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Beyond Tourism Benefits: Measuring the Holistic Value of Business Events

By Dr Katie Schlenker
Dr Carmel Foley
Dr Deborah Edwards

 

Until recently, the business events sector has been measured mainly on the basis of its contributions to the tourism sector, evaluated almost exclusively in directly measurable, economic benefits. However, this overlooks the most valuable legacies – the contributions that business events make to key industry sectors. New research conducted by a team from the University of Technology, Sydney reveals that business events also advance knowledge, practice and technologies, drive innovation through global collaborations, stimulate research, provide trade and investment outcomes, and deliver contributions to host communities by showcasing local talent, the local education sector and the conference destination itself to an international audience of industry-linked practitioners and academics.

 

This has been shown in a series of ground-breaking studies by researchers at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS) in Australia into the ‘Beyond Tourism Benefits’ of business events.  The research was commissioned by Business Events Sydney (BESydney), Australia’s leading convention bureau. BESydney is a not-for-profit partnership between the New South Wales State Government and more than 200 leading tourism attractions, venues, event suppliers and congress organisers. Its role is to identify new congress, event, meeting and incentive opportunities and to compete through a professional bid process to win these events for Sydney and New South Wales.

 

While the broader benefits of hosting and participating in business events had long been recognised within the business events industry, anecdotal evidence needed to be replaced with rigorous empirical studies.

 

The first study in the series, “A Scoping Study of Business Events: Beyond Tourism Benefits” (Foley, Schlenker, Edwards and Hayllar, 2010) was designed to identify the range and impact of contributions made by business events, beyond the tourism dimension. The study identified that the benefits from business events extend well beyond the tourism spend to include outcomes such as knowledge expansion; networking, relationships and collaboration; educational outcomes; raising awareness and profiling; and destination showcasing and reputation –outcomes commonly referred to as Beyond Tourism Benefits (BTB).

 

The first publication (Foley, Schlenker, Edwards and Hayllar, 2010) attracted significant industry and government attention and BESydney subsequently commissioned a second stage of research, to verify and extend the findings of the 2010 scoping study. The second study, completed by Dr Deborah Edwards, Dr Carmel Foley and Dr Katie Schlenker, was designed to explore the extent of the BTB and to define their value, enabling a more holistic measurement model, beyond the tourism receipts generated from delegate and exhibitor expenditure. “Beyond Tourism Benefits – Measuring the Social Legacies of Business Events” (Edwards, Foley and Schlenker, 2011) documents the findings of a quantitative assessment of business events across five international congresses held in Sydney between 2009 and 2011. The findings of an online survey of 1,090 attendees – comprising delegates, sponsors, exhibitors and members of the organising committee – revealed a direct connection between the staging of business events and a range of benefits and outcomes for various stakeholders.

 

BTB Findings…

The BTB research demonstrated a clear and strong connection between hosting and participating in business events and a range of benefits and outcomes for delegates, sponsors, exhibitors, professional industries, the education sector, the host destination and the wider community.

 

Business events assist communication that promotes the effective diffusion of knowledge. Over 90 per cent of respondents believe that these congresses facilitated the dissemination of new knowledge, ideas, techniques, materials, and technologies by providing host destination based educators, practitioners and researchers with access to a network of international colleagues. This networking affords local delegates with new business and research collaborations, which can generate innovation, ideas and research agendas for many years to come. Significantly, for the continued health and growth of each sector, attendance at these business events has delivered these benefits to emerging leaders, including Australian postgraduate research students.

 

Business events provide a supporting platform from which the growth of intercultural understandings and international friendships can occur. It is this understanding that contributes to a host destination’s capacity for success in global markets in business and education. International delegates are exposed to local knowledge, research capacity, sites and facilities – all of which increase the attractiveness of the host destination’s education sector. Growth in this sector has wider benefits for increasing the future capacity of the host destination in the various sectors.

 

The host destination’s capacities are showcased through the staging of international business events, putting the destination ‘on the map’, fostering a reputation as a place of highly skilled, capable, world leading researchers. In the study, 87 percent of respondents agreed that successful hosting of the event had enhanced the host destination’s reputation as a global business events destination.

 

Some key findings from the study can be grouped under three broad areas: benefits for the host destination; benefits for delegates; and benefits for exhibitors and sponsors:

 

Benefits for the host destination

  • 82% believed the events exposed local delegates in the conference destination to cutting edge research and world’s best practice
  • 75% agreed events showcase local talent from the conference destination
  • 68% agreed events enhanced the capacity of the academic sector in the conference destination

 

Benefits for delegates

  • > 90% believed congresses have facilitated the dissemination of new knowledge, ideas, techniques, materials and technologies
  • 97% agreed that they had shared information with colleagues and peers
  • 85% have applied new insights to their professional practice
  • 85% believed attending congresses contributed to building the knowledge and capabilities of young people working in the sector
  • 64% have shared information with students

 

Benefits for exhibitors and sponsors

  • 90% gained product exposure/awareness
  • 90% obtained leads for future business
  • 78% improved brand awareness
  • 73% contributed to the development of the sector
  • 56% increased domestic sales
  • 49% increased export sales

 

Legacies of Business Events…

These benefits and outcomes can be considered as leaving legacies in five different areas: intrinsic, practice, social, economic and attitudinal.  It is worth noting that the legacies of these benefits and outcomes are not mutually exclusive – one benefit and outcome may have multiple legacies.

