Academia, Industry & Government Success in Jerusalem

October 2, 2018

Academia, Industry & Government Success in Jerusalem

Building on a very strong academic backbone, Jerusalem has emerged as a hub for life science and biomedical companies, with a number of ground-breaking achievements attracting the attention of associations around the globe—and the government offering financial support for international conferences to get here.

High-Tech Hub

Five years may not seem like a long time, but for a city like Jerusalem, half a decade feels like a century in terms of innovation success. Jerusalem has undergone a technology renaissance of sorts, with one of the fastest growing start-up scenes on the globe. The city has earned the title “Start-Up Nation” since it is home to over a thousand start-ups—the largest number of per-capita start-ups and venture capital investments in the world. Thanks to these investments, the number of active life sciences and hi-tech companies in Jerusalem has tripled from 150 to 570 over the past five years alone.

This has inspired both local and global enterprises, such as Kaspersky Lab and Rafael (Israel’s most important manufacturer of advanced defense systems), to expand their operations by moving to the city. “Jerusalem features two main hubs: education and biotech. Innovative companies have established their own hubs in Jerusalem through the contribution of academics coming from the university,” explains Dr. Joseph (Yossi) Tam, Director of the Multidisciplinary Center on Cannabinoid Research at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. One hub nourishes the other.”

Modern-Day Medicine

Jerusalem also features 17 academic institutions that build on a history spanning back more than two millennia. The Hebrew University, which ranks 23rdin the world, features the highest number of life science Ph.D. students in the country, with cutting-edge research in areas like biotechnology, computer science, astrophysics, cancer and solar energy.

Along with affiliate Hadassah Medical Center, the two institutions conduct over one-third of the country’s academic research, as well as 43% of Israel’s biotechnology research. With over 1,800 students graduating annually and setting out into the community, Jerusalem is continuing to build on its reputation as a powerhouse in the field of life sciences, with over 100 companies specialising in this sector.

Given the facilities and wealth of research stemming from the city, Jerusalem has gained notoriety as a leader in scientific and medical conventions and makes for an ideal conference host, attracting over 350 tech events per year that include everything from inspiration meet-ups to hackathons and conferences. “Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and attracts many people coming to the country,”Tam says. “Being a perfect mix of religion and invention, history and culture, modernity and life, brings together many people from around the globe to explore this beautiful city.”

In September 2017, mHealth Israel, the country’s largest medical technology conference, met for the fourth time in the city, bringing together over 500 attendees from more than 20 countries, over 80 percent of which were entrepreneurs. According to mHealth Israel founder Levi Shapiro in a press statement: “It is clear that Jerusalem is experiencing a boom in life science and Medtech investment and start-ups. Jerusalem offers the perfect setting for global C-level decision makers to meet innovative start-ups from across Israel, Europe and the US.”

Groundbreaking Gains

Jerusalem is also leading the way in cannabis research, thanks to the work underway at the Multidisciplinary Center for Cannabinoid Research at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, which hosts an annual symposium on cannabinoids. Building on five decades of work started by Professor Raphael Mechoulam, “the father of cannabinoid research,”the center coordinates and conducts research on medical Cannabis and endocannabinoid activity and its therapeutic potential in treating disease.

In conjunction with the Jerusalem Conventions & Visitors Bureau, Dr. Tam helped persuade the International Cannabinoid Research Society (ICRS) to choose Jerusalem for its International Symposium on the Cannabinoids in 2021 at the Jerusalem International Convention Center (ICC), the same year asProf. Mechoulam’s 90thbirthday. For both Jerusalem and the Multidisciplinary Center for Cannabinoid Research, this is a huge win since the ICRS is the oldest scientific society dedicated to the research of the cannabis plant, cannabinoids and their physiological and biochemical targets.

“One of our first goals after establishing the center was to host the ICRS conference in Jerusalem so that the international community of researchers can learn about the highly advanced work in the field of cannabinoids carried out in the center and in Israel,” Dr. Tam said. “I am certain that hosting this high-level conference will constitute another turning point in Israel’s position as a global leader in cannabinoid research and development.”

The conference, which debuted in 1990, is one of the top in the field of cannabinoids research and brings together hundreds of leading researchers from scientific communities around the globe. In an effort to win the bid and compete with other nearby cities in Europe, the Jerusalem Conventions & Visitors Bureauwas able to price match leading locales to ensure the city was a top contender, serving as a one-stop-shop offering financial support of up to €50,000.

