A multi-year, international study of the long-term benefits of business events has underlined a mismatch between the way governments value the sector and the much broader outcomes, with researchers recommending ways the industry can better document these legacies.
Business events have long been judged under the narrow assumption that their legacies are best measured in terms of hotel rooms and coffee cups, Associate Professors Carmel Foley and Deborah Edwards of the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) say in the Business Events Legacies: JMIC Case Study Project Report.
Governments, in particular, have largely focused on what is commonly known as the tourism contribution.
However, the three-year study led by the two UTS Business School researchers – involving a panel of international academic experts and nine case studies drawn from four continents – found that measuring conferences this way seriously underestimated and undermined the rich legacies conferences deliver.
“Organisers, venues and government bureaux have focused their energies and resources for far too long on maximising the tourist dollars generated by business events,” said Associate Professor Edwards.
“This ignores the significant scientific and research value on offer – value that directly drives economic development, creativity and innovation. Our research also shows these benefits have a multiplying effect.”
Undertaken on behalf of the Joint Meetings Industry Council (JMIC), the study highlights the broader contributions conferences, congresses, trade shows, convention centres and bureaux deliver to destinations, communities, industries and economies.
The researchers found the global business event industry is supporting broader agendas, in particular building knowledge economies, encouraging industry innovation and enhancing community wellbeing.
JMIC President Kai Hattendorf says the study formally documents “that these events are all about economic, academic, professional and community enhancement outcomes, and that a strategic approach to hosting such events can pay a broad and important role in advancing the development prospects of destinations around the world”.
“As a result, destinations and the governments that represent them need to rethink their engagement with the industry and how they can best use and invest in it to the overall benefit of their respective communities,” he said.
Associate Professor Foley notes governments typically locate business events in their tourism portfolios. Few people would dispute the high value of business event visitors to host destinations, she says, “but many political leaders and a large section of the business events industry itself are still in the dark when it comes to understanding what can be leveraged from conferences and congresses to support their trade and innovation agendas.”
The study was the first coordinated, global effort to measure and document these benefits in ways that can be used to advocate to governments and communities about the important role played by business events, she says.
While finding largely positive effects from business events, the report also identifies barriers to achieving lasting legacies, such as organisers neglecting to set long-term objectives or look beyond internal organisational goals.
In response, the researchers have developed six “golden rules” for business events gleaned from best practice among the global case studies, which covered scientific conferences, industry congresses and focused gatherings for specific groups such as the tech sector.
These include, as first steps, involving stakeholders such as governments and business in setting legacy objectives, based on agreed industry problems, issues and opportunities.
Overall, the report recommends greater investment in improved measurement, evaluation and formal reporting of the longer-term contributions of business events beyond the tourism spend, particularly to government stakeholders.