Can venues play a valuable role in bridging the divide that sometimes lies between the international associations and local hosts/chapters? This is what argues Angeline van den Broecke, Director of Global Business Development and Marketing, Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre.
Local hosts/chapters are often an integral factor in elevating the success of a major international congress. While international associations often take responsibility for providing the global perspective and organising the bulk of the programme, local associations have important input in terms of providing destination insights and flavour.
However, the capabilities and experience of local associations can vary wildly. In an ideal world the local host and global association will already be aligned in terms of vision and mission. But there is often a long delivery timeframe between when a bid is won by a destination host and when the congress execution takes place. Another dynamic that influences this relationship is when an intermediary such as an appointed PCO or Core PCO or AMC is involved.
Often the global association organisers, who are often full-time professionals may have different perspectives and expectations than their local counterparts. Host associations, often run by enthusiastic volunteers, may lack regular exposure to the organisation of events of this nature and scale. Communication issues (i.e. cultural and language differences) can also contribute to varied expectations, which can hinder the organisation and ultimate success of the congress.
In our experience, venues can play a meaningful and valuable role in bridging the divide between the international associations and local hosts/chapters. Venues are often dealing with the local associations/hosts on their national or regional events and have a fairly good understanding of the status of the local association and the primary influences and local players. In addition, interpretation with respect to cultural nuances and local business practice are often an area where the Centre is used as a connector.
In destinations where a city bureau may not exist, such being the case in Kuala Lumpur, the venue is required to often provide a myriad of destination information and a support interface beyond the norm and to work as a partner, not a supplier. This is one of the reasons the Centre set up the Kuala Lumpur Business Events Alliance (KLCCBEA) with a primary focus on providing a one stop solution to support Meeting and Event Planners.
In this respect, the Centre ultimately provides social value; as a partner that maintains a cumulative history, and business intelligence after many years of engagement and execution and client relationship management.
Venues can assist by sharing key learnings and best practices from previous successful events and really get to understand the different complexities and success factors across different demographics, geographies and sector specific demand drivers and to share this knowledge both ways can truly influence the success of the working relationships between all parties.
Case in point: the 29th. International Congress for Conservation Biology (ICCB) 2019, held at the Centre in July. As the Society of Conservation Biology’s (SCB) Executive Director, Dr Debborah Luke, comments: “ICCB is quite a challenging congress to manage because you have the international organisation trying to guide from their global perspective; the steering committee handling the scientific content; and the local chapter, who are generally the organising committee taking care of the on-ground management and ensuring there is a Malaysian flavour included in the event. Trying to integrate and make sure all three parties are on the same page at the same time can be quite tricky. What we learnt from our experience is making sure you define very clear roles, manage expectations and set realistic outcomes for everybody involved.”
By sharing these kind of insights venues can help ensure global associations and local chapters are aligned and better prepared to plan their own international events. “We relied heavily on the venue to provide ideas when we needed input and a business perspective beyond the scope of the local host association,” says Dr Luke.“This related to how we could connect to local business chambers, what innovative ways a previous congress of a similar nature used to boost local participation, and to look at a western vs. a local perspective of the role F&B plays throughout the event. These were just a few examples that helped us to adjust and adopt flexibility once we were on the ground.”
The World Federation of Hemophilia’s (WFH) Director, Congress & Meetings, Jeremias Rodriguez, CMP, who is currently in the process of organising the WFH World Congress 2020 at the Centre, also shares his perspective: “Firstly, use technology to collaborate and share documents to help you communicate in real-time and more effectively. Increasing the number of face-to-face meetings will also help you tremendously to create stronger bonds between parties. Lastly, greater collaboration between the local convention bureau and the chapter is crucial, so they are aware of all the resources available to them.”
In this instance the Centre has really become a marketing and promotions partner of the event and a resource to connect the federation to several local entities and to facilitate and guide some of the engagement when it has been difficult to gain access to the decision maker.
There are a variety of unique characteristics and cultural factors to take into account when organising events in different regions around the world.
As Dr Luke adds, “Local chapters may not have the time and resources to fully analyse the audience and, as a result, cultural norms can be overlooked. For example, in Malaysia we noticed that the variety and amount of food on offer was larger than expected, which caused concerns for some international participants. In Asia, the offering would not be considered out of place, but due to the profile of our attendees it was something we could have altered, or better communicated. In these kinds of scenarios, the venue has the opportunity to play a larger role in offering advice to ensure nothing is missed.”
Of course, knowledge transfer is a two-way street. Insights also have to be passed from local chapters to international associations, and venues can help facilitate this. As the National Cancer Society of Malaysia’s (NCSM) Vice President, Clare Ratnasingham, who was a key member of the national organising committee for the World Cancer Congress 2018, shares: “One of the biggest factors that needs to be addressed by international and national associations alike is cultural differences. Every country or region moves at their own pace. For example, some countries face additional challenges in terms of government or bureaucratic regulations and others deal with the tendency of event registrations being very last minute, amongst many others. As such, there needs to be greater understanding and flexibility towards these differences. In the end, it is all about trust and communication.”
A Sustainable Legacy
By collecting and sharing these golden nuggets of feedback and experience, venues can help educate and guide international associations in developing their communications and relations with local chapters.
The Centre’s General Manager, Alan Pryor, concludes: “Like any relationship, communication is key and venues are often the central lynchpin between all parties. As such, we have an ability to open up dialogue to ensure everyone is well informed. Relationships are our most important asset and by utilising this and our experience, built up over many years, we can help facilitate and foster better bonds between international associations and local chapters, which will in turn result in more successful events.”