Are you choosing conference cities that can help you build a better conference program?
A lot of things go into choosing a conference city. Does the airport have a large number of direct flights that span the country? Are there appropriate venues for the size of your event? Will this city be appealing to your members looking to mix in a vacation day or two to this business trip?
Whatever your primary reasons for choosing a conference destination, it’s worth also getting some intel on the industries your potential host cities are known for. You might find there are some related to your own sector—or to issues you want to keep your members on top of. Tapping into these local experts could add real value to your conference at a relatively low cost.
Ask About Your City’s Industry Attributes
You already know the city or cities that best represent your industry or account for the plurality of your members. And you probably often hold your conferences in those places.
But when you move to other cities for a change of scenery or because they are more centrally located, ask the destination organization about that area’s dominant industries and research centers. There might be some overlap with that city’s knowledge base and what your members need to know.
These days many cities are emerging as mini-tech and startup hubs. They won’t rival Silicon Valley for tech company depth and breadth, but they have a niche. If that niche relates to your membership, then you can tap into it to keep your members informed about the latest front in the ongoing technology revolution.
For example, Montreal is well-known as an international civil aviation and aerospace hub, but it also has a burgeoning artificial intelligence industry.
“We have a few AI startups that grew very fast, and we now have a lot of well-known researchers and innovators in that regard,” said Stéphanie Allard, associate vice president of sales and convention services at Tourisme Montréal. In fact, the government of Quebec just invested $100 million to encourage research and innovation in the field.
“Right now and in the future, Montreal is going to be a very interesting place to conduct events related to AI because we have a concentration of knowledgeable people, government support, and a growing industry,” Allard said.
Consider Cities that Can Improve the Program
If you hold your annual conference in a different city each year, do you find that some cities are able to contribute to your program better than others? When you can source speakers from your host city, you can allocate more money to other important aspects of the conference experience.
For example, when Airports Council International (ACI) approached Tourisme Montréal about holding their annual world congress in the city in 2016, the group was able to take advantage of the city’s strong civil aviation industry.
Representatives from Tourisme Montréal suggested that ACI hold its meeting in September, when the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) would be holding its triennial conference, Allard said. With its strong relationship with ICAO, Tourisme Montréal was able to arrange for the ICAO secretary general to be a guest speaker at the ACI conference.
Christoph Schewe, executive director of the International Federation of Airline Pilots’ Associations (IFALPA), is for the first time prioritizing one city in his group’s conference rotation. After a successful 2017 annual meeting in Montréal, Schewe and his board will propose to members that the conference return to Montréal every five years. Since IFALPA’s members span the globe, the conference has historically been in a different city—or continent—each year.
“In the end, Montréal is a very aviation-oriented city,” Schewe said in explaining the desire to return there on a regular basis. “This is a city where we feel at home, and we have the right environment here.”
If you find a group of cities that work particularly well for your conference program and your members, consider rotating them in on a more regular basis. Change is good, but so is the ability to get relevant speakers at a lower cost.