Organizing a Successful Conference: Convention Bureaus and Professional Organizers Can Help

Academic staff who take on a responsibility to host a conference may benefit from Convention Bureaus, free of charge. It may also be advisable to take advantage of a Professional Conference Organizer. During the past decades, the association meetings industry has been developing rapidly.

A well-planned implementation creates inspiration and motivation for the involved, but often requires many hours of preparation and administration. 

Many organizers who take on the responsibility of hosting a conference do so in addition to or as part of their regular academic tasks as a researcher or professor. For that reason, there can be knowledge gaps regarding how to arrange a successful meeting, lack of manpower, or lack of time.

During the past years, organizing conferences has become increasingly professionalized; therefore, it may be useful to know how professional conference organizers can help.

Convention Bureaus

A Convention Bureau is a non-profit organization that supports anyone who wants to arrange a meeting in the region it operates in, free of charge. For example, in Sweden there are 25 Convention Bureaus, from Malmö in the south to Luleå in the north. 

A Convention Bureau works to find, stimulate, and support people or organizations who can and want to undertake the hosting of an upcoming meeting. A Convention Bureau’s main task is to, with the help of a long-term, well-developed, and well-established meeting strategy, constitute an important partner for municipalities, regions, universities, colleges, and other organizations and authorities in their long-term work to develop their business and the destination overall. Convention Bureaus also work towards association life and are a great support for non-profit associations that are in the beginning of organizing a meeting. 

Conferences and meetings are positive for a city’s tourism industry and a good marketing channel for repeat visits.

Meetings in a city can also contribute to increased skills and improved research opportunities, talent attraction, increased investment, and an active everyday life and leisure for residents of all ages. Meetings are also important prerequisites for knowledge development and idea generation in the place where the meeting is arranged.

Convention Bureaus are nothing new; they have been around for a long time. Many of the services that were offered in the past are still offered today. This may involve producing the documents needed to present the specific city’s advantages, preliminarily reservations of meeting and banquet facilities, ensuring hotel capacity, sharing marketing materials, arranging site inspections, and mediating local contacts. 

Nowadays, Convention Bureaus also devote a lot of time to contributing to better and more sustainable arrangements, which contribute to even more long-term effects in addition to the already given tourism economic effects of a meeting.

Professional Conference Organizers

A Convention Bureau shall not compete with services that companies in business may charge for. Convention Bureaus shall also not replace the need of a Professional Conference Organizer (PCO) during implementation. 

A PCO deals with the practical work before a meeting, which is not offered by a Convention Bureau. Most PCO companies offer a wide range of services and support, but can also adapt to the level of demand, or offer their services to specific parts of a meeting. Similar services are usually also offered by meeting agencies, event companies, or in-house by larger meeting facilities.

A PCO specializes in detailed meeting planning and can assist in all stages of the planning process by coordinating various efforts and communicating between different suppliers such as hotels, meeting facilities, transportation, and external companies such as technology providers or staffing agencies. By hiring a PCO for the conference, academics can get help with, among other things, the logistics management, participant management, graphic design and development of concepts.

PCOs also offer aid in finance and invoice management, budget control, and management of third-party costs, price comparisons, and financial reports. PCOs can also easily take care of the administration of travel and hotel reservations and local transport.

Moreover, PCOs can help with exhibition management, as well as coordination and planning of exhibitions or fairs. In these kinds of tasks, they can take over the coordination of booth construction and staffing, which may not lie at the core of academic event organizer competences.

Association Meetings Industry

The international association meetings industry has a global community and knowledge hub for the exchange of ideas and experiences. The International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) was founded as early as in 1963 by a group of travel agents. The original goal was to collect and share practical information about the market for international meetings. Since that, the industry has expanded.

ICCA represents the world’s top destinations and most experienced suppliers specialized in handling, transporting, and accommodating international meetings and events. The organization consists of over 1,100 members in almost 100 countries worldwide.

ICCA’s structure is based on sectors – each representing a professional sector within the meetings industry, destinations, transport, venues, and PCOs. ICCA also has a number of different chapters, based on geographical regions. The Nordic Chapter cooperates on an everyday basis in sharing knowledge and organizing supporting events for associations. The Nordic Chapter is collaborating with academic event organizers. The members of ICCA, and specifically the Nordic Chapter, offer organizers of academic and other association meetings support in finding a suitable destination, venue, and if applied, PCO services.

The destinations, that is, the convention bureaus of ICCA offer meeting organizers neutral, cost-free, and initial help in planning the conferences.

Convention Bureaus are to be considered a “one-stop shop”, to leverage the suppliers at each destination. So that the associations or organisers can sit back, relax, and receive a collective overview on the options at each destination. The Convention Bureaus are mostly owned by the municipalities or other administrative officials, and this help is a way for the cities to attract more meetings and to strengthen their brands and attraction, highlight the academic strongholds, and invite more competence to their regions. As an added benefit, more meetings at a destination helps the local meetings industry and tourism industry grow and creates more job opportunities.

A lot of knowledge is shared amongst the members of ICCA. The collective gathering of experience when it comes to previous meetings are shared. This is an added value for you as a conference organizer. By reaching out to the Convention Bureaus, they can collect information and know-how about previous arrangements to facilitate the start-up process when new organizers are considering hosting a meeting. For example, information on previous numbers of attendees, used/preferred types of venues, exhibition space needed for poster exhibitions and other sorts of exhibitions, and so forth.

A list of Convention Bureaus around the world is available at International Congress and Convention Association’s (ICCA) web page, under ”Find ICCA members”.