This article, whose unedited version can be found in this edition of Boardroom,  was written by Boardroom editor Lane Nieset. More information on Jerusalem as a convention destination on


Smart Stats on Jerusalem

Accessibility: Sitting halfway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, a 20-minute train ride away from the city, Israel’s international airport, Ben Gurion, is just a 4-hour flight from Europe’s major cities, with direct flights from 141 locations

Venues: The Jerusalem International Convention Center (ICC) is the largest and leading conference centre in the country with 27 halls accommodating up to 10,000 attendees, including the 3,000-person Ussishkin Auditorium—the largest in Israel

Accommodations: More than 17,500 rooms scattered across hotels suiting all budgets



September 24, 2018

About the Young Members of the EORTC…

Dr Denis Lacombe, Director General of the the European Organisation for Research and Treatment of Cancer (EORTC), an independent cancer research organisation whose mission is to coordinate and conduct international translational and clinical research to improve the standard of cancer treatment for patients, answers Boardroom’s questions on how the association caters to younger members.

How do you connect and recruit younger members?

EORTC has access through its membership to very large networks across Europe. Key opinion leaders are members of the EORTC. Aiming at younger clinical investigators but with some degree of maturity, we have identified ‘rising stars’ in partnership with EORTC Disease Orientated Group officers based on their preliminary track records and publications. Altogether, we have identified 35 Early Career Investigators (ECI) across nationalities, disciplines and tumor types.

What do you think their specific needs are? Do they have a ‘typical’ profile?

Indeed, selected people have already been selected based on their motivation to ask THE extra question and run THE extra mile. They are curious for new knowledge, to transform it in therapeutic progress, they are not afraid to take challenges forward and have autonomy and drive to propose pragmatic solutions while keeping their objective for patient centric benefits.

They need to receive comprehensive training how to become leaders in a rapidly evolving society and how to run complex multisdiciplinary research internationally and set up fruit full cooperation across stakeholders. How to navigate across European regulations and policies is also a key element.

How do you engage them? How do you make them feel concerned and involved?

We have built a comprehensive programme running over 2 years where they receive training to acquire leadership skills. In addition, they are given autonomy to design the future of our organisation around critical themes which are central to our scientific strategy. Their proposal will be presented to our board. They are invited to join hands-on activities ranging from courses to participating in committees. But mostly, there are 5 3-days in-person sessions through which the full scope of challenges are presented, discussed and debates are organised with representatives of key stakeholders. The programme has been registered for Continuing Medical Education (CME). But above all, this is a very interactive place to meet across disciplines and nationalities to build the European cancer clinical research network for tomorrow.

Can generational differences be an issue within the culture of the association?

Yes, indeed. Seniors also need to learn to associate with the younger generation. There is an EORTC requirement for each research protocol to have an ECI as co-principal investigator. The forms and the methods also evolve with increasing role of technologies, internet, applications which modulate the landscape. Despite their professional quality, we also need to take into account the expectations of the younger generation for a more balanced professional and private life.

September 17, 2018

Elevating the Growth of the MECSC

CEO of the Middle East Council of Shopping Centres (MECSC) and a member of Boardroom Advisory Board, David Macadam has been instrumental in making his organisation grow, taking advantage of a booming economy and resources to be found in the MENA region. In our third instalment with the Global Association Hubs Partnership (GAHP), he recalls how far the MECSC has come from and where it’s heading.

It’s not secret; we hear it day in, day out. Associations need more members, and, additionally, they need to retain them for longer.Most of the time, you get new members through your association with industry groups and conferences that you run within your industry. But there are many more strategies to increase member acquisition, and some associations are finding ways to both recruit broadly and target narrowly, resulting in high-value returns.

Taking over the leadership of the Middle East Council of Shopping Centres (MECSC) in mid-2013, the organisation was in disarray. Financially as an association we were losing money and the member morale was at an all-time low. A common refrain from our low membership base was the question, what is your value proposition? Why should I become a member of the MECSC? Being based in Dubai, branded as a ‘shopping paradise’ the world over, surely helped, but it was not good enough.

Growth strategy

At that time the value proposition for becoming a member of the MECSC was not clearly defined. Reasons to become a member of the MECSC were few. Leading the organisation from this unsatisfactory low point was the challenge which I had signed up for. Developing a growth strategy for your association takes time. Hours can be spent on debating the best methods to use to reach prospective members, and days of content creation and campaign management. But what tactics are effective? Member retention? Member acquisition? A balanced, comprehensive growth strategy will include a mix of both.

