A look at how three up-and-coming destinations are vying for the attention of international meeting professionals by ensuring creative ways to serve clients’ strategic goals.
In the early 1950s, U.K.-based Horizon Holiday Group implemented a strategy to bundle transport, accommodations and leisure services together into a new product: the package holiday. With just a handful of southern European destinations and a simple “sun, sea, sand” formula, their strategy was the genesis of mass leisure tourism and the first horizons of what leisure travel could offer.
Over the next half century, however, the once sturdy product slowly started to unravel, finished off by today’s litany of budget airlines servicing a web of remote destinations and a cornucopia of options, all easily booked online. Another force majeure behind the package holiday decline was that, in an increasingly globalized world, its basic formula held much less allure—its horizons had narrowed against the growing traveler urge to connect destinations to their work and everyday lives, whether that be through Turkish rug-making workshops, Thai massage courses or mastering Mexican cuisine.
Just as with the modern traveler, so too the meeting industry has increasingly sought a meaningful bond between event and location—basic packaging is no longer an option. This is especially the case when the decision involves committing to an international destination where it is crucial to consider the objectives of hosting a meeting there: What, in short, is the Turkish rug craft, the Thai massage maneuver or the Mexican salsa that spices up a destination’s strategic value?
Myriad Value Propositions
Turkey, Thailand and Mexico are fertile ground to better understand this, as over recent years, each has made a heady ascent in ICCA’s annual international meeting destination rankings, and with good reason. Simultaneously, each locale brings a different perspective to enhancing the strategic value of meetings they host.
“Turkey is a rising star of Europe and [its capital] Istanbul is a welcoming city and one of Europe’s major economic and business hubs,” said Itir Aykut, vice president of Istanbul-based Gemini PCO. “Istanbul also takes advantage of its geographical and geo-strategic advantages: It straddles three continents and is easily accessible from all around the world and has all the factors in place needed to be a successful congress city.”
Indeed, the country’s economic success can even be viewed as a case study in attracting international meetings, according to Can Doğusal, marketing communications manager of ODS Turkey.
“This, together with its strategic location between east and west and the diversified cultural experience that visitors get, has helped growth in international meetings here rise from 8 percent annually before 2007 to 15 percent since.”
In Thailand, Kritidech Srabua, CEO of Phuket’s Oriental Events and Leisure, sees strategic value as something more base but a true necessity.
“Our greatest strategic value has always been the guaranteed security of our guests and the value for money that they receive in Thailand,” Srabua said. “Meeting organizers continue to feel that Thailand is a good investment for their event, for both its well-developed industry and the constantly positive feedback.”
From the Mexican perspective, a strong fiscal initiative underpins its range of tools to attract international events.
“The best strategic value is the 0 percent tax exemption for international meetings,” said Amanda Nemeth, president of Meeting Incentive Experts. “In Mexico, a meeting program is exempt from paying VAT, which allows planners extra flexibility to use the savings to upgrade elements of their program or show cost savings to customers.”
Beyond the fiscal, high quality, good value and geo-strategic headline initiatives of these international destinations shining brightly on the strategic value radar screens of meeting planners, there is also the growing recognition of on-the-ground delivery initiatives that take them from strong radar reading to operational success.
“Knowing as much information from the planner as possible during the qualifying process allows us to tap into and tailor unique and creative experiences for them,” Nemeth explained.
Srabua also cites communication and artistic cooperation as keys to strategic success.
“With a constant dialogue between the organizers and our own in-house creative team we develop new ideas and options to ensure a truly, unique event to exceed our client’s expectations. We remain flexible during the event to be able to adapt to any changing circumstances.”
From intimate end-to-end meeting involvement to setting out to exceed client expectations, the complete image of benefits that can be expected from an international meeting is rounded off by the Turkish approach.
“We try to match everything that our country has to offer to the specific needs of the client and as much as we can we try to contribute on that level,” Doğusal said. “The concept is usually developed by our clients and we then help them to find the right ideas, the right spots and the right combinations to achieve the optimum end result.”
With a high degree of quality combined with unique cultural experiences, intricate involvement of meeting planners and a flexibly creative approach, suddenly these initiatives begin to unpack how organizations can achieve strategic value through enriching their event portfolio with the addition of an international meeting and tapping the potential to redefine or recreate their meeting design. The ultimate goal is to improve its efficiency and maximize the outcome for participants.
CSR as Attractive Strategy
Yet, the fruit of strategic value comes with a need to also grasp some nettles in the fundamental premise of an international meeting, none more so than its perceived environmental impact and CSR remoteness. For destinations positioning themselves as a focus for international outbound, actively counterbalancing perceived negative aspects of hosting a meeting there is a significant issue.
“We practice a rigid policy of ‘reduce, re-use, recycle’ and we support every initiative for the protection of our country through working with like-minded local suppliers,” Srabua said. “We encourage our clients to add a CSR element to their visit and they have been willing participants in providing materials for some deprived hill-tribe schools, bicycles for the tsunami orphanages and a host of other activities, offering enrichment for both the donors and the receivers.”
Sustainability is a priority for both the public and private sectors in Mexico’s meeting industry as well, according to Eduardo Chaillo, executive director of meetings with the Mexico Tourism Board.
“Centro Banamex, Mexico city’s biggest convention space, is working to achieve Earthcheck certification,” Chaillo said. “The World Tourism Organization and Rainforest Alliance have recognized Rivera Maya’s Mayakoba Resort as a world leader in sustainable tourism development, and the Los Cabos convention center has the largest green wall in the world as well as solar panels. There are a variety of great properties across the country for those looking to limit their environmental impact and for CSR.”
Greening of events is also high on the Turkish PCO priority list, with Doğusal remarking, “We are part of the Green Globe initiative and have applied for the United Nations Global Compact to embrace universal principles and to partner with the UN. We coordinate all of our efforts through such accredited entities.”
A final strategic value tick-box for organizers is how to formulate ROI within the new international meeting parameters. With the stakes high for all parties concerned, meeting planners have been proactive in ensuring organizers have just what they need to measure deliverable returns on bringing their meeting to them.
“We always contact our clients with a thorough follow-up ROI survey, rating customer satisfaction and more, based on the program content,” Nemeth explained.
From the national perspective, Chaillo added that “we normally conduct a survey before and after the events, both with the suppliers involved and with the intermediary or final consumer, in order to find out how we performed at several levels: as a destination, a resort, understanding the needs of the association, the role of the meeting within their portfolio, etc.”
The upward trajectory of international meetings in these destinations—a clear affirmation of the strategic value of hosting there—has been reflected in major coups such as Istanbul making the bidding cities shortlist for the 2020 Olympic Games, Los Cabos hosting this year’s G20 Summit and Bangkok once again playing host to the annual IT&CM Asia showcase event of the region’s MICE potential.
As new major outbound MICE markets emerge, including the vast potential of China and India, the focus on the best-packaged international destinations will intensify. While it will remain essential for meeting organizers to match their specific meeting objectives to those destinations best placed to deliver measurable returns of strategic value, for the global industry it is clear that the future horizon for international meetings is set to become a lot broader—and much more enticing. One+
Dig Deeper into the Business Value of Meetings
There’s much more going on for those interested in the business value of meetings beyond this look at three up-and-coming destinations vying for attention by ensuring business with them serves clients’ strategic goals.
In June, One+ provided a peek at the findings from MPI’s latest business value of meetings research. However, the complete package is available (free to members) at www.mpiweb.org/bvom. There you’ll find five white papers, an invaluable toolkit, a video about the research findings and additional resources on the business value of meetings.
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One+ November 2012