by Leo Jakobson | September 03, 2016

There's more to selecting a destination for your meeting, event, or trade show than just rates, dates, and space.

Yes, the city's hotels and event venues have to meet your budget, not be booked on the dates you need, and have the facilities you require. But's that's just the table stakes. To deal your meeting, trade show, or conference a winning hand you need a destination that entices potential attendees and adds value to your offerings.

Particularly when it comes to conferences and conventions, one of the most effective ways to choose a destination that will add value to your event is to look for a knowledge hub -- a cluster of academics, researchers, and businesses in your event's field that a smart planner can leverage in various ways, such as finding good speakers who are local and thus cost-effective; having universities or corporate facilities that are willing and even eager to take attendees off-site for a tour; and of course offering a pool of potential local attendees or sponsors.

Some are obvious: Silicon Valley for tech, New York and London for finance, Detroit and Stuttgart (home of Daimler and Porsche) for automotive. But many can be found in second- and third-tier cities, and it's not always immediately obvious to the planner where knowledge hubs are located.

Knoxville, TN, for example, can claim deep knowledge and manufacturing experience in the carbon fiber and 3D printing fields, thanks to nearby Oak Ridge National Laboratory, one of the country's largest and most important science research facilities, which has its roots in the Second World War's Manhattan Project to develop the atomic bomb. That knowledge hub helped the Knoxville Convention Center attract CompositesWorld's Carbon Fiber 2015 show in December. Attendees toured the Oak Ridge National Laboratory Manufacturing Demonstration Facility, and saw a 3D-printed car made there roll onto the show floor.

Finding those hubs is exactly why a planner should use the local convention bureau's resources, says Aileen Crawford, head of conventions at the Glasgow City Marketing Bureau. "A planner can go to the city's conventions team, explain how they see the conference working, what is their vision, what do they want to achieve," she says. "The convention bureau is that partner to be able to leverage the local community."

Knowledge Beats Size
When the organizers of the Institute of Electronic and Electrical Engineers' (IEEE) Vehicular Technology Conference (VTC) were looking for a 2015 spring conference host city, Beijing was the odds-on favorite.


Dr. James Irvine (second from right) convinced
fellow members of the VTS that Glasgow's knowledge
hub made it a good destination

"The conference had never been to China, lots of [scholarly] papers are sent in from China, and there was lots of interest in that," says Dr. James Irvine, a Reader [professor] at the Institute of Sensors, Signals, and Communications, Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, and a former Vehicular Technology Society (VTS) president.

Irvine is also part of the Glasgow City Marketing Bureau's (GCMB) Conference Ambassador program, which offers coaching, bid assistance, and a great deal of back-end support to local luminaries who might be able to help bring an association or meeting in their field to the city. It was through this role that he eventually became general co-chair of the IEEE VTC2015-Spring conference in Glasgow.

The VTS, Irvine explains, is a special interest group of the IEEE focused on the use of wireless and mobile technology in all types of vehicles, a field in which the universities and corporations in and around Glasgow -- and indeed throughout Scotland -- have more than a little expertise. The VTS Fall conference alternates between Canada and U.S., while the Spring conference jumps from Asia to Europe and back. In all, the IEEE runs about 1,650 events, including conferences and trade shows, annually, Irvine added.

While the Ambassadors program is obviously good for Glasgow, it is of just as much benefit to show organizers by helping them find the local expertise that suits their needs, says Crawford.

"The conference will be excited to have a local person because it helps them on the ground," she says. "They know that there is a community and a group that will attend the conference, which helps with delegate numbers. They know there is an industry base that will open up new networks of exhibitors or sponsorship for them -- people and companies that wouldn't necessarily go to the conference or financially support the conference if it was elsewhere."

That is what Irvine did. "I know my colleagues in Scotland and the companies that are important," he says. "I can say NXP Semiconductors has a center of automotive electronics research [and chip manufacturing], and is based 20 miles outside of Glasgow."

While NXP (then Freescale) is a huge, global company with $6.1 billion in revenues in 2015, its growing automotive division didn't have great name recognition in the particular area the VTC specializes in, Irvine notes. "I could go and talk to them," Irvine says. "So they sponsored us. The sponsorship was really important, because the society had this effort to drive down conference fees."

The firm provided a keynote speaker, exhibited, and encouraged staff to work on various committees. "Once you have local companies, they can talk to their customers, to their suppliers, encourage them to get involved in the conference. A lot of smaller companies came along to the conference, some exhibited at the conference. It provided networking opportunities, and opportunities for local companies to show off their wares."


Dr. James Irvine,
Vehicular Technology Society Conference

That type of local involvement is expected by VTS, which generally draws about 10 percent of its speakers from the host destination, Irvine adds. His own university was also a sponsor, and its new Technology & Innovation Centre was the conference venue.

Of course, local involvement beyond the knowledge hub is also key. "The GCMB produced a really strong package, then provided backup to show that the city was behind it," Irvine says, pointing to a city-funded reception thrown for attendees at the historic Glasgow City Chambers, as well as welcome banners in the airport and city center. "That really helped," he adds. "Glasgow won against Beijing because it had the enthusiasm from the city, from the community -- not just the City Marketing Bureau, but the community."