At the same time, it is impossible to develop successful, sustainable long-term strategy without understanding the future in which your members will live and work. Whether through strategic planning or value proposition design, research confirms that associations must develop strategy based on the anticipated future of their industry or profession if they want to be successful. And this is precisely what we understood at MECSC. As we created partnerships and coalitions, as well as additional products and services, we became successful.

The MENA region is a good arena for the growth of nonprofit organisations because few currently exist in the region. Retail professionals from every corner of the region are looking to become more effective in business. Information sharing, education programs, conferencing, networking events are all important aspects of international associations. Not for profit associations in the region fulfill that promise. With a younger demographic population in the MENA region of nearly 400 million, the opportunity for growth is boundless.

Additionally, Dubai is a natural fit for hosting international associations, as it provides a platform that allows individuals and organisations alike to network, as well as tap into potential sectors that aim to serve the overall industry progression and contribute to the UAE’s economic development. In this context, Dubai Association Centre (DAC), since its establishment in 2016, has evolved to become a gateway for international associations that are looking to take advantage of a rapidly transforming city. As far as we are concerned, DAC has been very helpful to the MECSC team. The knowledgeable and talented people in the DAC provide thoughtful support and provide resources which enable growth of international associations, who stand to benefit from the innumerable opportunities the city has to offer, as well as from the growth mindset that Dubai embodies.

The full version of this article is available in the September issue of Boardroom available here.


September 10, 2018

Edinburgh Attracts New Talent to Growing Sectors

A thriving university city full of contrasts, Edinburgh constantly nurtures new talent, and welcomes bright young minds from across the world to a flourishing job market across growing key sectors.

As the second top conference destination in the UK, Edinburgh has much to offer young people looking to expand their minds and seek out new opportunities, especially with the Scottish Government naming 2018 the ‘Year of the Young People’.

WYSTC in the City

Earlier this year, the World Youth and Student Travel Conference (WYSTC) chose Edinburgh as the host city for its 27thannual event – the first time the event will be held in Scotland. The conference will see an estimated 500 delegates descend on the capital. The trade event for the global youth, student and educational travel industry will be held at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre (EICC), following a successful joint bid from Marketing Edinburgh’s Convention Bureau, Youth Travel Edinburgh, EICC and Edinburgh Tourism Action Group (ETAG).

On the reasons WYSTC chose Edinburgh, Pete Duncan, Chair of Youth Travel Edinburgh, said:“Edinburgh is a destination which is open, inclusive and already welcomes international millennials whether to live, study or visit. The conference will provide us with an excellent opportunity to showcase our city and Scotland to global business leaders representing a combination of educational and travel and tourism organisations.”

This is just one opportunity of many that will further raise the profile of Edinburgh to Millennials and GenZ across the world. More than just a conference, events such as these are an opportunity to showcase the city and can be incredibly beneficial in the longer term: driving visitors, encouraging students, and ultimately helping promote the destination as a place to visit, study, enjoy, live and work.

What’s important to Amanda Ferguson, Head of Business Tourism at Marketing Edinburgh, is not only attracting this younger audience but retaining it. She commented: “Marketing Edinburgh works hard to attract and retain talent to deliver a strong, diversified economy and business tourism plays a key role in this. With a skilled young workforce comes increased interest from wider business, so it’s important that we continue to welcome innovative events like WYSTC to help drive this audience.”

Key innovative sectors

A hot spot for bright young minds as far back as the Enlightenment, Edinburgh continues to entice forward thinkers to its four leading universities and growing workforce – especially in key innovative sectors: financial services, technology, life sciences, renewable energy, food and drink and the creative industries. These sector strengths are a key focus of the city’s Make it Edinburgh campaign, launched by Convention Edinburgh to showcase the capital’s varied expertise – and are areas that welcome and prosper with fresh, young talent.

Amanda Ferguson added:“The six sectors our Make It Edinburgh campaign shines a spotlight on are thriving – but they can only continue to do so with input from millennials and GenZ. When young visitors choose to invest themselves in a city, this is a key economic driver and should be nurtured. The appeal of the city for this audience is immense, and, as a destination, our priority is also to create a strong legacy from youth visitors – so we need to ensure we are communicating about opportunities and urban amenities and doing it in a way that is relevant to them.”

