The Hague Convention Bureau, part of The Hague & Partners, won 92 international congresses in 2019, a 48 per cent increase compared to 2018. International congresses won across the city last year achieved an estimated economic impact of €48.79 million for the destination. Provisional numbers from the Netherlands Board of Tourism and Conventions (NBTC) show that The Hague achieved nearly 213,000 congress days in 2019, an increase of nine per cent compared to the previous year.

“These figures are a testament to the collaborative approach we are seeing across the venues, hotels and suppliers throughout our city. Our excellent transport links, well-established infrastructure and reputation for the delivery of high-profile events are all helping us increase our presence across the global congress market. The Hague is the International City of Peace and Justice where every day, tens of thousands of people are working together towards a better, safer and more just world,” says Bas Schot, Head of The Hague Convention Bureau.

A key factor in the convention bureau’s success has been its growth in the market, focus on knowledge infrastructure and direct engagement with associations to drive new congresses to the city.

“The convention bureau’s involvement in the number of congresses taking place in the city is increasing,” says Marco Esser, Director of The Hague & Partners. “In 2019 we were involved in 76 per cent of all congresses that took place here. That is a considerable growth compared to only 40 per cent involvement in 2018.”

Peace and justice, legal and finance, cybersecurity, renewable energy, IT and tech, life science, and the Impact Economy are key sectors for the destination, accounting for over 91 per cent of all acquired conferences in 2019.

“People are increasingly looking for less busy destinations, where there is still a lot to see and do, and our town offers that. It is a royal city, a city by the sea and a city of peace and justice,” says Bas Schot.

The Hague & Partners is an umbrella organisation, including The Hague Marketing Bureau, The Hague Convention Bureau and The Hague Business Agency. Together the three organisations made a considerable contribution to the economy of the destination in 2019.

“I am happy about the outstanding results of 2019 of the work of The Hague & Partners. More companies, more conventions and more visitors are important for the economy of our city. Not only because visitors like to spend their money here, but also because it creates important jobs for our inhabitants,” says Deputy Mayor Saskia Bruines (Economics) of the Municipality of The Hague.

“Our long-term strategy is the development of repeat business”

The Hague is the third-largest city in The Netherlands, the International City of Peace and Justice, the world’s legal capital, and the second seat of the United Nations. Tens of thousands of people are working here on innovations that are geared towards building a better, safer and more just society. It is also home to entities operating in new energy, cybersecurity, legal and finance, IT and tech, Impact Economy, social entrepreneurship and humanitarian affairs. They form and define the basis of the extensive and specialised knowledge infrastructure.

The Hague historically attracted international organisations working in the field of peace and justice. Security and cybersecurity were the natural progression of this specialism and played an important role. Due to its status as the International City of Peace and Justice, The Hague naturally attracts global organisations, talent and innovators that want to make a difference. This has added to the development of the city as an essential hub for cybersecurity in Europe and a flourishing cluster around security and new technology.

The Hague is a content-driven city, and many past association events have been in the areas of its key sectors. The town plays host to several well-known organisations in the technology and law cluster, including NATO, NCIA and Eurojust. The city is also home to many other organisations working on digital issues related to policy, security, law, ethics, norms and standards, and accountability. The destination is an innovation hub for these areas of expertise.

“Through the initiation of connections on a structural level between local stakeholders working across sectors and clusters that are key to our city, we have developed and enhanced a reliable knowledge infrastructure,” says Bas Schot. “Our city has always had a focus on hosting events relevant to the expertise of its stable industry clusters. This is a real win-win for all parties: the organisers can tap into our sector network, opening doors for speakers, delegates, sponsors and more. Our knowledge clusters benefit from contributing to industry-specific events, and further enhancing The Hague’s expertise in these areas.”

The Hague Convention Bureau is working closely with partners, organisations, knowledge institutions, start-ups and NGOs in the city, as well as with The Hague Business Agency, which promotes the city as a destination for foreign direct investments. Through the city and with the regional investment promotion agency Innovation Quarter, the key focus sectors have been identified by the municipality.

“The city has a thriving business climate and an ecosystem that is reflected in our success and numbers. More than a hundred multinational companies, 115 foreign embassies, 200+ institutions and organisations, such as the Permanent Court of Arbitration, the International Court of Justice and Europol are all based here,” says Bas Schot.

“The global spread of Covid-19 has demonstrated how connected we have a desire to be”

On the question what the convention bureau has done to grow the direct engagement with associations to drive congresses to the city, Bas Schot answers:

“Our greatest success has come from the development of relationships. We make the connections between associations and local stakeholders, which has enabled us to drive more congresses to the city. To achieve this, we have embarked on traditional marketing and sales activity such as fam trips, trade shows and trade missions. We have also sought and delivered additional creative solutions to the development of key relationships.

