220 Associations Convene in Vienna for a World Congress

May 9, 2017

220 Associations Convene in Vienna for a World Congress

It looks like the the Associations World Congress, now in its 10th year, goes from strength to strength. It took place last week at the Austria Center Vienna and was attended by more than 220 association executives – and all paid for their attendance and coming over, quite unusual in this industry.

Organised by the Association of Association Executives (AAE), the largest conference for employees and officers of professional, scientific and trade membership organisations in Europe aimed to cover a wide range of topics. Along with a list of key speakers was a packed programme of streams and sessions designed to offer great education, networking and information.

If some subjects that were touched upon were more ‘traditonal’ – a whole day was devoted to digital related content looking at member engagement strategies, CRM and MRM, successful online communities and tribal marketing  – the AAE tried to innovate, quite successfully, with a Video and TV Channel Stream. Video is a fast-growing communication method and a critical way to provide regular sector information to members. Each month associations are launching video channels/offerings (unrelated to event recordings) and this stream helped guide them on creation, planning and how to fund them.

The speaker line up included people from in and out the association community, like Andreas Felser, executive director of the European Association of Nuclear Medicine; Simon Shelley – head of the ITN Industry News, part of the global ITN news organisation and Konrad Friedrich – head of conference management and marketing at the European Society of Radiology. I particularly liked the keynote speech of Lodewijk Klootwijk, from the European Golf Course Owners Association, who went back to the basics and explained the  fascinating importance of tribe or how the sense of belonging is the very essence of any organisation.

The Association of Association Executives (AAE) also announced the launch of its year-round Association Success Story Programme at the Congress, a new, year-round programme that focuses on creating valuable content for associations. The programme takes the form of detailed case studies – how, for instance, organisations have developed or created new products, services and events for their members and particular sector. These include in the areas of: conference mergers and partnerships; multi-location webcast events; adoption of new event technologies; event growth campaigns; sector weeks; publicity and lobbying campaigns; social media projects; eLearning offerings; and member engagement programmes.

Alongside the congress the International and European Association Awards ceremony was held on the evening of 3 May, which recognised excellence in leadership, development and service across European and International membership organisations.

Winners included:

Executive Director of the Year : Anthony Wilkinson, RQA

Effective Voice of the Year : World Obesity Federation – World Obesity Day 2016

Best Social Media Campaign : The European Container Glass Federation (FEVE) – Friends of Glass “Endless Lives of Glass”

Conference Development : A2P2 – EAPPC | BEAMS | MEGAGAUSS 2016

Best eLearning / Online Education : European Society for Immunodeficiencies (ESID) – ESID eSchool

Best Association Website : European Association of Communications Agencies (EACA)

Best Membership Engagement: Union for International Cancer Control (UICC)

Best TV Video Channel : European Association of Urology – EAU TV

Best Association E-Newsletter : The Association of European Producers of Steel for Packaging (APEAL)

A Special Award for Best Membership Engagement was handed out to the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA).



May 3, 2017

Understanding Cultural Differences in a Global World

A global presence has become an increasingly significant reality for many PCOs while organising conferences but doing business worldwide presents far greater challenges then just working locally.

Words Patrizia Semprebene Buongiorno

There are many complex problems to be solved and choices to be made and of those, many are not straightforward. Numerous strategic aspects must be considered before a commitment can be made: starting with understanding the difference between “global” and “international.” These words seem interchangeable but there are significant differences. “Global” means worldwide or universal, applying to the whole world while the word “international” applies to two or more countries.

So if we take for granted these definitions we can say that an International conference means a conference with delegates coming from at least 5 countries while a global conference is a conference with participants coming from all over the world.

How do these definitions impact the conferences we organise? Does our approach need to change? Will our distinctive resources and capabilities already developed at home translate to a global market? Expansion can be widely profitable, as long as marketing, promotion and the different strategies for boosting attendance are considered with the aim of making it really “global”.

While geography no longer stands in the way of globalization there are still many barriers. Language comes to mind but, realistically, it is the least of our worries. Due diligence must be done as innumerable issues of administrative and compliance issues impact setting up a global conference. So start by asking a few basic questions.