The innovation and cutting-edge research at the core of the Edinburgh’s universities, coupled with the vast array of amenities and cultural experiences, has helped shape the city’s popularity amongst the young thinkers of today. The breadth of activities and attractions on offer means that young travellers can experience its many different. These attributes allow Scotland’s capital to provide the backdrop to attract, and importantly retain, the entrepreneurs, culturally curious and brightest young minds of tomorrow.

This article is a contribution by Marketing Edinburgh.

September 7, 2018

New Opportunities for Associations in Washington, DC

According to the latest International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) Statistics Report, Washington, DC is the #1 city in the U.S. for international association meetings. With 16 free-to-enter Smithsonian museums, historic landmarks, LEED certified venues and tech-friendly meeting spaces, the city is one of the top destinations to host a meeting.

Washington, DC is dedicated to developing initiatives and investing in new opportunities by adding to its strong industries with $11.5 billion in development underway, 20 hotels in the pipeline and many new and renovated special events venues in the works. The city’s appeal and ease of access are unparalleled, making it a hot spot for the international business community. DC’s top international meetings markets include the UK, India, China and Japan.

The nation’s capital has built a path towards greener living and meeting by creating an accessible environment where every government building is powered by renewable energy. Sustainability efforts contributed to the U.S. Green Building Council naming DC the first LEED platinum city in the world in August 2017. The city continues to add properties that are LEED certified such as the new Eaton Workshop and Hilton Washington DC National Mall, both expected to open summer 2018. As the third most energy efficient city in the U.S. according to ACEEE, DC boasts:

If you’re planning an intimate meeting, Washington, DC is the perfect partner. From waterfront boardrooms filled with natural light to outdoor venues overlooking the city and new hotel inventory, private events thrive in the city. Among DC’s booming Michelin-starred restaurant scene are many eateries that boast breathtaking exclusive event spaces, making private dining accommodations easier than ever.

In 2018, Washington, DC will see new direct nonstop air service into Dulles International Airport from key international markets:

  • Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific (September 2018)
  • London Stansted on Primera Air (launched last month)

“We welcome more international association business and hope the new flights, sustainable hotel inventory and thriving restaurant scene help make it easy to choose Washington, DC for all your meeting needs,” said Elliott L. Ferguson II, president and CEO of Destination DC. “Business travelers can access lawmakers relevant to their cause, meet in incredible venues and enjoy some of the city’s most exciting new developments.”

This article is powered by Destination DC. To learn more about meetings and conventions in Washington, DC or submit an RFP, visit


September 5, 2018

The Secretary General’s Voice
– Happy Staff for Happy Members

A member of Boardroom Advisory board, Mohamed Mezghani has been appointed Secretary General of the International Association of Public Transport (UITP) in January. Boardroom has asked him to contribute a monthly column in which he explains all about the challenges of holding such a position. This is Mohamed’s seventh contribution, in which he reflects on happiness in the workplace.

Early this year, I concluded a column saying that only happy staff can make happy members. I am more than ever an adept of such statement. This is not just a demagogic formula but the conclusion of serious research.

Indeed, happiness at work is a recognised science that is more and more studied, and its concepts are implemented in a growing number of companies. This is what convinced me to introduce the position of ‘Manager Internal Culture’ playing the role of Chief Happiness Officer at UITP. Her main mission consists in ingraining the association values into the culture of th eorganisation in a sustainable and determined way.The objective is to grow the engagement and fulfilment of staff by proactively fostering well-being at work and supportive attitudes towards colleagues and the organisation as a whole.

It is a fundamental cultural change that aims to bring to life the association core values: Respect – Innovation – Sharing – Expertise. This will be accompanied by various tools to help our employees adopt this new approach, such as: transparent and structured internal communication, a Code of Conduct describing principles for staff behaviour within and outside the organisation, trainings on caring management, on how to deal with emails, etc.

In doing so, we don’t only make working more pleasant and rewarding, but we also spread a culture of customer excellence across the whole organisation at all positions and jobs. It is important that all employees, and not just the front line staff who are in contact with members, understand and appreciate the impact of their work on the delivered service, even if they never meet any members in their daily operations. Doug Conant[1]said it better: “To win in the market place, you must first win in the workplace”. To achieve this objective, the organisation must have clear priorities shared with all employees and adopted by them, foster staff engagement and empowerment, implement transparency as a fundamental principle, and have a management leading by example.

