-day symposium that showcased local technology companies and research collaborations, and included an emphasis on how scientists can effectively partner with entrepreneurs. The symposium “was a great venue to discuss opportunities and trends,” Goldberg said, “as well as the latest technology.”

The symposium also was likely to have been good for business, according to Maryann P. Feldman, a professor of public policy at the University of North Carolina, and an expert on economic innovation, including technology transfer. “When people ask about how university and industry partnerships get started, and how people identify who they want to work with,” Feldman said, “conferences are really important for creating those kinds of connections.” (See “The Science of Meeting Face-to-Face,” at bottom of page.)

The level of support from Saxony was significant, Goldberg said, and she advises meeting organizers to be direct about requests for funding, including them as part of RFPs. “You should know the value of your meeting and what it brings to the city,” Goldberg said, “and the city should know that you are looking for additional support.”

Wanted: Relationships

At OSA, Mirabal takes a long-term view, looking for destinations with scientific and academic resources that align with her organization’s industry specialties, and that will extend beyond the course of a single meeting and promote the society’s growth. At IMEX America in Las Vegas in October, Mirabal deliberately scheduled meetings with destinations where OSA did not have high concentrations of members, but where there may be untapped potential to attract new members, such as South Africa, where OSA has only a couple of chapters. Of particular interest to Mirabal in her conversation with a South Africa Tourism representative was whether the organization could serve as a conduit to other government entities, including the Ministry of Science and Technology.

“We are looking beyond the norm, and asking [CVBs] to be more of a partner, especially in terms of marketing and as an advocate to local government,” Mirabal said. “A lot of CVBs are run by governments – they have the ability to establish contacts with other government officials and industries.”

Mirabal also asked about industries in South Africa that might represent demand for OSA’s products and services – and that might be potential exhibitors – as well as about academic institutions with which the organization might have common interests. Mirabal’s role includes introducing CVBs to OSA, and demonstrating “how we can be a resource for local departments of science and technology, because our industry is very important right now,” she said. “When we work with a CVB or with a minister of tourism in a particular country, we are looking beyond that meeting and trying to establish a partnership. If it is successful for us, and if we see that our attendance increased because we were able to establish contact – we will be back.”

Content is Still King

A city’s infrastructure plays a supporting role for conferences, according to Karen Bolinger, CEO of the Melbourne Convention + Visitors Bureau (MCVB). “The bigger questions,” she said, “are: ‘What is the content, and how can a meeting tap into local resources?’” The glossy brochure for the MCVB’s recent “Melbourne IQ” initiative reflects that point of view, touting the city’s convention center, accessibility, and livability only after delineating its intellectual assets and its strengths in knowledge-based industries.

Over the last two or three years, there has been a definite increase in the number of cities that, like Melbourne, are “consciously trying to position themselves as intellectual destinations,” said Martin Sirk, CEO of the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA). “Some cities are positioning themselves as ‘knowledge capitals,’ others as ‘design capitals,’ and some are investing to research the non-direct impact that international meetings bring. I feel these are all part of a trend that will only get stronger, as there are so many pressures that are turning the focus away from tourist appeal and towards the intellectual content and › knowledge generation that these meetings represent.”

In Melbourne, the MCVB has aligned its business priorities directly with the region’s economic-development priorities and business strengths, Bolinger said. Each conference is different, but the MCVB can apply for local grants or tap into services available from local government agencies. Some meetings make local connections with experts who are superstars in their fields, such as AIDS scientist Sharon Lewin, an infectious-diseases researcher at Burnet Institute in Melbourne, who is known not only for her discoveries about the HIV/AIDS virus, but for her push for a cure. Lewin will serve as the local co-chair of the 20th International AIDS Conference (IAC), to be held in Melbourne in 2014.

The MCVB also is in frequent contact with Dean Morris, the head of operations for the Australian Synchroton, a football-field–sized machine that moves high-energy electrons at nearly the speed of light, allowing researchers to study molecular structures. Joint efforts with synchrotron scientists in other countries have resulted in five scientific meetings scheduled to come to Melbourne between November 2013 and October 2015.

In the coming years, Melbourne will host numerous other high-profile international science meetings, including the World Diabetes Congress, the World Congress of Cardiology, and the World Cancer Congress. Such meetings bring significant benefits well beyond the economic impact of business travelers, Bolinger said, including raising the profile of local institutions and putting the spotlight on local research.