Do we understand all the applicable laws and regulations of the targeted location? If we don’t know what we are up against we can’t develop a strategy that realistically weighs risks and rewards. Every country has a different set of rules for doing business so we cannot assume that what we did in Country A will work in Country B. What travel compliances are required? Attendees from which countries need visas? Are there other travel restrictions? We can’t dazzle participants if we are unable to get them to the conference! And remember, it’s not only about moving people. Shipping material overseas is another challenge. Give our attendees, as well as sponsors and exhibitors, information that includes warnings about the obstacles they may face throughout the event.

What are the current events and developments taking place in our targeted part of the world? Attracting attendees to our event today may be very different from what was done a year ago for the very same conference. Know what is happening and do not over simplify the challenges for attendees. We need to keep up with current affairs if we want to be global.

Read the rest of this article in Boardroom#2 – May 2017. Out now.

May 2, 2017

Leaders’ Forum at the Associations World Congress

Association leaders have a lot to deal with. Besides leading the team, sector issues, and the commercial aspects of running an association, there are the strategic aims, governance, and development, to name but a few. The old adage ‘it’s lonely at the top’ can certainly apply to leaders of associations. When the going gets tough, where do the tough go for advice, inspiration and a friendly ear?

The new Association Leaders’ Forum global event series recently announced by the Association of Association Executives (AAE) aims to provide just that. Leaders’ events have been held in the past, but often as an add-on to another event. With this new series, the AAE is providing a place where senior association executives can take time out with their peers to focus on what is important to them at a strategic level, without being overly clouded by all of the day-to-day matters.

AAE Executive Director Damian Hutt explains: “Leaders of associations face a unique set of challenges. Senior association executives already attend our various events internationally, but we wanted to create a space where leaders of membership organisations could hear new ideas for them and engage deeply with their peers, learning from each other. Based on feedback, we have structured the new event series to address topics such as strategic growth, member engagement, creating value and good and bad governance – the topics are selected according to local needs. All sessions are led by a professional facilitator who ensures focus and maximises the value for delegates in practical and applicable take-aways.”

The Chatham House rule will be applied to the Association Leaders’ Forums events, ensuring that participants feel free to comment without their points being attributed. This is an important aspect of the format, enabling association leaders to air concerns they might otherwise hold back on. Open dialogue is very much the focus, with all participants encouraged to speak freely about challenges and concerns where peer discussion and insight from those who have experienced similar issues can really help.

The first Leaders’ Forum in the new series will take place today 2 May in Vienna the day before the annual Associations World Congress (full report on the congress to follow!). Key topics included growing associations and membership development internationally – over 30 association executive heads attended.

The series this year is being held in London, Switzerland, Middle East, Hong Kong and India.

Photo: Damian Hutt


April 28, 2017

Swedish Exhibition & Congress Centre’s Expansion: What’s in it for Associations?

The Swedish Exhibition & Congress Centre (SECC) has presented the third phase of its expansion plans up until 2030. The planned expansion has been thought out to maximise the venue and the city of Gothenburg’s potential to grow internationally and attract more visitors. The vision? To create Europe’s most attractive venue by offering the best overall experience. The focus will be placed on building a larger main entrance with a terrace and a hotel and office complex beside Korsvägen, a central hub in the events district of Gothenburg. The plans are ready and construction of the new entrances will start in 2017.

“Our all-under-one-roof concept is very successful and attractive, and this expansion is planned to meet an even higher demand from not at least international associations. We will be able to offer a much higher capacity, not only in terms of hotel rooms but also larger entrances, flexible meeting- and conference areas and interesting food & beverage concepts. Our location, right in the centre, in the heart of Gothenburg, is really beneficial for all visitors having everything within walking distance”, says Carin Kindbom, President and CEO, SECC.

“This will give us capacity for about 350 additional hotel rooms and more office and meeting rooms,” Carin continues. “The plans also include building another hotel and office building beside Mölndalsån at a later stage. We aim to achieve a total hotel capacity of roughly 2,000 rooms by 2030.”