There are also a strong collaboration spirit and sharing mentality, and, with these, a curiosity towards colleagues: who are they? What do they do? How can I engage with them, how can I help them engage with me? It goes with a certain agility and the need to produce association services within short timelines. Agility doesn’t mean improvisation but pragmatism in seizing opportunities. It involves partnerships with other associations and international organisations and building alliances as often as possible. We shouldn’t try to do everything everywhere for everyone: let’s join forces and build on our respective strengths.

It also goes with humility and respect: yes, we are a large global association with a long history but there’s no reason to be arrogant and self-indulgent. And of course, it goes with a lot of pleasure: enjoying any moments, without forcing ourselves to do what we don’t want to do, working at our own pace, celebrating success but accepting the right to fail, never underestimating every individual contribution, feeling proud of our role in the team and having fun.

Last week, the whole staff of UITP worldwide was gathered in Brussels for our annual retreat (pictured). They are from different disciplines, different nationalities, different cultures, different ages, different educational backgrounds… but all are committed to using these differences to enrich and strengthen the association. They are UITP and UITP is them!

[1]Former President and CEO of the Campbell Soup Company

August 27, 2018

What Makes a High-Performance Secretariat

Ellwood Atfield is specialised in recruiting association leaders and corporate affairs executives. In June 2018, they published a new report on ‘High-Performance Secretariats’, based on hundreds of face-to-face interviews and an online survey. They talked to global, European and national associations headquartered in London, Brussels, Paris, Berlin and Geneva. Not surprisingly there is consistency across Europe on what constitutes a high-performance secretariat as Mark Dober, Managing Director, writes.

Seven Key Attributes

Following a literature review, research and practical experience we first published in ‘Key Success Factors for European Associations’ seven key attributes of a high-performance secretariat. We knew each attribute was a key ingredient in the overall successful recipe for an association secretariat but we did not know how important they were relative to each other. So using a randomized survey methodology hundreds of association leaders gave us the answer represented graphically above.

It is perhaps obvious but important to be very clear that the most important person in any high-performance secretariat is the association leader. Indeed, Ellwood Atfield research confirms that the single most distinguishing factor between a good and underperformance association is its leadership, or simply put the qualities of the person in charge on a daily basis. We also found meeting members’ expectations, strategic planning and goal setting are by far the greatest challenges for association leaders. Hence, associations need strong leaders to set strategy and help find consensus between corporate members who compete with each other for market share, and member associations with very different cultures.

Overall Ellwood Atfield research finds that exceptional association leaders are; strategic; persuasive diplomats; excellent communicators; politically savvy; competent managers; energetic networkers; and sectoral experts. Although it is rare that individuals are highly rated on all of the seven attributes, an analysis of their relative strengths and weaknesses against the needs of the job and the association can be useful to assess performance, and remedial measures.

Evaluating your secretariat

As the saying goes, if it’s not measured, it’s not truly managed. Associations must add measurable value to the sectors they represent or face the consequences. There are many ways to measure the success of a secretariat which is after all a reflection of the success of the association, and sometimes even of the reputation of the sector itself. However, using text analysis and grouping hundreds of survey responses we see three main measurement methods used by associations; membership satisfaction; policy and communication achievements; and KPIs. The majority (i.e. more than 50% of survey respondents) highlighted membership metrics particularly around membership satisfaction.

By definition, membership associations exist to serve their members – so ensuring members are satisfied and engaged is a key strategic priority for every association. Some experts told us about the importance not just of meeting members’ expectations, but going beyond what is expected of the Secretariat. Overall five main areas for measurement were highlighted in our survey: 1) Membership satisfaction surveys and scores; 2) Measuring the value and benefit of membership; 3) Membership retention and growth; 4) Membership participation and engagement; 5) General evaluation by the Board

The full version of this article will be published in the September issue of Boardroom.

August 20, 2018

Empowering Hydrogen Research in the Czech Republic

The 7th International Conference on Hydrogen Technologies took place in Prague in mid-July 2017. But work to bring the conference to Prague started as early as in 2009, when the relatively newly established Czech Hydrogen Technology Platform (HYTEP) decided to bid for the event, with the support of  Prague Convention Bureau. At the time, Professor Dr. Ing. Karel Bouzek became the local ambassador of the conference, and received an award during the annual Ambassador Awards Evening organized by the Bureau.

