Over the past few years, destination management organizations (DMOs) worldwide have been under high pressure from an ever-changing business environment. As a consequence, they are finding themselves facing an unprecedented imperative to optimize their value proposition and understand the real contribution of business events in their community. There is a growing expectation for those organizations to develop new ways of engaging their clients and communities, and to offer an innovative approach to fulfilling their mission and maximizing the positive impacts of their activities.
It has recently been argued in numerous industry platforms that business events generate a wide range of positive impacts for their individual participants, for communities involved in hosting or supporting them, and above all for the sectors of interest of the event. Hosting communities can benefit from business events by showcasing their local expertise, attracting talent, building capacity for local organisations, and enhancing the reputation of the host institution and the city.
The expertise cluster that is the focus of the event, will also benefit greatly from associated activities that spark innovation, trigger an increase in business and trade opportunities, and can be leveraged for co-creation and collective problem solving. This extends to supporting participating individuals in their education, network development, and career development. In sum, these are major impacts on the development of our urban ecosystems. However, they are mostly left unreported because the actors in the business events industry do not have mechanisms to efficiently understand, measure, and communicate these seemingly intangible outcomes.
The context is therefore ripe for leading DMOs to report the actual value the business event industry generates not only for their direct stakeholders, but for their urban environment at large. But how can destinations build their capacity to leverage business events in order to generate a maximum of positive outcomes for the city’s various ecosystems and its residents? Could these be transformed into substantial opportunities for event industry professionals to shape the development of their cities?
If we turn to the professionals studying the development of cities and urban systems, there is much talk about resilience and foresighting, both essential components for a city’s ecosystem to adapt and plan for the future.
The OECD defines RESILIENCE as
“A broad concept, centred on the ability not only to resist and recover from adverse shocks, but also to “bounce back” stronger than before and to learn from the experience. In a resilient society, individuals should be empowered to cope with change and participate fully in the economy.”
The capacity to properly assess risks and opportunities, and to develop timely and robust responses to the changing conditions, will determine those that will survive and thrive. The climate crisis is a perfect example of this and scientists, as well as an increasing number of policy makers, warn us that it will threaten everything we know and take for granted. As an industry that is very carbon and resource-intensive we are under severe threat, a reality which not enough of our colleagues have recognised yet. The established fact, that we generate good jobs and yield high economic impacts, will no longer cut it.
New models of knowledge transfer, collaboration and value creation will need to be developed, and the business events industry has the potential to play a significant role in catalysing the creation and diffusion of these models.
We strongly believe that events and conferences organised in a city can become a powerful vehicle for destination management organisations, venues, suppliers, city governments, academia, local civil society organisations and citizens to:
Co-innovate progressive solutions for large-scale issues, which include both external threats and those linked to the visitor economy (such as over-tourism and climate emergency, to name but a couple)
Co-develop the tools to respond to the issues, gaps, or needs existing in local urban ecosystems and clusters
Co-create more positive urban living environments, using the progressive solutions and tools devised for global and local issues.
In order to succeed, we first need to understand the optimal web of relations between stakeholders, and how this supports the building of a systematic model for collaboration. Second, we need to map out the different types of positive impacts that can be created through business events, and formalize pathways of intervention and collaboration between local actors to optimize these outcomes. And lastly, we need to demonstrate how business events can be perceived as creating “Commons” (resources that are owned and shared by all members of a society) of various kinds. As DMOs are increasingly called to take on the responsibility of destination stewardship, their role in catalysing these multi-stakeholder collaborations, and brokering both relationships and knowledge sharing, will increase in importance.
We envision a future where forward-thinking DMOs will lead a new movement to elevate social and sustainable development policies for the regeneration of our social fabric. Where we can nurture growth in such a way that it benefits the whole system, instead of small pockets of wealth and influence. And we believe that by their sheer nature of bringing people together to share, to learn and to co-create, business events can become one of the key drivers to deliver this transformation and help shape a better, fairer world.
Written by Genevieve Leclerc, the co-founder and CEO of #Meet4Impact, a GDS-Index partner, and a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to empowering the business events and association sectors to deliver positive societal impact through their events.