In emerging destinations, the meetings infrastructure often is developing alongside modern knowledge-based economic assets. When Ernesto Orillac, vice-minister of tourism in Panama, lists his country’s meetings assets, for example, he includes its accessibility, many new international hotels, and plans for a new convention center, scheduled to open in 2015. He also mentions Panama City’s charm and the country’s natural beauty – and emphasizes its intellectual assets, including its position as a center of international finance and logistics, and the collaboration taking place at the City of Knowledge, an international complex for research, education, and innovation built in the former Panama Canal Zone. With an economy growing at 10.6 percent, the fastest in the world, Orillac described Panama City’s newly flourishing meetings industry as poised to go “from the Little League to playing in the majors.”

Searching for Solutions

“The Knowledge Economy” was the theme of the IMEX Politicians Forum, held at IMEX 2012 in Frankfurt, Germany, last May, where leaders gathered with meetings industry executives to discuss the role that meetings can play not only in generating jobs and fueling industry, but also in finding solutions to the biggest problems and challenges that face governments. Among the speakers was Isabel Bardinet, CEO of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC), who told the audience: “Meetings are the most efficient medium for research and development that has ever been found.”

Bardinet discussed how she makes the decision on where to hold ESC’s annual Congress, which has the same impact, she said, “as if a mid-sized town drops down for five days on top of a city.” Each year, approximately 40,000 attendees collectively will use 100,000 hotel room nights.

But Bardinet urged destinations to look beyond those figures, to numbers that are of even greater concern to her organization: the millions of deaths caused each year by cardiovascular disease, as well as the billions of dollars spent annually to treat heart disease. When she looks at destinations, she seeks out those that will look to magnify ESC’s impact – because its annual Congress helps determine how many doctors will have access to innovations in treatment. When you begin to talk about the impact of the disease and the search for solutions, Bardinet said, “We’re far, far away from coffee cups and hotel rooms.”

Sidebar: The Science of Meeting Face-to-Face

Maryann P. Feldman, a professor of public policy at the University of North Carolina, works at the intersection of geography and innovation. Her research, she explained to Convene, looks at “why certain places are able to generate greater innovation and economic activity, while investments made in other places are not as productive.”

In studying interactions in economic clusters, Feldman has observed that “when you bring together a community of people in a confined geographic space, they are going to bump into each other. The opportunity for chance interactions – serendipity, if you will – and bumping into someone who may have an answer or whose work or products you may have heard of, is really rich.”

What is true about computer scientists who clump together in places like Silicon Valley also is true about people interacting at conferences. “What we believe is that the transfer of knowledge is enhanced by face-to-face conversation,” Feldman said. “While people could email each other, or they could read papers or correspond in a variety of ways, the ability to meet and ask questions is something that is much more fruitful.”

“In Glasgow, our academic community understands the importance of conferences to assist with their knowledge-exchange objectives,” said Aileen Crawford, head of conventions for the Glasgow City Marketing Bureau. More than 2,400 professionals from medical, scientific, and academic backgrounds act as “Conference Ambassadors,” collaborating with the bureau to bring national and international conferences to the city.

There are big benefits for both the bureau and the academics. By hosting a conference in their specialist field, Crawford said, academics “can network with their peers and establish a platform for national and international collaboration.” More than 80 percent of the international conference business in the city comes as a result of the involvement of the ambassadors’ involvement, Crawford said, including 70 conferences confirmed last year.

In the United States, supporting access to conferences is “a really important science-policy issue,” Feldman said. “With all the budget craziness, a lot of scientists who work for federal agencies are not able to participate in conferences to the same extent as they had been.” And if scientists are precluded from the discussions they have at conferences, we won’t realize the full benefit of all of the investment we make in federal research and development, Feldman said. Curtailing scientists’ travel to conferences, she said, “is a policy that is penny-wise and pound-foolish.”

Tangible Benefits

Calculating the impact of meetings, including knowledge transfer, beyond the money spent directly by meeting organizers and attendees is a field of research that is “still in its infancy,” said Martin Sirk, CEO of the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA). But there are several practical – and measurable – benefits that come from tapping into local intellectual and business resources. The following list was suggested by Laura d’Elsa, the regional director for USA/Canada for the German Convention Bureau:

  • Financial aid and sponsorships Many CVBs can steer planners to educational and other grants, as well as industries that may be willing to sponsor meeting activities.
  • Keynote speakers Local institutions and businesses can offer experts who are willing to speak at meetings.
  • Attendees Planners can boost attendance by making contact with relevant local professional, academic, and business communities.
  • Program content Local institutions or groups with shared interests may be willing to partner with meeting organizers to create joint sessions or forums.
  • Site inspections Tours and talks can be arranged at local facilities that dovetail with attendee interests.

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Barbara Palmer

Barbara Palmer is senior editor and director of digital content.