Thirty years ago, Glasgow launched the Glasgow Conference Ambassador Programme, knowing that conferences would help grow the city’ global reputation and attract delegates, who would boost the local economy. “The city of Glasgow had the foresight to understand the importance of promoting itself as an academic city—an intellectual capital—before it was a well-versed concept,” explains Aileen Crawford, head of conventions at Glasgow Convention Bureau. “Glasgow understood that by hosting world-leading academic, association conferences in our city would bring the world’s best minds to collaborate and drive innovation in the key sectors targeted for growth in the city’s economic strategy. Today, as we consider the future, we continue to recognise the importance of hosting association conferences that are aligned with the city’s key sectors.”
Since April, the city has won over 25 conferences for future years, which “showcases the confidence that meetings remain valuable and important to the association membership,” Crawford says. World-class institutions like the Beatson Institute for Cancer Research, for example, have helped the city attract previous events like the National Cancer Research Institute’s (NCRI) 2018 conference—the UK’s largest cancer conference. As Nicole Leida, head of conference and events at NCRI, puts it: “Being able to have a strong link with the local cancer research community was essential, so we ensured that as many speakers as possible from the Beatson Institute and University of Glasgow had the opportunity to take part in the conference. We had a strong media programme that was picked up from local and national media, adding to the excitement in the city when we were there.”
Winds of Change
“The pandemic, with all its consequences, has amplified the need for radical changes in the meetings industry, both for the benefit of the industry itself, for our communities and for the world we live in. It has questioned the very reasons we meet at conventions.” explains Bettina Reventlow-Mourier, deputy convention director at Wonderful Copenhagen. “To justify the travel, potential health risks, cost and time along with the climate footprint of meeting in person, we, as destinations, need to think beyond the economic turnover derived from heads on beds and proactively link the congress topic with the intellectual capital of the city, country and region in which it is held.”
Denmark’s capital city has a comprehensive strategy to attract events, by creating bids that contains not only offers for the functionality of the event such as venue, hotels and transport, but also links to the intellectual capital of the region. Recently Copenhagen CVB took this strategy to a next level and launched Copenhagen Legacy Lab “an initiative which connects association and the destination in an entirely new way.” explains Reventlow-Mourier.
Copenhagen is planning to become CO2 neutral by 2025 and the entire country of Denmark being fossil fuel-free by 2050. Windpower, a stronghold of Denmark, is essential in this transition. In 2021 Europe’s largest on- and offshore wind energy event, WindEurope Electric City, will be held in Copenhagen. WindDenmark, the Danish Technical University, Energy Cluster Denmark, The Danish Energy Agency and many more are strongly engaged. “The CVB involves a wide array of stakeholders to maximize the value and competitiveness of their bids—a key ingredient that many cities have yet to grasp. And it is the foundation needed to pursue legacy-driven initiatives,” explains Olivier Wykes, WindEurope COO.
“The current legacy process aligns common objectives and facilitates the development of activities, which can both solve concrete challenges, contribute to the country’s green transition and leave long-term impacts.” says Reventlow-Mourier. Oliver Wykes continues: “Copenhagen is the capital of a country with a rich intellectual heritage counting many pioneers on various fronts, from physics to computer science, literature and design—but also wind energy. There is a strong impulse towards innovation and sustainable development, so Copenhagen was a natural choice for us.
Growing the visitor economy
In late 2019, a few months before the global pandemic started, the Vienna Tourist Board introduced the Visitor Economy Strategy 2025, which places the meeting sector at the core of the organization’s agenda. Aligning with the City of Vienna’s 2030 Strategy for Economy & Innovation, Vienna is looking to sectors like health, culture and creativity, smart solutions, and local production to inspire innovation and spur economic growth.
“Thanks to a robust strategic plan outlined in the Visitor Economy Strategy 2025, the Vienna Convention Bureau is adopting a holistic perspective that considers both the city’s ecosystem and the meeting sector’s role in it at a time when Vienna’s intellectual capital may well be a key argument for physical meetings held in the city,” explains Christian Woronka, director of the Vienna Convention Bureau. “While we maintain our expertise and capacity to advise on the meetings supply chain, we also try to identify where associations and local key players can engage in conversations to their mutual benefit. The convention bureau can therefore play an enhanced role as a connector between local sectors and associations, building bridges and encouraging dialogue.”
