Knowledge is just one of the many reasons that planners have their meetings in Melbourne, Karen Bolinger, CEO of the Melbourne Convention Bureau (MCB), said during a press conference at IMEX Frankfurt in May. The Melbourne Effect is a way to recognize that, and “speaks to everything about the city,” Bolinger added in an interview with Convene. “It’s about community and the behavior and culture of the city — intangible things that are important to the destination. It’s not just the next step in the knowledge economy.”
When MCB surveyed key market segments, including international associations and corporate and incentive planners, it uncovered a need for that kind of engaged, interactive environment. “What stood out,” Bolinger said, “was their desire for a city and bureau to not just tick the boxes, but to facilitate collaboration and deliver real outcomes.” Melbourne is positioning itself not just as a place where groups have access to centers of knowledge, Bolinger said, “but where they can collaborate with local resources to create legacies that will last long after the business event is over.”
A prime example is the 20th International AIDS Conference, which attracted nearly 12,000 delegates from more than 170 countries to Melbourne in 2014. As part of the planning process, MCB and the Victorian Department of Health convened the Melbourne Planning Group, made up of more than a dozen influential locals, to work with the International AIDS Society.
One tangible and lasting result of the conference was the AIDS 2014 Legacy Statement, a commitment by Australia’s state and federal health ministers to eliminate new HIV infections by 2020. MCB also used the conference as an opportunity to correct misperceptions and reduce stigma around AIDS by hosting training sessions for local tourism professionals to share information about the delegates’ needs. Those outcomes aren’t just window dressing, Bolinger said, but speak to the essence of the collective goals that shape association conferences.
In 2017, Melbourne will host Ecocity World Summit — a conference that is convened every two years in a different host city, and will attract approximately 1,000 leading international urban planners, architects, and environmental specialists to discuss sustainable city initiatives. The conference is expected to spotlight the city’s leadership in sustainability and the action it’s taking on climate change, Bolinger said, including an initiative to achieve zero net emissions by 2020.
Although Ecocity is still two years out, local government officials, academics, and others have begun to put their heads together with meeting organizers to create partnerships, according to Paul James, one of the conference’s lead organizers and a professor of globalization and cultural diversity at Western Sydney University, where he serves as director of the Institute for Culture and Society. The meeting is a good fit for Melbourne, said Brendan Gleeson, director of the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, because the city, while “marvelously livable,” is facing grave sustainability threats and is “a test bed for ideas.” And Ecocity will generate the kind of exchange of energy and ideas that — by engaging the international community with locals — has the potential to make a lasting impact.
“Partnership between cities, local government bodies, and NGOs brings exciting, engaged life to international meetings,” James said, “and academics bring the slower, but deeper, work of engaged research.”