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Sun 7 Oct 2007 02:23 PM

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A facility alone is not enough

Leigh Harry, president, International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) explains the lengths to which a destination must go to in order to win the association conventions market.

Leigh Harry, president, International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) explains the lengths to which a destination must go to in order to win the association conventions market.

What trends are you witnessing across the association conventions industry worldwide?

The industry suffers from the absence of a strong record of statistics.

There are around 5300 association meetings around the world every year. In terms of hosting future scheduled association meetings, the US is significantly way out ahead at the top of the table. Globally, there is a very high level of optimism about the industry's future growth.

What used to be an advantage to a destination is now an entry-level requirement. Things like excellent access, quality conventions facilities, excellent DMCs and PCOs and a modern IT infrastructure.

If you don't have these things you're not even in the market; these are the core elements you require in order to compete.

What are the main concerns of the Meetings Industry worldwide?

Competition and overcapacity are the main concerns. There are around 60 convention centres being built in China as we speak. The rate of growth in other places has also been phenomenal.

In Australia we went from four to eight conventions centres in just a few years. Most of us are underestimating the growth that will take place in India in the next five to 10 years. The speed of change is not only a challenge to PCOs and DMCs, but to all of us in the industry. Simply building a facility is not enough anymore.

What is attractive about the UAE as a convention destination?

The increasing ability to access Dubai from almost anywhere in the world with the growth of Emirates Airline and other carriers is certainly attractive.

There is no doubt that the quality of the infrastructure here is of world-leading standards and the number of convention and exhibition facilities that are being built means the infrastructure development is there.

Rapid growth is going to take place in the hotel infrastructure in the next few years. The critical thing is to make sure there is sufficient teamwork between all of the parties involved to make sure that they get their product out into the marketplace at an accept-able price.

What mistakes can destinations make when bidding for a major association event?

Some destinations think they can improve on what the association executive has asked for. If you are not offering exactly what the association is asking for then you run the grave risk that you will be taken off the list there and then.

Making sure the whole team - that being the whole conventions infrastructure in your city or country - is speaking the same language is critical.

In Melbourne, if we are pitching for a convention, we are constantly on the phone to the venue that hosted the last one, or has won the deal for the next one, to find out what helped them win the bid. It's also critically important that the entire Meetings Industry infrastructure understands the benefits to be made from the associations market.

Being aware of who your competition is and what they can offer is crucial. It's not about one single component - it's about how these things all come together.

Does the UAE have the expertise and professionalism it needs to capture the associations market?

Expatriates have a role but at the end of the day, it is about having a hospitality-training environment that generates sufficient resources locally. It's not about traditional service skills, its about dealing with a multi-cultural environment.

That applies to everything from ways of greeting through to F&B. While you might need to import some knowledge to set up the training infrastructure, it is critical to grow the infrastructure locally.

How successful has the Dubai Convention Bureau (DCB) been at fostering teamwork between related parties?

DCB is doing a very good job; it will always remain a work in progress because it is an education process and you have a turnover of people in the industry, so you need to keep that education process going.

One of the international opportunities for the DCB is to have the flexibility to position Dubai as near enough to Europe to be part of a European rotation, yet far enough away to be part of an African and Middle Eastern rotation or an Asian rotation.

What other challenges lay ahead for the DCB?

The DCB's challenge is to make sure that everyone, from the hotels to F&B and retail outlets, is on board and to convey to the industry in the broader sense the benefits of winning the association marketplace.

The industry suffers from the absence of a strong record of statistics [that monitors trends, growth and performance, for example].

The UNWTO now recognises conventions as an individual sector in the tourism market, so for the last 12 months and henceforth we will have records.

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