A newly released study Europe as a Destination for Meetings and Conferences is described as “a joint look at the current economic and socio-political trends influencing Europe as a meetings destination,” but its insights are not confined to that continent. Conducted this year by lead research partner German Convention Bureau (GCB), along with fellow members of the Strategic Alliance of the National Convention Bureaux of Europe, the Austrian Convention Bureau, Convention Bureau Italia, Croatian National Tourist Board, Meet Denmark, Netherlands Board of Tourism & Conventions, Polish Tourism Organization, Swedish Network of Convention Bureaus, and Visit Norway. The study, supported by Simpleview and PCMA, involved desk research as well as telephone interviews with 45 European and US meeting buyers and sellers in different industries.

Based on ICCA (International Congress and Convention Association) figures, more than half of meetings organised by international associations take place in Europe. As the study points out, the key to regional dominance for a specific country is not having the highest number of cities topping ICCA’s list, but one or two of the top cities, along with a much larger proportion of lower-tier cities that host fewer meetings.

Cities lower on the overall rankings have the opportunity to promote themselves based on key buyer decision factors such as ease of access and venue availability, as well as regional scientific and economic expertise, according to the white paper.

“To focus your marketing on being a lower-cost destination is unlikely to be as effective,” the white paper reads, since, when it came to decision making, the budget was not one of the first three factors considered by the interviewed planners.

What is of greater importance to them is specific local strengths and expertise. Therefore, the study advises destinations to fine-tune their marketing to particular segments in which they excel. For example, leaders in tech and innovation should target the organisers of tech-focused events. Those destinations with high marks for environmental sustainability should “communicate accordingly with buyers concerned about the environmental impact of events.”

“The study advises destinations to fine-tune their marketing to particular segments in which they excel”

The Economy  According to the study, chief among respondents’ concerns is the economy. A decade after the global financial crisis, “many fear that we are on the brink of another Eurozone showdown.”

That’s not all bad news for the business events industry in Europe as the growing strength of the US dollar “is making Europe a comparatively cheaper destination, which could lead to more organisers hosing their international conferences in Europe as opposed to American cities.”

Brexit popped up as both a threat and opportunity for the industry throughout Europe, depending on the final deal or no-deal situation. If it becomes more difficult to host events in the UK, according to the study, organisers will look to other countries to host their events.

Security  Surprisingly, security threats were not cited as a primary concern among respondents. “They either follow all the standard security practices without actively worrying. Or, should a terrorist incident occur, they would cancel or move an event that is scheduled in the same city.”

Event Tech  The trends that are driving change in the events space are hybrid and online meetings, internet speed, 5G networks, the Internet of Things (IoT), and AI.

In terms of the last three, the study points to how the rollout of 5G networks, expected to be widespread in 2020, will offer unprecedented speed and connectivity and give IoT a boost. That’s most likely to impact conferences and events through wearable technology, which respondents said they are looking to use to enable greater attendee personalisation and foot-traffic mapping.

As far as AI, based on respondent feedback, “a kind of AI movement is currently building in the industry, with many planners already using AI matchmaking tools and/or chatbots.”

Other Industry Trends  A majority of respondents expressed environmental sustainability concerns around events. “This means that planners evaluate if physical meetings are actually necessary and attempt to consolidate them into fewer, larger events while moving others to online formats,” the study says, “in an attempt to cut down on air travel.” There is also a growing expectation that venues will operate under sustainable practices, and that it will be a crucial criterion in site selection.

Also, respondents are placing greater emphasis on the ROI of events. “In the industries where the bottom line is an issue,” the report says, “upper management demand more justification for the budget of events. For many, events need to be more focused and actively solve business problems.”

Download a copy of the “Europe as a Destination for Meetings and Conferences” study.