Association action

Association congresses mean big business for destinations and venues, and the opportunity to make a mark on this sector is one the capital’s convention bureau, London & Partners (L&P), and exhibition and convention centre, Excel London, have been pursuing with much more vigour in recent years. 

“I have been at Excel London for 14 years and we didn’t seriously target the association market until 2003/4 and up until 2010 only hosted one or two congresses each year,” says the venue’s Head of Conventions, Samantha Shamkh.

Following the opening of Excel’s 5,000-seat ICC in 2010 and London’s successful hosting of the 2012 Olympic Games, not only did the city see an opportunity to seriously target the association market, associations saw the opportunity to host their congresses in a ‘new’ business destination.
“Excel’s expansion has played a big part in why more associations are choosing London,” says Head of Associations, Business Tourism and Major Events at L&P, Becky Graveney (pictured below). “Having a purpose-built auditorium means we can take much larger events. For example, the European Society of Cardiology has booked for 2015 and has 30,000-plus delegates attending.”

Graveney adds that the Olympics was hugely important, not just from the logistical and experience angle in showing that London can cope with large scale events and host them successfully, but also for the worldwide coverage.

“In a way it re-launched London as a fresh destination, with the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park as a legacy. The Games showed our creativity through the opening ceremony, all 33 boroughs working in unison, and we also have the legacy of the volunteer programme that can be activated for the larger citywide events. We couldn’t have bought the PR and feedback from the Games – it would run into millions and millions,” she says.

In 2013, Excel London hosted 13 international and national association congresses and has nine already contracted for 2014 with some smaller congresses in the pipeline. In 2015, the venue has 12 congresses contracted, again with potential association events in the pipeline.

The cyclical, rotating nature of association congresses means this venue, like all others, must start afresh each year when looking to attract association business. Excel London, did, however host its first repeat congress, the European Association of Geoscientists and Engineers, in 2013, after hosting them for the first time in 2007.

The biggest congress hosted at Excel to date was the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology in July 2013, which achieved a 10 per cent increase in attendance, and a doubling of the number of UK attendees. The congress also recorded a 30 per cent growth in companies exhibiting and a 12 per cent increase in space sold.

“We are now in a position where we have an understanding and a track record of holding these types of events and we can assure organisers it does work to host associations here, and congresses in London do attract an increased number of delegates and sponsorships,” Shamkh says.

With the city still perceived by many as an expensive destination, it’s important for London to show a positive balance.

Following a competitive bid process, Excel will welcome 8,000 delegates and 120 exhibitors from the dental industry for EuroPerio in June 2015. Held every three years, the European Federation of Periodontology chose Excel due to its “overall quality and capacity and the attractiveness of London as a place to visit”.

“Talking to my colleagues around Europe, London is seen as one of the great cities with so many options for a memorable stay,” says EuroPerio8 Chairman, Francis Hughes. “The venue is one of very few in Europe that is suitable for hosting our meeting, and the quality of the conference and exhibition space is appealing.” He adds that the British Society of Periodontology had previously, but unsuccessfully, bid to host EuroPerio at Excel in 2009, and believes “the development of the ICC went a long way to strengthening the bid for the 2015 meeting”.

Shamkh says that while association congresses are now a strong business for Excel, they, alongside London & Partners, want to raise it even further. “The pharma code, as an example, is getting stricter and where at previous congresses delegates were often sponsored to come, delegates are now having to pay for themselves. This means we need to work with organisers to make the product even more attractive to encourage delegates to attend.”

L&P recently launched an Associations Directory, which lists over 1,000 venues, alongside a range of suppliers and travel partners and a comprehensive map. The directory also illustrates how organisers can access ‘oneworld events’, a partnership offering discounted rates and various delegate and organiser benefits on 12 airlines, including British Airways.

“We are also hoping to launch a medical ambassador’s programme to engage with the leaders in their respective fields, so they are aware L&P has a bidding service and can do the hard work for them,” says Graveney. “We hope this will gain kudos for both their association’s profile and research projects.”

In terms of Excel’s strategy going forward, Shamkh keeps it simple: “To continue doing what we are doing. We will research new clients to target with the help of L&P, as well as going back to previous clients to look for possibilities of repeat congresses. We will also target those association congresses that are looking at a tighter rotational pattern and making sure Excel is on that rotation”.

This was first published in the January issue of CN. Any comments? Email conferencenews@mashmedia.net

Paul Colston

Author

Paul Colston

Managing Editor, Conference News & Conference & Meetings World.

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