Ranked as the most liveable city in the world, and homes to nearly 500 life sciences companies, Vienna is considered one of the more advanced spots in terms of sustainable technologies and innovation projects. This is why the city was chosen to host EFIB2021, the European Forum for Industrial Biotechnology and the Bioeconomy, which attracts leading industry and policy experts to discuss opportunities and challenges for transformative technologies. As Agnes Borg, director for industrial biotechnology at EuropaBio, the event’s organizer, puts it: “There is a lot to experience and learn about the local bio-based and biotechnology industry and community, start-up scene, academic community, and not to mention all the other offerings of the cultural city of Vienna.”
A European leader
Brussels has emerged as a leader in life sciences, bio-pharmaceutical industries, ICT and sustainability, as well as a leading EU destination for academic, technological, media, business, and creative industry events. “Facing the fallout from the pandemic has not been easy for anyone. In Brussels, our experts have put their knowledge and resources to the test and have not only worked indefatigably to keep the city as a leading EU destination centre, but have also joined forces with international associations and EU convention bureaus to share those resources – technical expertise, industry knowledge, and connecting key stakeholders with organizers,” says Elisabeth Van Ingelgem, director of the visit.brussels Association & Convention Bureau.
Malgosia Bartosik, deputy CEO at WindEurope, adds that now, in the midst of a pandemic, Brussels is in the spotlight since it’s home to so many institutions, including the European Commission. “If I take the intellectual capital as a place where new, interesting and innovative concepts are built, I think indeed Brussels is an intellectual capital,” Bartosik says. “All the EU citizens’ eyes are turned on Brussels, in terms of ideas for successful recovery from the COVID pandemic, the climate ambition, etc. I think Brussels could identify itself better with the fact that it is a capital of Europe, and every European citizen should know about this wonderful city, like they know about their own countries’ capitals.”
Brussels allows organizations like WindEurope to add political framing to technical, scientific events, since they can even host in the city’s institutions themselves. “Organizing events in the heart of EU’s policy-shaping gives it another level of importance, especially if you manage to invite some of the policy makers to take part in the event,” Bartosik explains. “For those coming to Brussels for an event, a visit to the European Parliament, for example, makes a great experience—the EU politics suddenly become real and tangible.”
Centre for cancer research
The Spanish coastal city may boast over 2,000 years of history, landmark architecture like the intricate Sagrada Familia church, and world-class museums dedicated to artists like Picasso, but Barcelona is also now seen as a central hub for cancer research in Spain. “It is a leader in sport science, given it is long tradition in football and other sports, and has one of the oldest and highly prestigious universities in Spain, so it has a long history in academia,” says Christoph Tessmar, managing director of Barcelona Convention Bureau. “It is a melting pot of art, culture and science with a very bohemian outlook.”
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With a number of renowned researchers and clinicians working in the region, Barcelona is building on its strength as an intellectual capital in the realm of cancer research. Since the city is well connected to other parts of the country, the local and national oncology community can quickly come together. “We have always found Barcelona to be an easy city to organize our events. The city can accommodate large, medium and small events in various venues, and it has a lot of experience in hosting conferences,” says Davi Kaur, head of communications at the European Organisation for Research and Treatment of Cancer (EORTC).
Barcelona acts as a stage for clinicians, researchers, patient advocates and the pharmaceutical industry to come together and learn the latest advances in oncology thanks to events like ESMO 2019, held in Barcelona last fall for the first time. As Dr. Miguel Martín, president of the Sociedad Española de Oncología Médica (SEOM), explained: “With cancer cases on the rise here and elsewhere and many unmet needs, the research presented at ESMO brings real hope for patients worldwide and we are proud that in 2019, this knowledge [was showcased] in Barcelona, a cradle for cancer research.”