“Winning the candidacy was quite a challenge but the preparation and organization to meet all the delegates’ expectations was actually much more demanding,” commented Professor Bouzek. “Work on the candidacy was coordinated with a help from the HYTEP for the scientific part and the C-IN PCO together with the Prague Convention Bureau for the organizational part. Hydrogen technologies were in their infancy at that time, and this type of conference had never taken place in Eastern Europe before.”

Long tradition

In reality, research on hydrogen technology has a long tradition in the Czech Republic. Already in the 1960s, the development of alkaline fuel cells had been conducted, even if work in the field was stopped afterwards. It’s only at the start of the new millennium that research began again.“It is worth pointing out that in the Czech Republic, as in the first country of the post-communist block, a bus powered by a hydrogen fuel cell was developed and operated, and a hydrogen filling station was installed, while other projects followed. And today there is an increasing interest both from a commercial and public point of view,” commented Professor Bouzek.

The organisation of the 7th International Conference on Hydrogen Technologies brought international recognition to Prague and the Czech Republic, as the destination hosted one of the world’s most important scientific conferences exclusively dedicated to the topic. In this regard, it helped share knowledge and best practices in the field.

When asked about how delegates perceived the conference Professor Bouzek said “The programme consisted of a number of parallel sesstions covering a wide range of topics. Plenary lectures delivered by prominent personalities from the field of hydrogen technologies were received positively, and a concurrent exhibition awoke great interest among participants and guests, who also enjoyed a great gala dinner in Hergetova cihelna. The surroundings overlooking the Old Town were magnificent. Personally, my biggest surprise came from Japanese participants, who came in great numbers. This says a lot about how much attention Japan puts into hydrogen technologies.”

In the future

Professor Bouzek has been involved in various conference bids for more than twenty years. In 1996, for the first time,he participated in the organization of the 4thEuropean Symposium on Electrochemical Engineering (ESSE). “It was undoubtedly an interesting experience. The evaluation of the documents and all the agenda were still on paper – nothing was done digitally back then! The fact that the conference eventually proved to be successful is evidenced by the fact that it returned to Prague in 2008 (8th ESEE) and then in 2017 (11th ESEE) again,” he says.

In the future, Professor Bouzek is eager to build on the success of the seventh edition of the International Conference on Hydrogen Technologies and apply for the organization of one of the forthcoming World Hydrogen Energy Convention (WHEC). In the meantime, he will continue to organize the now-traditional Hydrogen Days, which will take place for the ninth time in cooperation with the C-IN. “This is a smaller conference. However, we attach considerable importance to it, given the close links between the activities of CEE countries, like the Visegrad Group countries and Ukraine or Romania. The central position of Prague and the Czech Republic calls for building bridges between the West and the East of Europe,” concludes Professor Bouzek.

August 13, 2018

3 Questions to Claire Smith of Vancouver Convention Centre

On the occasion of the Sustainable Brands conference which took place in Vancouver last June, Boardroom sat with Claire Smith, Vice-President, Sales & Marketing at Vancouver Convention Centre. Chair of PCMA, Claire shared a lot of interesting insights on the way she has been working with associations.

Has the way you work with associations changed over the years?

It’s definitely changed since the world of associations has changed. As a venue, we work hand in hand with Tourism Vancouver in a very close partnership. They are the conduit to the broader Vancouver community, and, as far as we’re concerned, we’re looking at what happens within the walls of the convention centre. Together, we help an organization create a successful event in our city.

When we opened the West Building of the Convention Centre ten years ago we were stunned at the natural beauty you could experience from it.  From a sales and marketing perspective we were talking a lot about destination appeal and beauty, but my feeling was that ‘what should somebody care? What does that mean for the events that meet here?’. I felt we had to put our attention into what do those attributes mean for success. We started to look at outcomes and how  success is measured. If it is attendance, how can  we  help boost and build attendance, especially from Asia? We took our assets and tried to create relevance in those assets, thinking about how these could benefit associations.

Now we have really shifted to focus on the business relevance of a destination decision. To me, a conference is a business and it has to make business sense for it to be organized in a city. Every organization has different business metrics, and one of them could be growing that field of study in that part of the world: there could be a link to some research centre for instance, but at the same time every association is so specific that, in the end, what it is important is to know what success looks like to them, and how Vancouver can support and drive that success.

How do you identify those conferences that could be the most successful, should they be organized in Vancouver?

