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August 17, 2009


Paris and Vienna jointly top the 2008 ICCA Associations meetings report for the first time in three years. Pete Roythorne finds out what makes these two cities leaders in their field in this sector.

Paris and Vienna continued to highlight the European dominance of the associations meetings sector in this year’s ICCA city ratings, both playing host to 139 association congresses during 2008. Barcelona followed a close third with 136 meetings. This is something of a return to form, as it’s the first time in three years that the two cities have shared the top spot.

One thing perhaps driving Europe’s dominance of this sector may be that 60% of the organisations holding events that ICCA surveyed have their headquarters in this area. However, with Singapore in fourth with 118 events and Seoul regsitering a new entrant into the top 10 with 84 congresses, and Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo and Tokyo all making first-time appearances in the top 20, it may not be long before we see Europe’s traditional dominance being overthrown.

But for the moment we find out what makes these two cities stand out.


Europe's cities lead the way for association meetings


“Although the association meetings market accounts for just 10% of the business overnight stays in Paris, it represents a strategic segment,” says Elodie Coudre, congress manager for the Paris Convention Bureau. “Across the whole congress sector, Paris welcomes 900 events and over 600,000 delegates every year, each with a average expenditure of €320 per day for a minimum stay of two days. This guarantees a significant income to our city.”

Economic resilience
Coudre says that this particular field is suffering far less from the economic downturn, due to the continuous need for the scientists, researchers, specialists and other association members to be educated and share their expertise in their field.

“Moreover, these meetings are planned a long time in advance and they are a wonderful media to showcase the scientific know-how of a destination, as well as having a huge economic impact, which is why we put so much effort into attracting this business,” she explains.

Christian Mutschlechner, director of the Vienna Convention Bureau, agrees, saying: “The meeting industry is stable and robust with respect to the recession. The association market continues to be strong, even if some parameters change; the corporate field is by far more exposed to the crisis. However, 2009 looks good and also demand for the forthcoming years looks stable.”

He believes it is their long history in the field that makes these two destinations so continually successful. “The Vienna Convention Bureau is one of the oldest in Europe (this year we celebrate our 40th anniversary), and I believe that continuity is key to the continuing success of the city," he says.

"The client needs confidence, and the more staff or key staff he knows over the years the better – I’ve personally been with the bureau since 1985. Of course it is crucial that your prime meeting infrastructure is up to date and reflects the needs of the customer.”

Staying one step ahead
So how do these cities stay one step ahead of the growing competition for a slice of this lucrative market? “We are already working on projects for 2019 at the Paris Convention Bureau,” says Coudre. “In fact, the Paris Convention Bureau has set up a team dedicated to the associations and not-for-profit market.”

Since then, Couder explains that Paris has brought together the key players in the congress field (convention centers, hotels, conference organisers, destination management companies, social venues and transportation), so that organisers can get access to the best people to help them. The bureau currently has over 450 members on its books.

“We also have the strong support of the Mayor office in Paris, and its services that already been involved in over 20 congresses, including the ESC congress 2011,” she adds. “Furthermore, we have created a survey to assess the importance of the congress industry in Greater Paris, and this has been a fundamental driver of the good results in the ICCA and UAI rankings for the past five years. To further help develop our offering we are working on a common strategy with the hotel chains to better welcome city wide congresses.”

As far as investing in its infrastructure, Mutschlechner believes Vienna is more or less finished. “Investments are done by the private sector or by the city. The infrastructure in the meetings industry field is more or less finished. Our last large-scale investment was the building of a new conference centre for the United Nations,” he says. “Of course, there are regular adjustments, renovations and up dating of the technology on offer – this is how we stay up to date and ensure we offer the best possible service.”

Mutschlechner signs off with a word of caution, which should keep all destinations on their toes. “Popularity is one thing," he says, "but professionalism in dealing with the client is becoming more and more important.”

As long as these two cities continue to invest in both their infrastructure and professionalism, it seems very likely that we will be seeing them at the top of the tree in this sector for many years to come.


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