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The ‘iceberg’ effect – Community legacy of business events

Thu 20 Jan 22

The ‘iceberg’ effect – community legacy of business events, article by Karen Tocher, Business Events Manager at Dundee & Angus Convention Bureau

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When evaluating the economic value of business events, the more traditional method has been to calculate impact in terms of tourism, hospitality and delegate spend. But increasingly, organisers are taking the ‘iceberg approach’ towards measuring impact by also looking deeper under the surface. 

Business events don’t happen in isolation. Yes, they have their target audiences when it comes to delegates, organisations, influence, knowledge transfer, and networking, but they can also connect at a more grassroots level.

study supported by the Joint Meetings Industry Council (JMIC) into the legacies of business events has highlighted that while conferences, meetings and events have clear benefits in relation to industry innovation and the knowledge economy, they can also have a considerable impact on the wellbeing of communities.

This is both at the macro level – the local economy, business, and enterprise – and ‘beneath the surface’, such as sustainability and legacy programmes that share knowledge, help reduce social exclusion, and benefit multiple community stakeholders. 

With six leading institutes and a reputation for innovation, the region of Dundee, Angus, Fife and Perthshire is one of Scotland’s leading business events destinations. And many of the conferences and business events staged in the region have recognised the opportunity for creating a lasting community legacy. One of the most notable was the art exhibition organised by isamDUNDEE2015 congress in conjunction with Dundee of Jordanstone College of Art and Design. The exhibition was an element of a major programme of events which helped to examine alcohol and drug misuse as part of the world’s leading scientific congress on addiction medicine.

From attracting inward investment and shared learning to linked public health and local sustainability projects, arts events, and education tie-ins to inspire the next generation of innovators, there are many excellent examples of how global business events in our region have also benefited our local communities. And this is only the tip of the community legacy iceberg.

By working such community impacts into its strategy, a business event can help to bring something new or needed to its host destination beyond the revenue it creates for the local economy. And, with the right planning, a conference’s community legacy can ultimately bring change as well as a wider connection and understanding from which everyone can benefit.

Best Cities, the global conference and business event alliance that advocates community collaboration, works to foster this lasting legacy ethos throughout the international event sector.

Back in 2015, they launched their Incredible Impact Awards, which were created to showcase the ‘beyond tourism’ value of international association meetings and celebrate best practice. Over the past five years, the award finalists and winners have been nothing short of inspiring.

These include the Copenhagen Legacy Lab (CLL), which aims to ensure legacy work is integrated into all of the city’s conferences, both during and after the events, to give something meaningful and sustainable back to the community.

Says CCL’s senior manager, Annika Rømer, “Weighting the four P’s – purpose, people, planet, and profit – can be a major challenge, but it also uncovers incredible opportunities to build a healthier and more sustainable society while positioning the meeting sector as a catalyst of positive change.”

Other inspiring award winners include the commitment by the Ecocity World Summit to build capacity for green building initiatives in every city which hosts their conference. Then there’s the European Respiratory Society Congress, which establishes a ‘healthy lungs for life’ public education campaign in each of its conference destination cities. This is just one example of how a conference legacy can quite literally save lives.

And, with the UN Climate Change Conference COP26 having taken place in Scotland, and the UK affirms its commitment to working with all countries and joining forces with civil society, companies and people on the frontline of climate changes to inspire climate action, these are the types of initiatives which the region is well placed to embed in future business events.

The take-away message from the iceberg analogy and all these inspiring case studies is to think big when it comes to the local and global impact of your conference or business event. And never underestimate your event’s potential to have a lasting legacy within the destination community beyond its tourism value.

And, while getting the balance of ‘the four Ps’ for your event just right can be a challenge, ultimately it will bring the best rewards, both for your organisation, delegates, partners and connections and for the communities around you.

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