Recreating Purposeful Meetings at BestCities Global Forum 2024

29th January 2024

Collaboration, new connections and knowledge exchange and intake sounds like a great way to kick off the year. Especially if all this take place in a welcoming city that has a lot to offer to associations and the meetings industry. The 2024 BestCities Global Forum was held between 18 and 21 January in Melbourne, Australia and Boardroom was part of what has become over the years a must-attend event for associations.

Words Vicky Koffa

While competing against other destinations to win conference bids can be stressful to say the least, the 13 cities of the BestCities Global Alliance have managed to turn this into a positive and impactful activity. Covering the globe, BerlinCape TownCopenhagenDubaiDublinGuadalajaraHoustonMadridMelbourneSingaporeTokyoVancouver, and Washington DC (the latest member since October 2023) have joined forces for over 20 years to guide associations through the journey of putting together sustainable conference experiences that meet their delegates’ diverse needs.

What Melbourne Brings to the Table

A city of laneways, innovative food and wine scene, thriving culture and year-round calendar of major events. All year round, city life actually revolves around sporting events with business events well integrated in this schedule. Our experience of the Australia Open tennis tournament, one of the 4 gran slams globally, was proof of that. Delegates soaked in the atmosphere of how the local community celebrates such events and utilizes them not just for economic growth, but also to fuel inspiration and purpose (comparable to what business events are all about) creating community activities for everyone.

“As host city, the Global Forum provided Melbourne an opportunity to showcase how our city’s exciting events calendar, state-of-the-art infrastructure and world-class supply chain can enhance conference and meeting offerings,” says Swanson.

The Forum’s sessions were held in different locations across the city, showcasing Melbourne’s facilities and walkability. Opened in 2005, the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre (MCEC) is the first convention centre in the world to achieve a 6-star Green Star environmental rating. 63 meeting rooms, outdoor spaces, and a plenary of over 5,000 people make it the largest convention and exhibition venue in Australia.

South Wharf (where MCEC is located) offers various meeting spaces. Showtime Event Group has rooms along the Yara River with capacities ranging from 70 to 410 people. Marvel Stadium has upgraded spaces with stunning views of the city and the field of play and 500-person capacity. All withing walkable distance or a free tram ride (including a number of hotels) paint the picture of a sustainable conference city.

With collaboration as a tool and excellence as a goal, the Alliance is eager to elevate business events and help associations and event planners leave a lasting legacy. Their annual conference, the Global Forum is a testament of these efforts. 

“The curated program at this year’s Global Forum was designed to facilitate peer-to-peer connections between associations and engagement with convention bureaus to establish enduring strategic partnerships beyond mere transactions. Our ambition is to cultivate a community where mutual learning drives the success of business events. Our educational offerings addressed the specific challenges faced by international associations. By spotlighting the broader impacts of international business events beyond tourism, we encourage associations to integrate legacy and social outcomes into their strategic plans from the outset,” says Melbourne Convention Bureau Chief Executive Julia Swanson.

Challenge The Change

Under the theme “Meeting the Challenge: Creating Connections with Purpose”, the 2024 gathering brought together association executives and global meeting planners along with representatives of the BestCities members to explore how in-person meetings can bring out maximum value and purpose for the organizer, the attendee and the host. Hosted by Melbourne Convention Bureau, the 3-day event nurtured the power of collaboration through a series of workshops, presentations, and hands-on experiences throughout the city.

To start things off, Mark McCrindle, Founder of McCrindle – recognized globally as coining the name for the emerging generation, Generation Alpha – mapped out the current challenges of the international association landscape. In his lively presentation the word ‘change’ (the biggest challenge for associations) took different shapes to show us that not only is it a multi-layered global phenomenon, but also that we need to take action and adapt now, not some time later in the future.

World demographics are changing, bringing cultural diversity and global mobility. Furthermore, longevity is increased, creating opportunities for frequent career changes as well as greater attendee range. “As we live longer, retire later, change jobs more frequently, and retrain across multiple careers, lifelong learning will move from an aspiration to essential,” says McCrindle. Education-based business events are more essential now than ever as training and intergenerational knowledge transfer are the only way to stay relevant.

Association challenges were also tackled during Mike van der Vijver’s (Managing Partner of MindMeeting) session, which got participants to verbalize their own concerns for the association market. In an engaging workshop, attendees found common ‘problems’, from contract negotiations and membership engagement to technology, DEI and partnerships. 

Lively conversations led to practical ideas and solutions: keep cultural differences in mind when negotiating; engage and communicate in different ways for different age groups for more membership value; use AI to improve processes but not alienate the human element; accessibility for all during any meeting is key; and utilize connections and free resources (e.g. convention bureaus, communities like BestCities) to create new partnerships which will help advance any association.

Trending Now: Meetings with Purpose

Olena Lima, Founder and Principal Consultant of Member Boat, shed light on how to use the digital era to create higher value for members. In fact, she said, any purposeful meeting starts with committed members who know exactly what their association can do for them. In order to achieve this, associations can use AI to collect data and create a member persona which can then be used to send out personalized communication and educational material to its members.

Strategy development and implementation do not start just before an event but are embedded in every association’s core. Decide on the impact your association wants to have on its community (and beyond) and communicate this (again in a personalized way using technology) to your members: that was Belinda Moore’s (Director of Strategic Membership Solutions) advice to the attendees. “The vision of pure financial gain will not help you thrive through changing times as these. Fostering communities, integrating new technologies and finding a purpose are essential for advancing into the future,” she said.

Rethinking the conference design itself will be a tool towards this goal, according to van der Vijver. The old model of dry presentations and one-direction knowledge is not conducive to change. Delegates are more inspired when learning is interactive and when they get to exchange ideas by physically moving around the room. And of course, the topics discussed need to resonate with the delegates in the room and the communities they serve so that true impact is achieved.

Concluding the event, delegates were energized to apply all their learnings to their organizations. As Callum Clench, Executive Director of the International Water Resources Association (IWRA) put it: “This was a really great event. Melbourne Convention Bureau was a superb host and the program pulled together by the Best Cities Global Forum was incredibly useful and relevant from an association perspective. I learned so much, not only about the destinations, but also about the issues facing associations and events everywhere thanks to the incredibly helpful professional advice given in the workshops. These really got my thinking cap on, and I’m now eager to try to implement some of these lessons into IWRA. And of course, I met some wonderful people. This event felt more like meeting with a large group of friends rather than simply attending a trade show.”

Next year’s BestCities Global Forum will be held in Dublin.

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