April 27, 2017

Making a Convention Centre “International”

Convention centres worldwide comprise a wide spectrum of facilities, with few invariable constants, even in terms of fixed definitions (congress centres? convention centres? conference centres?). At the same time, there is increasingly a blurring of such distinctions as do exist, with what were formerly more exclusively focussed facilities like exhibition or special event centres add new kinds of function spaces in order to diversify their business potential and respond to new trends like the inclusion of more educational components into trade show programming.

Words Geoff Donaghy – AIPC President

The same is true of the term “international”. In an increasingly global industry, there are legitimate questions as to what that designation implies, and when applied to a convention centre, what assurances it should give clients who are looking for the right kind of “fit” for their event. For many centres, the application of the designation often simply reflects the aspirations of owners and managers – an expression of their interest in being able to access more than simply local or regional business. But at a practical level, there’s a lot more to it than that.

First of all, “International” as a function of an organization holding an event is once again a term that is pretty loosely applied in our industry. In my view, it requires three measures: first, that membership be comprised of representation from different countries; secondly, that leadership is similarly distributed and third, that events have a global vs. simply a regional rotation. And while that is a pretty straightforward definition, in many parts of the world it is less than rigorously applied, adding another level of confusion.

However, if we accept that definition, it follows that centres that consider themselves to be ‘international’ are those actively pursuing those kinds of events – and that means at the same time, they need to be prepared to respond to their needs. That carries some important responsibilities.

First, it means recognizing and addressing the standards and expectations of groups that rotate world-wide and who are looking for some level of consistency in terms of spaces and services, including areas like food and beverage and technology. While most events that rotate do so in response to the distribution of their membership (or the pursuit of potential members) their programs generally have certain requirements attached that are largely the same wherever they may go. That means a centre must be able to supply these in order to be considered, and the easiest way to do that is to identify and observe the most relevant standards for such events and to make the effort to identify and understand what it is that specific groups need based on their previous history.

Secondly, a non-domestic organization will likely have formal requirements that are more complex, or at least different, from those coming from within the same country.

Things like legal and accountability requirements, contractual arrangements and technology expectations are all things that will inevitably be a lot more complicated with a range of international clients than purely domestic ones, and again, a centre pursuing this business must have the capability and flexibility to be able to respond.

Third, it needs to be understood that this is not simply a centre-specific exercise. The centre itself is only one part of the overall destination experience so an ‘international’ designated centre also has a role to play in ensuring that other destination partners such as hotels, bureaus, suppliers and satellite venues are also capable of meeting the broader and potentially more diverse range of client expectations arising from this group. Without this, even the most internationally-oriented facility can fail to deliver the overall quality that will be expected by more demanding international clients.

But there’s another side to the equation. As important as consistency and standards are, they should not come at the expense of losing the unique qualities that are a desired part of the experience of travelling to different parts of the world. Delegates to an international event are attracted at least partly in the opportunity to experience local customs and cultures, sample different food and enjoy off-site activities that represent what makes that destination different. The centre has a role here too, needing to play an active part in delivering on those expectations rather than focussing entirely on consistent operating standards.

In the end, it’s a balance; to be truly ‘International’, and enjoy all the business benefits that designation implies, a centre needs to be prepared to address the full range of expectations that accompany such events, and to do so in a recognizable way. At the same time, they need to take on some responsibility for delivering the kind of unique experience and qualities that make their destination distinctive.

In addition to his role as AIPC President, Geoff Donaghy is CEO at ICC Sydney (the International Convention Centre Sydney) and Director of Convention Centres AEG Ogden.

Photo: ICC Sydney

April 20, 2017

Global Market Eyes Ottawa as an Appealing Event Destination

In the tourism and hospitality industry, location plays as important a role as timing. Today, as global events continue to impact the selection of destinations for international congresses of all sizes, Ottawa is ready to welcome the world and has a marketing strategy in place to make this happen.