“Furthermore, we work with partners to deliver international, industry-specific sales representation and PR. Being proactive in this process, we have also developed new ideas such as our cooperation with Ottawa in Canada, which has seen two similar destinations come together to share ideas and even work together on specific projects and client events.

“We have a subvention fund that supports associations looking to hold events in the city. While it is open to all, there is higher weighting and opportunity for those events that fall into or sector focus and knowledge infrastructure. The whole process is simple to apply for, but we help the buyers through each stage of the, supporting them and maximising their chances of benefiting from the fund.

“Ultimately, it all comes down to personal relationships and the development of ongoing communication. If that means a trip to an association HQ in Brussels or even further afield, we are more than willing to make an effort for the long-term benefit of the city. Key to this is our desire to bring together local stakeholders, experts and the associations themselves. This allows our local knowledge to filter into an association’s long-term plans and ensure our city is a vital part of their conferences and knowledge development going forward.”

Do you have any long-term strategy for attracting more business events?

“Our long-term strategy is the development of repeat business. Through stronger, strategic client relationships and the development of city-wide networks, we can attract long term business to the city rather than one-off events,” says Bas Schot.

“Through the development of smaller events, the support of the organisers and the development of a city infrastructure that supports the events, we create specialisms that in turn, deliver long-term repeat business. One such example is the Impact Summit Europe. This has led to The Hague becoming a centre of excellence for Impact Investing and Impact Entrepreneurship events. Similar success has been seen in the peace and justice, finance and security sectors. As the home of Europol, for example, we are ideally suited to security events, which return time and again because of our local expertise and access to leading speakers and knowledge. As long as we continue to support this knowledge with superb logistics, event infrastructure and accessibility, the events will continue to return.”

“The industry needs to shape its future through the eyes of the delegates”

How important is it not being the number one congress city in the Netherlands when it comes to increasing the business events for the town?

“Being a ‘second-tier’ city is of huge benefit to us. Most of the major European hub cities have been used time and again by event organisers. Delegates have seen them all and are looking for something different. For us we are incredibly accessible, the centre of The Hague is within comparable distance from Schiphol Airport as the centre of Amsterdam, and there are so many other benefits to organisers.

“Another key factor is our size. A large event held in town feels like it ‘owns’ the city and is welcomed by everyone. Stakeholders and partners become truly invested when a particular event is in The Hague, meaning suppliers are more flexible and understanding of a specific event’s needs. In some instances, this can also lead to very competitive rates.

“Finally, we can focus on our niche business and ensure that it delivers for clients and events in the city. Rather than looking for any business, we can look for the business that matters most and fits best with The Hague. The result is that events feel genuinely at home here.”

Which are your three most significant challenges?

“Capacity is an issue to some extent. As a DMO we would always like to see more hotels and venues. We have what we need to deliver on our specialism. More exhibition space would probably be of help when it comes to competition with some other larger cities, but our specialisms mean it is not a deal-breaker.

“We have a bit of a perception challenge in terms of what the city is, where it is and what we offer. In a country as small as the Netherlands, it is easy for a destination like Amsterdam to be the main focus and external voice. There are still a surprising number of people who don’t know our destination, and they don’t know what we offer and why we are ideal for specific events.

“We also need to talk more about our non-business offering. Despite being a walking city with miles of beaches, bars and a great cultural offering, we tend to be known a little too much for our business-focused, legal and security offering. As our core sectors that is not a huge problem, but we need to educate both organisers and delegates on that fact that there is far more here than they realise.”

What will happen in five and ten years when it comes to business events in The Hague?

“Answering this question in the middle of the Covid-19 crisis makes this the hardest question to answer as the future is currently tough to discern. Covid-19 means there will be a shift towards home-working and therefore, more virtual events and hybrid meetings. However, there will still be a need to meet. One too many education can be delivered quickly through a good internet connection, but we are a tribal species that always benefits from many to many interactions. Future events will, therefore, need to include increased networking and sharing if they are to achieve high attendance.

“The global spread of Covid-19 has demonstrated how connected we all are, but it has also shown how connected we have a desire to be. Cities and DMOs need to respond to those long-term needs for people to gather and develop infrastructure that still supports meetings, but ultimately, we need to be flexible. Now is not the time to worry too much about a ten-year plan. It is the time to work together through the current crisis and create solutions that mean we emerge with a collective desire to succeed,” says Bas Schot.