There are some that are natural alignment. If we take Sustainable Brands for example, that is a very clear, philosophical alignment as Vancouver is a sustainable pioneer.  There are ones where maybe there is a strong industry sector here and they are a catalyst and want to help. But there are also ones that may not feel naturally like a fit, and that’s where we have to have a different conversation (with a lot of questions and a lot of listening!) and dig deep to understand what success means to an organization and take the first step of collaboration.

An example that comes to my mind is a recent American meeting on neurology we hosted: Vancouver might not be an obvious leading city in that field but we had a strong and passionate school of medicine who   wanted to promote the importance of brain health. That Society worked with our university and local community organizations and hosted  a community outreach programme to help raise the profile of brain health to Vancouver.

In a way, the fact that Vancouver is not the centre of one thing and that we actually have many faces is an asset. Our first priorities are the ones that make natural sense, like any conference related to marine, port and trade for instance, but then we have to take a few steps further and ignite the business relevance of a conference that is not particularly obvious for Vancouver… when it makes sense of course.

How do you think that will evolve in the years to come?

As an industry, we are shifting and mirroring the shifts society is going through. Associations have to work very hard at showing their value. The exciting piece of it that their events have become an even more important platform for them and it is often their main source of revenue and their #1 activation of their mission. Associations are constantly evaluating how to stay relevant in a cluttered marketplace.

What we’re also seeing is blurred geographic boundaries: we see societies that might have been regional in scope that start poking outside their region; we see congresses that used to take place every three or four years take place every year or two years; we see subspecialty organizations being born… In this context, we need to be closely aligned and be able to help as they change, test and try. We have to be able to come up with solutions as how to be a better partner as a destination.

This interview was conducted by Boardroom Chief Editor Rémi Dévé in June 2018 (

July 30, 2018

The Secretary General’s Voice
– The Power of Sharing

A member of Boardroom Advisory board, Mohamed Mezghani has been appointed Secretary General of the International Association of Public Transport (UITP) in January. Boardroom has asked him to contribute a monthly column in which he explains all about the challenges of holding such a position. This is Mohamed’s sixth contribution, in which he reflects on the power of sharing

I am writing this end of July. For most of you, this time coincides with the traditional summer break, the so-called annual leave. But this is the case mainly for those located in the Northern Hemisphere. For the other half of the planet it is business as usual, not to say a peak period for their activities. I remember some years ago, our association activities used to have two peaks: one in spring (i.e. February-June) and one in autumn (September-November). With the globalisation of UITP, the activity is now equally distributed all over the year except may be around New Year’s. There are obviously some variations according to the region of the world but generally speaking the rhythm of meetings and events is constant around the year.

We can’t say anymore that we’ll use the summer period to take some distance from our daily work to think out of the box. We have to find time to do this while we do our business as usual. It is a challenge. How to think about new services, new segments of membership, the future of the association if you are stuck in day-to-day issues?

Interesting to see that this is actually one reason why our members join us: we help them escape from their daily problems so that they get inspired. Therefore, we have to apply to ourselves what we preach for. We must plan some moments of reflexion, we have to meet peers and confront our ideas with them, we have to discover what other sectors are doing. We must take time to know the destinations of our future events better and interact with potential suppliers. From this curiosity and interaction new ideas will be born. In other words, we must go out to be more creative in our associations.

But how exactly should we do this? By joining associations of associations, either on a regional or thematic level. By attending exhibitions and events targeting associations and event organisers. By participating in fam trips to get familiar with destinations. By contributing to web fora dealing with association matters. By reading specialised magazines like Boardroom.

But there is one important rule: if you want to benefit you must share and get involved. Passive participation is worthless. As far as I am concerned, I measure the success of my participation in such fora by the ideas I collect from others that I could potentially implement at UITP, by the quality of people I meet and I could learn from, and by the opportunities offered to me or my colleagues to contribute to events and share our experiences.

I can mention several examples: the methodology for evaluating bids for hosting events inspired by ICCA, the new approach to sponsorship learned from PCMA, the opportunity to chair the European Association Summit organised by VisitBrussels, the engagement as an Ambassador of the Dubai Association Centre, the participation in several meetings of the European Society of Association Executives (ESAE), the involvement in the United Networks of International Corporate Events Organizers (UNICEO) and more – not to forget the feedback I have been getting since I started writing this column…

The more you share, the more you learn, and the more you’ll be inspired to improve your association. Be open!