Special Report on Conferences and Exhibitions: Meeting the needs of a marketing strategy: These days, companies require tangible results to justify the outlay on conferences. Martin Whitfield examines their reasoning

A THREE-DAY conference can easily cost a foreign delegate pounds 2,000, plus air fares. A basic stand at a trade exhibition will be more than pounds 10,000. Meeting and talking is an expensive pastime but one whose popularity never seems in doubt.

More attention might be paid to getting value for money but the need to discuss with colleagues, to exchange ideas and information and to make new contacts is seen as essential in the business and professional world.

Cost control and competitive forces have combined to make the typical conference smaller, shorter, less flamboyant and more businesslike. Less likely is a week-long trip, with partner, to the 3,000-delegate extravaganza in an exotic location where in the past the work content was low and there was a considerable risk of long-term liver damage.

Conferences now also tend to take less time to be arranged: typically six months rather than a year for a 500-delegate meeting. The attendance fee of up to pounds 350 a day and the accommodation bill have to be justified. Corporate meetings or a company exhibition stand have become part of a well-worked marketing strategy, not an ill-thought- out executive performance bonus scheme. People have to have a reason to leave their offices, or their country, to attend these events. They want to know they can use their time effectively.

'Conferences are being used by more and more as a marketing tool,' said Vanessa Cotton, partner in the Event Organisation Company. The Exhibition Industry Federation stresses the cost effectiveness of exhibitions compared with other marketing mediums. Spending in Britain has reached pounds 1.3bn.

The trend towards smaller, more frequent meetings has meant many have become mobile and can switch happily from one country to another. Huge congresses of up to 20,000 people can be accommodated in relatively few purpose-built conference venues. The British Association of Conference Towns will help with advice on suitable places in Britain. But small gatherings of 100 to 200 can be held in any large hotel in any reasonable sized city in the world. Close attention to reducing money spent on air fares and the desire for smaller groups has meant more regional meetings in Europe, North America and Asia.

Competition to win conference business is intense, as delegates are high- spending business travellers. The British Tourist Authority estimates that the average spend of the 300,000 overseas conference delegates is pounds 600, compared with pounds 428 for a tourist visitor and pounds 488 for a business visitor.

Although Britain's share of the conference market has been virtually static, the growth of the worldwide industry has meant that delegates and exhibition visitors are making up an increasing proportion of all foreign visitors. The numbers have doubled since 1980 while tourism in general has only increased by 20 per cent. A narrow definition of their spending shows a minimum contribution of pounds 180m.

Britain is not alone in seeking to woo the international conference trade. Promosalons, the French specialist marketing agency, and the Belgium Convention and Incentive Bureau, for example, actively promote meetings in their own countries.

Singapore, where a 12,000-delegate conference centre is due to open next year, is spending dollars 13m on an international awareness campaign. Until last year, Singapore was the only non-European city among the top 10 destinations compiled by the International Association of Professional Congress Organisers (IAPCO). Kevin Leong, conventions director of the Singapore Tourist Promotions Board, keeps an eye on his rivals: 'Competition worldwide and within the region is intensifying.'

Ease of communications, normally by air, is seen by conference organisers as the first condition for any meeting whose location is not fixed by other means, such as a related exhibition or a company's marketing plans. The result, as judged by IAPCO's league table of leading cities, is that capital cities with good air connections and a number of large quality hotels are easy favourites.

London attracts two-thirds of Britain's conference business. A capital city is also likely to be popular as it increases scope for other business meetings away from the conference hall.

A final attraction of big cities is their tourist pull. Although fewer partners are accompanying delegates - only about five per cent of the 500 delegates to the World Coal Institute's conference in London brought their spouse - capitals retain their popularity for international travellers. The move towards smaller meetings and a desire for 'breakout' groups to talk away from plenary sessions has been matched by a growing interest by hotels in a potentially lucrative business.

All large modern hotels will be designed with one eye on the conference market, while refurbishment will try to take care of those chandeliers in the ballroom which could restrict modern visual presentations. They will make sure they supply the facilities that conference organisers demand, but delegates infrequently use, such as swimming pools, gyms and saunas.

Room rates are made very attractive even in some hotels which used to shy snobbishly away from conference business. Universities and other institutions have made successful attempts to attract trade by being able to offer purpose-built lecture facilities and cheap accommodation during vacations.

Conference organisers are more likely to turn to professional companies for at least part of the business of setting up and running a conference. The whole event may be contracted out or specialist segments given to a variety of experts. Good audio visual presentations, for example, can cost six figure sums for a major launch and tatty ones look just that in these days of sophisticated marketing videos.

'Associations in particular have raised their standards. Most professional bodies now realise that a series of talking heads using outdated audio-visual back-up will not attract fee-paying delegates, nor does it reflect well on associations themselves,' Ms Cotton says.

Although the emphasis of business meetings is clearly on business, some companies still believe in a mix of work and pleasure. Getting away from it all can concentrate the mind and refresh the soul, say proponents. Conferences and marketing sessions are available on sailing ships, golf course hotels and the odd safari lodge in Kenya.

----------------------------------------------------------------- INTERNATIONAL CONGRESSES: TOP 10 CITIES AND COUNTRIES IN 1991 ----------------------------------------------------------------- City Events Country Events 1 Paris 349 US 880 2 London 244 France 761 3 Vienna 230 UK 660 4 Brussels 184 Germany 546 5 Geneva 178 N'lands 385 6 Berlin 166 Switz 313 7 Singapore 110 Italy 304 8 Strasbourg 107 Austria 294 9 Amst'dam 106 Belgium 289 10 H Kong 102 Spain 264 ----------------------------------------------------------------- Source: International Association of Professional Congress Organisers -----------------------------------------------------------------

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Under the skin: Sarah Kane in May 1998
theatreThe story behind a new season of Sarah Kane plays
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
Sport
Bradford City's reward for their memorable win over Chelsea is a trip to face either Sunderland or Fulham (Getty)
football
News
Lars Andersen took up archery in his mid thirties
video
Voices
Focus E15 Mothers led a protest to highlight the lack of affordable housing in London
voicesLondon’s housing crisis amounts to an abuse of human rights, says Grace Dent
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operations & Logistics Manager

£38000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's best performing...

Recruitment Genius: GeoDatabase Specialist - Hazard Modelling

£35000 - £43000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our award-winning client is one...

Recruitment Genius: Compressed Air Pipework Installation Engineer

£15000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of Atlas ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Coordinator - Pallet Network

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Opportunity to join established...

Day In a Page

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea