What makes a destination enticing to meeting planners? For starters, its location relative to the attendee pool, committable hotel rooms and available venues. Less obvious but perhaps of equal importance is intellectual property — how host cities can match incoming group needs to the prevalent ideas, designs, and artistic or scientific creations that are the hallmarks of the destination.
The idea of tapping into a city's intellectual property is especially relevant now because of the acceleration of the innovation economy, according to Greg Clark, a professor with roles at University College London and Strathclyde University, and a global consultant on the future of cities and new industries. Clark says that a generation of new technologies flowering in forward-looking cities makes such locations especially worthy of consideration by planners.
"If you are in the business of business meetings or are a destination for business meetings, it is very important that you find some strong alignment between the meetings you host and the sectors, segments or edges of the innovation economy," notes Clark. Which begs the question: How can groups best leverage the intellectual property of a destination?
Austin, Texas: Hitching Your Wagon to SXSW
The first option for a planner might be to choose a city that already has an event that brings local talent together with visitors from around the globe, according to Clark. He cites Austin's South by Southwest conference (SXSW) as one of a number of happenings where experts from all over the world converge, and innovations occur in real time.
SXSW, which has been around since 1987 and unfortunately had to cancel this year due to coronavirus, continues to aim to be a tool for creative people to develop their careers, bringing together attendees from around the globe to meet, learn and share ideas.
"SXSW gave Austin and the brands that got their start here a national media presence and helped capture Austin's entrepreneurial spirit," says Amy Brown, vice president of sales for Visit Austin, the city's convention and visitors bureau. She adds that those same qualities can be applied to other meetings held in the city, something Visit Austin works to do by linking groups to speakers — either from SXSW itself or the University of Texas at Austin, the Capital Factory (an incubator for start-ups), or its flourishing film and food scene.
"We look to see how we can be a conduit to connect the conventions coming in with brands that are known in Austin or companies that are new and growing and can talk about how they are staying innovative," says Brown, who expects SXSW to return to form in 2021.
Those first discussions about how to capitalize on Austin's intellectual property often happen during the sales process, but once the meeting is booked, Linda Atkins, vice president of convention services, helps make it happen.
"When planners are starting to develop the program content, we ask them to share their goals and what the focus is," says Atkins. "If we find out what they are looking to accomplish and what their challenges are, we can match them with someone who might be able to address those same challenges from a different angle."
Brown adds that while they have some heavy hitters available as speakers, some groups have preferred people who are not so well known — yet: "Some of the favorite speakers have been those unknown gems from a growing company that before you know it is an international brand."
Building on the success of its efforts to foster such connections, Visit Austin has been working to create a hub that can point clients to the types of speakers they're seeking. "We will now be able to more easily match our clients with people in technology or medicine or education — or maybe someone in a field that's not directly related but who has a great story that can be applied or learned from," says Brown.
San Jose, Calif.: Tapping Into Silicon Valley
Another city with a strong innovative base is, of course, San Jose, surrounded as it is by more than 2,500 high-tech companies including Adobe, Apple, Facebook and Google. Visit San Jose recently made it easier to match groups with local talent by partnering with the Silicon Valley Forum, a tech-knowledge and networking powerhouse, to provide access to top tech firms, experiences and leaders.
According to Matthew Martinucci, vice president of sales for Visit San Jose, the recently launched program will not only allow planners access to tech speakers, but also include things like networking sessions with like-minded industry leaders; small-group immersions with incubators in industries such as machine learning, robotics and digital disruption; and even pitch sessions that will match next-gen startups with industry leaders who provide feedback on the pitches.
"In the past, we didn't have a formalized way to connect groups with local contacts," said Martinucci. "Now, once we know the purpose for the meeting, we have the ability to connect them with the Forum."
He advises planners to involve the San Jose CVB in the content of their meetings as soon as possible in order to engage some of the top talent in Silicon Valley. "People are extremely busy, so the earlier we can identify the right person, the earlier they can get it on their calendars."
Alexandria, Va.: In Washington's Footsteps
This Virginia city also has recently formalized its connection to area influencers, partnering with three leadership and team-building institutes to create the Leadership Collection at Alexandria. According to Lorraine Lloyd, vice president of sales and international marketing for the CVB, Visit Alexandria, the collection — which just launched in January — was created to provide a one-stop shop for planners looking to add these types of programs to their agendas. "We can help groups tailor the leadership or team-building programs, as well as work with them on hotels and any off-sites," says Lloyd.
The three entities — all of which have venues for meetings and team-building exercises — are the George Washington Leadership Institute at Mount Vernon; the McChrystal Group Leadership Institute, founded by retired four-star general Stan McChrystal; and Building Momentum, a veteran-owned problem-solving, technology and engineering consulting group.
"Where else in the country can you hold a leadership-development retreat on the estate of our nation's first president and one of our greatest leaders, take a sunrise jogging tour of the National Mall with a notable four-star general, and bond your team with wine and welding?" says Lloyd with justifiable brio.
Samantha Moore, senior director of meetings and education for the Washington, D.C.-based American Bakers Association, has already used two of the institutes — and is open to using the third — for the Next Gen Baker Leadership Forum the association holds each year.
"This particular meeting is for those looking to become better leaders in the baking industry, and over the years it has been customized so we could combine industry-specific trends with leadership lessons and a visit to Capitol Hill," says Moore.
One of the association's recent forums was held at the George Washington Leadership Institute and used Washington's leadership style as a basis for development. "What's nice about the program," notes Lloyd, "is it ties lessons from the past with tools for the future."
For a conference Moore is planning with the McChrystal Group Leadership Institute, the facility not only is hosting the event itself but providing newsletter blurbs to promote it, content for the ramp-up and post-show material. "Everything is custom," says Moore. "We picked the aspects that best suited the group and will complement what we are already providing."
Hawaii: The Past Points to the Future
When it comes to our 50th state, the most important intellectual property might well be found in its ages-old customs and culture, according to Kimo Jenkins, co-founder and cultural advisor for Island Partners Hawai'i. Such aspects, he says, can be added to a program to provide both a sense of place and an enlightening educational opportunity.
Jenkins says he starts by asking planners, "What is your end result? What is your vision? What do you want to accomplish?" Next, he endeavors to determine the proper degree of immersion. "Sometimes clients want the entire program to be culturally enhanced, and others want a light touch, such as translating attendee names into their Hawaiian equivalent or weaving cultural traditions together with common values," he notes.
For one group, that meant a general session where their corporate values were correlated to the cultural values found in canoe voyaging. Jenkins and his team brought the material components on stage to build a small outrigger canoe to help represent values such as working together, having a vision and keeping to a straight course.
Whether Hawaii or elsewhere, Clark points out that by choosing a destination with intellectual property as part of the desired mix, "your attendees will be exposed to opportunities they would not otherwise have, and they will have a richer experience."