 

Intrinsic legacies are a result of the collaborative environment developed at business events. Delegates have the opportunity to develop their knowledge, skills and practices and affirm their professional sense of purpose. This shared social context proves invaluable to professional development and enhances a delegates potential to work within the chosen industry sector.

 

Practice legacies involve the skills and knowledge that delegates gain during the event. They may pick up insights, learn new techniques, share ideas and identify solutions to problems. These can then be incorporated into professional practice as delegates return to their places of work or share their findings – locally and globally – after the conference.

 

Social legacies represent the camaraderie that develops around the congress – the appeal of engaging with other like-minded people, the relationships that are enhanced and developed and the broader benefits that accrue to the communities in which the congress is held. Business events develop a social space that is important as it facilitates and reinforces social interaction and, in turn, influences the effectiveness of collaborative learning.

 

Economic legacies go beyond the economic benefits that arise from the tourism spend. Opportunities for sales and direct investment arise from networking and relationship building at a conference. Further, improved workforce practices, better education and new investments contribute to industry innovation and productivity. The studies also found that congresses can contribute to skilled job migration to a host destination, contributing to a vital, knowledge-led economy.

 

Attitudinal legacies arise from the reactions of delegates to their experiences at the congress, and as governments, the private sector and other individuals become aware of important issues communicated through international and local media.

 

Beyond Tourism Benefits: Building an International Profile…

Recognizing the need for global data on the BTB of events, a further study – “Beyond Tourism Benefits: Building an International Profile” – was commissioned by the Future Convention Cities Initiative (FCCI). Member cities of the FCCI[1] include Sydney, London, Toronto, Seoul, Abu Dhabi, San Francisco and Durban. Members collaborate to shape and accelerate the strategic development of their business events sectors. Members could be described as ‘new generation’ convention leaders aiming to use the latest research, technology and innovation to increase the benefits of business events for their cities, and for the industry as a whole.

 

This international study[2] extends the earlier BTB research conducted by Foley, Schlenker, Edwards and Hayllar (2010) and Edwards, Foley and Schlenker (2011) and represents a world first in direct comparative data. The aim of this study is to provide further empirically based, quantitative assessment of the impact of a range of contributions made by business events to host communities beyond the tourism dimension, at the international level, thus changing the way business events are evaluated and understood.

 

The study is based on an online survey of business events held in Seoul, Sydney and Toronto, with contributions from Durban and Abu Dhabi.  Surveys were completed by delegates, sponsors, exhibitors and members of the organising committees of eight international congresses held during the period 2009 to 2012. The data reinforces the direct connection between the staging of business events and a range of benefits and outcomes for delegates, sponsors, exhibitors and the destination.

 

The benefits and outcomes identified in this study fall under six key messages: general benefits and outcomes; benefits and outcomes to the host destination; personal benefits and outcomes; how benefits and outcomes are used; how knowledge and information is shared; and ‘other’ benefits. General benefits and outcomes include exposure to new insights, knowledge and ideas; a focus on the latest research and its practical applications; dissemination of new knowledge, techniques, materials; improving the quality of education; and a catalyst for research collaborations.

 

Personal benefits gained by delegates are wide-ranging such as: knowledge sharing, enhanced professional practices and acquiring a global perspective. Advanced career delegates are interested in deepening their friendships and recruiting new talent while early-career and mid-career delegates benefit most from attending business events.

 

Within the host destination local delegates are major beneficiaries of business events as they have the opportunity to attend a business event that may otherwise be outside their regular activities.   The media coverage of the business events can positively influence public and Government awareness of sector specific issues. Delegates will share information gained with colleagues and peers, through meetings, presentations and written materials from the business event. For sponsors and exhibitors business events have a ‘long tail’ effect as events are part of a broader company strategy. A final key message is that elements such as cultural communication, things to do and see, safety, cleanliness and the organisation of the conference can impact the delegate experience.

 

Conclusions

This series of ground-breaking studies into the ‘beyond tourism benefits’ of business events by UTS has gained attention in Australia and internationally and has provided a reliable base for collection of further, comparable data on the BTB of business events by other international host destinations.

 

There is a growing appreciation in communities that economic futures lay within the knowledge economy. Building human capital in the form of knowledge competencies in local sector employees has become increasingly important.  This continued research will result in an ever-growing understanding of how business events contribute to national economies via elements such as trade, investment, knowledge exchange, scientific research and professional development. In turn, the growing understanding of the role of business events can provide a new basis for policy-making in which business events are seen as systems of knowledge exchange that have a ripple effect on wider economic and societal outcomes. Business Events can now be recognised for their contribution to building knowledge and innovation capacities – the keys to success in the global economy.

 

The ‘Beyond Tourism Benefits’ reports can be downloaded from the Business Events Sydney website:

 

Edwards, D., Foley, C. and Schlenker, K. (2011). Beyond Tourism Benefits – Measuring the Social Legacies of Business Events. Available at:

http://www.businesseventssydney.com.au/fms/About%20us/Publications%20and%20resources/Documents/
Beyond%20Tourism%20Benefits%20Measuring%20the%20social%20legacy%20of%20business%20events.pdf

Foley, C., Schlenker, K., Edwards, D. and Hayllar, B. (2010). A Scoping Study of Business Events: Beyond Tourism Benefits. Available at:

http://www.businesseventssydney.com.au/fms/Latest%20news/Beyond%20Tourism%20Benefits%20-%20Final%20Report.pdf



[1] Current chair of the FCCI is Maureen O’Crowley, Vice President, Convention Bureau, Seoul Tourism Organization.

[2] Full report to be released by the FCCI later this year

 

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