It was capped off by a ferry ride down the Yarra to the Australian Open on the busiest day of the tennis grand slam when a record 97,000 people also flocked to Melbourne Park.
Loren Christie, managing director of BestCities Global Alliance, explained the importance of the invite-only meeting of less than 60 attendees.
He described BestCities as “an alliance of 13 destinations around the world who have come together basically because they all believe in trying to make a positive impact on the world through the power of community and collaboration, mainly through business events”.
“There have been many attempts by other cities to get together and kind of follow [BestCities] …I would argue we’re the most successful destination alliance in this sphere in the world and it’s been consistent and we’re really proud of that,” Christie says.
During the forum, we heard from all member cities and among the association representatives micenet met were interests as diverse as anthropology, urban health, econometrics, landscape architecture, hip preservation and Parkinson’s disease. There were two-and-a-half days of presentations and workshops across a range of venues from Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre to a variety of Showtime Event Group’s spaces including the Cargo Hall, Showtime Events Centre and Aerial.
Among international speakers, Taiwan-based Mike van der Vijver of MindMeeting had delegates on their feet, even walking arm-in-arm at one stage during an engaging presentation on strategic design for meetings.
Local speakers included Olena Lima of Member Boat on digital trends for professional associations, Belinda Moore of Strategic Membership Solutions on the power of strategic planning, including the use of AI during times of change, and Mark McCrindle, a consultant and demographer who introduced many of us to the term Gen Alpha – those born after 2010, the grandchildren of baby boomers who will be your future work force and further challenge established practices.
The highlight of the food and wine experiences was walking the laneways near Chinatown to enjoy the Asian-inspired food of Scott Pickett at Longrain.
But the favourite moment for me was the rare chance to take a backstage tour of the Australian Open, including a glimpse of the underground network beneath Rod Laver Arena.
Special separate security passes were required to allow my visit to some of the off-limits player spaces – no photos allowed – where people speak in hushed tones.
We took the ‘walk of champions’ that leads on to centre court, we saw the player pod where players eat and relax pre-game; plus we chatted with former tennis professional, now commentator Casey Dellacqua, a former world no. 26 in singles and doubles partner of Australian Open champion Ash Barty.
We got to have our photos taken with Dellacqua and the two Australian Open trophies. Although only five media got to enjoy this opportunity, it counts as one of the serendipitous moments that can occur when business events meet major events as they so successfully do in Melbourne.
After all was said and done, BestCities demonstrated the importance of not only meeting but also leaving a positive impact. By the close on Sunday lunchtime, organisers had calculated the event had used 197 tonnes of CO2, which would be offset by a Trees4Events planting in either Haiti or Nepal. BestCities also presented a cheque for US$2,500 to local OzHarvest representatives.
As a founding member of the BestCities Global Alliance, Melbourne hosted the business events leaders of member cities Berlin, Cape Town, Copenhagen, Dubai, Guadalajara, Houston, Madrid, Singapore, Tokyo, Vancouver and Washington DC.
More than a dozen representatives of major international associations also attended the Melbourne forum and were shown Melbourne’s ability to host large scale meetings at Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre, together with major attractions such as Marvel Stadium which staged one of the dinners of last week’s event.
The forum also included workshops to encourage best practice in business events such as leaving a positive impact on a destination whether it be societal, political, economic or environmental.
The idea for BestCities was born from a conversation between convention bureau CEOs of five destinations 24 years ago, which resulted in a shared vision of collaboration and commitment to elevate standards across the business events sector. The Alliance was formally established in 2000 and has since grown to 13 international members cities.