Global travellers already recognize the welcoming and inclusive nature of Canada and, as its capital city, Ottawa perfectly exemplifies these attributes. “We eagerly welcome people from all areas of the world,” says Nina Kressler, President of Shaw Centre, the city’s premier event venue, named one of the top three convention centres in the world by International Association of Congress Centres (AIPC) in 2014.

Ottawa is very much a multicultural city, with 130 embassies and high commissions located in the region of 1.3 million people. Visiting foreign businesspeople appreciate the opportunity for personal interaction with the local diplomatic community. In addition, foreign-born residents make up almost one quarter of the city’s population, giving the region a truly cosmopolitan feel. Almost 40% of residents speak both English and French.

Kressler notes that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, in delivering frequent messages of tolerance and unity, exemplifies the peaceful spirit common among most Canadians. This is a message that resonates with the global community.

The vibrant cultural scene in Ottawa is complemented by the area’s abundant greenspace. Just moments from downtown Ottawa, numerous locations serve as four-season playgrounds, including world-renowned Gatineau Park. “Delegates and their partners who attend events at Shaw Centre frequently comment on the natural beauty of the Ottawa area and the wonderful diversity of activities available,” notes Kressler.

“With our experience hosting the world in 2017 for Canada’s 150th birthday, Ottawa is more prepared than ever to welcome international groups and showcase all we have to offer,” she adds. “At Shaw Centre, for example, events as large as 3,000 people are easily accommodated; our overall building capacity is 10,500. Our menus are often composed of unique Canadian ingredients and we serve up world-class Canadian wines as well. We can easily help arrange delegate activities through our many partners including Ottawa Tourism.”

Ottawa Tourism’s Meetings and Conventions team works closely with Shaw Centre and other meeting industry stakeholders. Their experience and international connections contribute significantly to Ottawa’s strengthened position in the destination industry, as they work to increase and enhance market awareness. “We collaborate to sell Shaw Centre and Ottawa as a destination,” says Kressler.

Read the rest of this article in the next issue of Boardroom, our IMEX issue, out next month.

April 19, 2017

Riga & Latvia – The Power of Subventions, Really ?

While far from universal, a growing number of national tourism boards and even city-level convention and visitors bureaus are offering some form of subventions to attract associations that are considering bringing a large meeting to their destination. But should that really come into play? Isn’t the whole picture worth being identified before rushing to accept cash, as Aigars Smiltans’ MEET RĪGA argues?

Words Rémi Dévé

Described by some as a necessary evil, “subvention” – subsidies given by convention and visitor bureaus (CVBs) to attract large conferences – has become more generous as destinations battle it out to win new association meetings.  The latest research conducted by The Right Solutions Ltd indicates that they are playing, if not a large, but a critical role when an associations makes the decision as to where to take their next event. In the 2016 BVEP Subvention Research, 50% of respondents acknowledge “significant influence in decision making” if there are offered subventions. The highest stake is cash subsidy – according 75% from all respondents – followed by discounts on venues costs. Only 17% of the respondents admit that subventions don’t impact the selection of a destination.

But instead of looking through a kind of ‘subvention’ magnifying glass, should’nt planners look at the bigger picture? Should they really just compare who gives the largest subsidies? As Aigars Smiltans puts it, « it might be wiser to base yourself on the general costs of your meeting(s). Do, for example, hotel rooms rates include breakfast or free wifi, or the rates will be for accommodation only? And if some marketing material is “offered”, will it be as good as if you had done it yourself? » Digging deeper, are associations always playing a fair game when requesting a proposal from a destination? Do they really have their delegates in mind? « Is transportation affordable? Is the destination easily accessible? What does an average meal or cab fare cost for instance? All this will have an influence on the decision for a delegate to come. » Aigars continues.

Then why choose Riga or Latvia for your next meeting? Well, there are numerous, good reasons. Read all about them in the next issue of Boardroom, out next month.

April 12, 2017

How to Keep a Competitive Edge in a Globalized World


The Stavanger region of Norway is dotted with stunning fjords and mountains forming some of the most jaw-dropping views in the world, but it’s not the natural landscape that’s drawing associations. As the fourth largest city in Norway with a population of only 126,000, the city uses other natural resources to compete with big players. Stavanger is a great example of a small city that is put on an international playing field as a member of the Energy Cities Alliance, Lane Nieset writes.

