BY BRAD FOSTER WITH INITIAL REPORTING BY GRAEME KEMLO

While some convention bureaux anticipate they have done enough to maintain their status on the ICCA international association meetings rankings others are less confident, citing greater competition.

The release in May of the International Congress & Convention Association’s annual list of country and city rankings of top performers in the association meetings sector could bring a few surprises for 2012.

Long considered a benchmark of how destinations around the world are faring in comparison to others it holds a different level of importance depending on who you are talking to and perhaps how their ranking stacks up with others.
In 2011 the cities of Vienna, Paris, Barcelona and Berlin were the top four, with Singapore nipping at their heels. These European cities hosted 181, 174, 150 and 147 association meetings that fit the ICCA criteria, with Singapore a close fifth with 142 meetings.
In country rankings, the United States was a clear leader, hosting 759 meetings in 2011. Germany was second with 577, China was 8th with 302, Japan was a respectable 13th with 233, South Korea was 15th hosting 207, and Australia was 16th with 204.
Historically, not a lot changes at the top in terms of ranking, and not a lot is expected to change for 2012 in both the city and country rankings. The U.S. will remain the number one country and Germany will be hard-pressed to lose its second place mantle.

The big mover in the country and city stakes will probably be China although it remains a long way from the European powerhouses which include Spain, the UK, France and Italy. Many Australian bureaux are being coy about predicting whether it will remain around 16th place in the country standings. What they are quick to point out is that competition is fierce.

Melbourne Convention Bureau CEO, Karen Bolinger, was reported recently in the Australian Financial Review as saying that global competition for meetings was hotting up.
In an interview with micenet AUSTRALIA following AIME she reiterated her belief that competition for international meetings is considerably more challenging than it was just five years ago.
“This is because governments have seen the value of business events and what they bring to the local economy. There are many more governments establishing and funding bureaux and securing meetings,” she said.
“When you take the whole of Australia a drop in [ICCA] rankings is not a good outcome.”
She said Melbourne had a boom year last year and expected a boom year in 2014.
“Some of that’s to do with the cyclical nature of conferences, with some meetings only held every two years.”

The Gold Coast Convention Bureau meantime is developing strategies to lift its ICCA ranking, as CEO Martin Winter explained recently.
At last count the Gold Coast ranked 316th, hosting six international association meetings in 2011. Mr Winter said the launch of an ambassador program – tapping into the expertise of those working at the city’s three universities and the teaching hospital (the largest in the southern hemisphere) – was aimed at boosting international association business.
“We have identified clinicians, scientists and researchers who sit on international [association] boards,” he said.
“We want to take our ICCA ranking from where it is now to where it should be – a second tier city with a leisure outlook to among to the top 100 in the world in the association meetings sector.”

To make it into the top 100 the Gold Coast will probably need to be hosting at least 22 international association meetings annually.
Singapore, on the other end of the scale, is expected to retain the number one position in the Asia Pacific. In 2011 the city hosted 142 association meetings that fit the ICCA criteria and should record similar numbers for 2012.

Singapore Tourism Board regional director ASEAN & Oceania, Kenneth Lim, says Singapore’s reliability, quality delivery of meetings, and its constant reinvention and refinement are all helping to maintain its popularity.
“We are constantly pushing and selling our destination, and we are always developing new products, offering new experiences and attractions,” he said.

Competition hots up

Any city or country that wants to up its ranking, and in many cases maintain its current standing, won’t be easy without greater investment.
In March this year the Middle East city of Abu Dhabi launched a convention bureau with the specific goal of being ranked among the world’s top 50 association meetings destinations within five years.
“We will provide free and non-biased assistance and support to professional convention, incentive and exhibition planners, corporations and associations so that they can bid for, win and hold conferences, major business events, business meetings and congresses in Abu Dhabi,” said His Excellency Jasem Al Darmaki, Deputy Director General, TCA Abu Dhabi, on the launch of the new division.
“We are targeting six major business wins this year, a further eight next year and a total of 10 wins during 2015,” he said.
“Our strategy will be to target in-market opportunities that will generate incremental business in the short term while building on international relationships for the long term.”
In 2011, ICCA ranked Abu Dhabi 234th in the world for the eight major meetings held in the destination.

“We have more than doubled that last year and realistically expect to be within ICCA’s Top 150 when the rankings are announced,” he said.
Taiwan’s capital, Taipei, currently ranked 20th by ICCA (hosting 83 association meetings in 2011), is also seeking a greater share of the market, with the Secretary General of the Taiwan Convention & Exhibition Association, Thomas Tsou, recently announcing his country’s plans to boost its MICE business through financial stimulus.
With a long-term objective to “ improve service efficiency, enhance international visibility and competiveness”, the Taiwan Tourism Bureau through 2013 is offering subsidies for air charters, subsidies for foreign cruise ship stopovers, subsidies for advertising budgets, incentives for premium itineraries, development of incentive tours for large companies and grants for schools hosting educational tours.
In terms of international events, over the next four years the Bureau of Foreign Trade will provide up to US$16,000 for preparation of bidding or marketing, up to US$90,000 for an implemented international meeting, and up to US$70,000 for an implemented international exhibition. And also available is up to US$10,000 per event as a tour allowance for participants.

A DVD document released to the media reveals further details of Taiwan’s financial support from local government and details Taipei City’s “subsidies to attract overseas companies to host MICE events… free admissions to major attractions, like the National Palace Museum, Taipei 101 Observatory, and Maokong Gondola, a sponsorship of up to NTD 1,000,000 (USD 340,000) for banquets and free Easycards, which allow travellers to tour thorough Taiwan conveniently”.
It also lists Kaohsiung City in southern Taiwan as wanting to host MICE activities, saying, “to support its local MICE industry, the Kaohsiung government subsidises international congress, academic conferences and exhibitions up to NTD 800,000 (USD 27,000) per case”. It also says those who applied for a government subsidy may obtain up to NTD 300,000 (USD 10,000) for international events.
Back in Australia, the Gold Coast’s Martin Winter agrees that securing international meetings is challenging.

“It’s fair to say that the last few years Australia has not attracted as many international events as previously primarily because of the increased competition we’re seeing in these new destinations within Asia,” he said.