IMEX Politicians Forum shows progress and co-operation are growing

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A record 25 politicians attended the sixth IMEX Politicians’ Forum in Frankfurt this year, which was marked by high-level representation from the UK, Canada, South Africa and Australia for the first t

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A record 25 politicians attended the sixth IMEX Politicians’ Forum in Frankfurt this year, which was marked by high-level representation from the UK, Canada, South Africa and Australia for the first time. A full report of the day’s findings and recommendations is published online today by IMEX and Forum partners, the Joint Meetings Industry Council, JMIC and European Cities Marketing ( ).

Changes introduced into the Forum format saw its four main political guests each giving a short presentation to share insight and experiences from their own diverse regions. The outcome for the combined audience of 80 senior meetings industry representatives and politicians was an incisive debate which centered on identifying common ground and potential for mutually beneficial progress between political and industry interests.

The IMEX Politicians Forum Report describes how Mayor Alan Lowe of the City of Victoria, British Columbia admitted his city is struggling to retain some conference business as its convention center, built in 1989, is now too small. He made the point that success within a strong and competitive international market requires consistent investment. He also recommended the appointment of a global champion who can uphold a city’s vision and help support long-term convention business.

The Honorable Jane Lomax-Smith, Minister for Tourism, South Australia and Minister for the City of Adelaide, explained that research by her city had shown the yield from meetings to be nearly six percent higher per day than tourism. Acknowledging that business delegates tend to stay for shorter periods, she explained to the Forum audience that Adelaide’s current strategy focuses on incentivising visitors to stay for longer, thereby increasing their total value to the city. She also explained that Adelaide is extremely proactive in devising and building conventions “that connect with the city’s economic advantages such as wine production and defense.” Another tactic employed by the city is to invent conventions and events around other activities. “So, for instance, if we have a cycle race, we invent a biomechanics of cycling convention. We have learned that the whole can be more than the sum of its parts.”

Ivor Blumenthal, CEO of SETA, the Government Services Sector Education and Training Authority of South Africa urged the meetings industry to push for a level playing field on skills and availability of labor. The report describes how he is already working with Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the European Marketing Federation in a bid to establish global reciprocity agreements for people working in events management. Blumenthal also reminded Forum members, “when choosing your next conference destination or venue, don’t let competency be an issue.” He went on to highlight the growing success of a South African scheme that incentivises convention centers to support small- to medium-sized businesses in the local area which has been widely praised by stakeholders.

In his presentation, UK MP John Greenway, described the primary issues currently facing politicians which also have a strong bearing on the meetings industry. These include demographic changes, the move away from manufacturing to service-led businesses, integration of migrant workers and issues of sustainability and international standards.

Corporate Changes

In turn, Martin Sirk, CEO of ICCA, offered insight from a meetings industry viewpoint. He told delegates that the corporate market has changed significantly in recent times, which has created areas of new opportunity for the industry worldwide. “Over the past five years we’ve seen enormous growth in meetings as a tool for companies to build communities, not only among the people who work for them but also throughout the supply chain, stakeholders and further. These meetings are no longer simply a bit of fun but the lifeblood of organizations,” he explained.

Speaking after the Forum about her experience as a first-time guest, Katarzyna Sobierajska, Undersecretary of State, Ministry of Sport and Tourism, Poland said, “It was very interesting to come to the Forum and understand the true size and scope of the meetings industry. At the moment, Poland has quite a new and rather small national convention bureau, and I wasn’t sure what I would achieve by coming. I quickly understood that it’s important for everyone at a country level to understand the bigger picture. I’ve enjoyed meeting people from other countries and also other parties, and now it is obvious how important convention bureaus are within a country.”

Mayor of Victoria, Alan Lowe, said, “I think the big achievement of the day was creating this dialogue between different people on the front lines – the meetings industry, policy makers and politicians. Very often neither side understands what the other wants or needs. This Forum represents a valuable chance for people to engage in meaningful debate.”

Adding her comments, Jane Lomax-Smith, Minister for Tourism, City of Adelaide, Australia said, “I am a great believer that if you can measure it, you can manage it. The Adelaide Convention Center hosted events that contributed $70 million to the State’s economy in 2006/07. By having clear measurements in place, we can see precisely what contribution the industry is making to the city and where we need to plan for additional resources to support future growth, such as transport, labor, education and training”.

The Politicians’ Forum was moderated by Michael Hirst, OBE, Chairman of the UK Business Tourism Partnership. Other presentations were made by Richard Holmes, International Director of Meetings for the International Bureau for Epilepsy and Rod Cameron of Criterion Communications, Canada. The full IMEX Politicians’ Forum Report can be downloaded at

The next Politicians’ Forum will take place on May 26, 2009. Organizations interested in securing a place for their local politician or government representative, should contact [email protected]

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Editor in chief is Linda Hohnholz.