“The only way I can compete being in Norway is when there are obvious reasons for a collaboration,” explains Per Morten Haarr, convention director at Stavanger Convention Bureau and chairperson of Energy Cities Alliance. “We will never be price competitive and we are a smaller destination, so it’s more targeting and finding the niche and the associations that go hand-in-hand with the local business and research communities.”

One of the world’s leading meeting hubs for energy, the city is home to 35 oil and gas companies, as well as over 400 oilfield service and oil technology companies. The country’s largest oil company, Statoil ASA, along with international companies like BP and Shell, base their Norwegian headquarters here and look to Stavanger Convention Bureau’s network of knowledge. “For my team, it’s more important that they know the local business community than every PCO out there because then we can tailor-make what associations need once they get here,” Haarr says. “This really comes in handy when they need to get in touch with possible sponsors and relevant stakeholders because we are much more than a hub of contact.”

Big Voice for Small Destinations

By knowing the local business community personally, Stavanger is able to share this knowledge with the alliance’s partner cities like Aberdeen and Calgary, building on these connections and ties. “Between these business communities, there’s already so many connections, so many ties between our destinations, so it’s been really easy to play on that,” Haarr explains. “We’ve been able to focus on those synergies and see how this becomes a door opener to other industries that may not be related to energy per se, such as medical or healthcare.”

For a city like Stavanger, this international element is key when it comes to attracting relevant associations to the destination. While traveling on joint sales tours, associations find value in talking to the alliance’s four very diverse, yet similar destinations. “The security and feeling of being something international is an enormous benefit for us because life in a small convention bureau (with a team of only five) is sometimes hectic. When we meet with associations, it gives them assurance the meeting is worth having,” he says.

The Value of One Voice

By consolidating partners or collaborating with other destinations for a shared purpose, bureaus and businesses can serve as one voice with a strong message for associations. With the help of local ambassador programs and in-person meetings, associations can learn which of these alliances may be more relevant to their cause and feel confident that through this shared network of knowledge, destinations will better understand what associations are aiming to achieve. The same goes for members of the partnership. They can target associations who are more relevant for their destinations and industries, as well as learn from some of the best in the business. On the destination side, alliances can help other partners find solutions for issues they’re facing in their cities, such as subventions or KPIs. By working together as a team, they can bring this globally garnered knowledge back to the board at home to make future proposals even stronger.

Read the rest of this article in Boardroom #2 – IMEX edition – out in May.

April 6, 2017

Three Legacy Opportunities for Associations

International professional associations that convene congresses in destinations around the world mustn’t miss out on the opportunity to leave a legacy that reflects the values of the association, whether tangible or intangible, social, or economic or environmental. Three legacy opportunities present themselves to the rotating congresses that are hosted by international professional associations around the world. Words Keith Burton and Kristen Tremeer


The first type is a community-engagement legacy in which congress participants make a time donation and take part in an outreach activity which generates a tangible and long-lasting outcome. Examples might be planting a vegetable garden for a seniors’ centre, building a playground for a preschool, or constructing a library at a community centre. Participants will have the opportunity to contribute planning and problem-solving as well as elbow grease as they work together toward a result. Engagement with the beneficiaries of the outreach activity is another positive outcome.

This type of engagement can be very inspiring for the participants, and can leave long-lasting positive memories of the congress and destination. It’s a “volun-tourism” approach that gives visitors to a destination a chance to interact with local residents that they might not have otherwise been able to meet. The timeframe for planning is short and the budget can be almost entirely dedicated to materials and supplies as the labour will be supplied by the participants. And, most beneficial to the association executive, the activity can be arranged by a congress management service provider in the destination.

Content driven

The next type is wider reaching, and more content driven, and depends on the nature of the profession that the association represents. Convening a congress in a global destination presents opportunities for expanding the base of congress participation, promoting association membership growth in the host country or region, and strategic linkages with other countries in the region.

The funding model may be based on congress participants being asked to make a voluntary monetary donation during registration, or a portion of the congress budget can be set aside for the intended legacy. Because this legacy is more linked to the nature of the profession that the association represents, the time burden on the association executive will be greater as it is not something that can be outsourced to a congress management company.

Examples range from the establishment of an endowment in a relevant university department to a scholarship for participants from developing economies to attend future congresses. Something as simple as abstract support in which established academics or well-seasoned congress goers assist first-time abstract submitters to craft an abstract to the congress standards can leave a long-lasting legacy: getting an international congress under his or her belt can significantly impact the career of a young professional.

Making bursaries available to local or regional participants will demonstrate intent to grow the profession as well as create the vehicle for participants who may not have previously had the means to attend an international conference in their field. Using the host association’s members as congress volunteers is another way to share access to content and the association’s professionalism.

Skills transfer

Finally, a skills transfer or skills development legacy opportunity is available when a congress brings to any destination world experts on a specific topic or skill, whether medical, academic or professional. A mobile clinic in an under-developed facility staffed by leading physicians who treat and train is a possible example, as are special training sessions for students in a particular field.

The type of legacy chosen will depend on many factors, including the objectives and values of the association, the nature of the profession it represents, the location of the congress, and the enthusiasm of members but no matter the choice, both the association and the destination will benefit.

Authors Keith Burton (IAPCO Council Member), Managing Director, African Agenda, and Kristen Tremeer, Owner and Director, African Agenda, are based in Cape Town. IAPCO has members in 40 countries; they are professional organisers, meeting planners and managers of international and national congresses, conventions and special events.

April 3, 2017

Master in Association Management: A Brussels’ Exclusive

Association executives need perspective and skills in core managerial activities but also the soft skills to continue to play the important socio-political role in Europe and to understand its continuously changing economic, social and political environment.

To efficiently manage an association means facing new challenges in the wake of increasing competition, resources crunch and economic crisis. Leading a membership-based association requires today a constant balancing of current needs, external demands, and long-term vision.

Three years ago, the Solvay Brussels Schools of Economics and Management filled a gap and launched a management course aimed at professionals from the association industry, in collaboration with the European Society of Association Executives (ESAE), the Federation of European and International Associations (FAIB), the Union of International Associations (UIA) and visit.brussels.

The Executive Master in International Association Management (EMIAM) course is taught by university professors from the Solvay Brussels School-EM and graced with the regular presence of leading lights from the association industry who come and share their knowledge and their expertise. The objective is to provide association professionals with opportunities to learn and improve themselves professionally.

“The Executive Masters in International Association management is the only one of its kind in Europe. Managers of international associations need perspectives, skills and understanding of the best management practices so that they can continue to play a major socio-political role in Europe and around the world,” explains , CEO of the European SocieTy for Radiotherapy & Oncology (ESTRO), and a lecturer of the EMIAM.

The course includes 17 days of training spread over 7 themed modules. Classes are taught in English and organised in sessions lasting a full day each on Fridays and Saturdays. So far 42 students have taken the course, and every year each module, but also the programme as a whole, is evaluated. Thanks to participants’ suggestions, a module revised covering specifically the governance topic is on offer since 2016. After the input of the 2016 participants, an entire day on VAT was also introduced within the Finance module.

Adline Lewuillon, Congress Operations Senior Manager at ECCO (European CanCer Organisation) views the Master as “a unique combination of theoretical concepts widely supported by practical case studies. The Solvay professors bring their invaluable insights (and sense of humour), and join forces with association experts. Together, they cover all key elements of international association management, and help you bring this deep strategic knowledge to the practical field.”

The Solvay Brussels School of Economics and Management (SBS-EM) is a benchmark for participants, businesses and institutes that want to reap the rewards of the highest level of education and research in the fields of economics and management in Europe. Its goal is to generate and share skills in the fields of economics and management in order to train professionals and managers and to meet needs in terms of governance, productivity and innovation that run through our society, which is constantly evolving.