ICCA - a global network of service

Tom Hulton

Executive Director, International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA)

The ICCA has many functions, not least that of promoting good business relations throughout the meetings industry. ICCA members, now numbering some 500, represent the world's leading specialists in managing, accommodating and transporting international conferences and events. As the International Meetings Association, ICCA aims to help businesses give optimum service to their customers through marketing, market research and educational exercises. Meeting or even surpassing clients' expectations is the name of the game - and the result is added value for delegates. So how do we go about this? ICCA operates on several levels. It is structured into seven categories - each representing a professional sector within the meetings industry - congress travel agents, airlines, professional congress/exhibition organisers, convention bureaux, hotels, airlines and convention venues. Each category has its own chair and the members meet at least twice a year to discuss matters of mutual interest.

As a way of improving their service to conference buyers, some categories regularly hold client/supplier business workshops. By inviting decision-making representatives of international congresses to spend a couple of days in convivial surroundings talking about their meeting requirements, staff from convention bureaux or conference venues and hotels pick up valuable business information, learning at first hand what the customers really want from suppliers and also what annoys or confuses them. This personal exchange of practical information can impact the way theirs or similar conferences are run in the future. Invitations for hosting meetings can be prepared better, promotion of activities geared at boosting attendance can be more effectively implemented and greater all-round confidence can be generated.

The workshops, held in different locations, are organised by local hosts with guidance from ICCA Executive Office. Clients are invited by ICCA members as their guests and all the members present have the opportunity to discuss their meeting needs with them. The information can also be passed on to other members who may be interested in bidding for or servicing the event another time.

Data distribution

Information from members is all-important to ICCA DATA, the central market research department of ICCA. Data on thousands of international meetings is gathered, collated and analysed and updated bulletins mailed to members every month. Research is carried out on a continuous basis and in close co-operation with meeting organisers and suppliers of meeting services. A sophisticated computer system ensures the ICCA DATA researchers are able to produce easy-to-read printouts with essential information such as frequency and size of the meeting, where it has been held in the past and the address of the congress secretariat. As an additional service to members, ICCA DATA will develop any of the listings and tailor it to the individual requirements of the user, ensuring they have an up-to-date overview of the meeting in question before deciding to pitch for the business.

ICCA DATA produces more than 700 bulletins each year. A CD-ROM version, updated every three months, has also proved extremely popular among the membership - for a small cost it provides a more complete and easy way to use the ICCA DATAbase. THE CD-ROM also includes the Reed-Elsevier EventLine database which contains over 400,000 records of conferences, exhibitions, trade fairs, medical congresses, symposia and public holidays.

So far, ICCA has concentrated on association meetings but recently a corporate database was established on the Internet. It contains detailed profiles of hundreds of corporate meeting planners responsible for organising at least one meeting per year outside their own country. By accessing these pages, members can see at a glance whether they might have suitable facilities or services for the meetings of these potential clients. They are able to target their future marketing more accurately, saving time and money, while clients will be in the happy position of receiving far fewer 'cold calls' from suppliers who have not taken time to do their homework. ICCA DATA publishes a biannual calendar of international meetings, available in print form or on the Internet. And for three years now it has run a special conference focusing only on congress research and marketing. At the Third International Congress and Convention Researchers Meeting, held last June in Turin, Italy, 80 people from 21 countries (ICCA members and non-members) immersed themselves in four days of lectures, discussions and practical training on how to maximise business opportunities. ICCA's regional structure is in place to facilitate collaboration between members in different ICCA categories, ie, working in different fields of the industry, but in the same geographical areas. There are regional chapters and national and local committees which organise joint marketing, market research and education programmes based on the particular conference product of their country or region. Promotion of an area as an international congress destination incorporating the full 'supplier package' has proved to be far more effective than individual efforts. And, of course, all local projects have the full support of ICCA Executive Office.

The nine chapters are Africa, Asia Pacific, Central Europe, French-speaking countries, Latin America, Mediterranean, North America, Scandinavia and UK/Ireland. A further 18 countries or cities have their own ICCA Committee.

A year ago ICCA opened its first regional office in Washington DC, USA, to promote ICCA awareness and membership in North America. The first US Seminar in Washington in October was planned to bring together ICCA members and key buyers from international associations based in America and which hold regular offshore meetings. 'Interactivity' was the theme and the event represented a learning curve for all concerned, both suppliers and association executives.

Dynamic education programme

Education has moved high up the ICCA agenda over recent years. In 1996 ICCA's International Meetings Academy (IMA) was founded - it is an independent training organisation offering worldwide educational programmes to the ever-growing and flourishing global meetings industry. The residential courses cater for meetings professionals at every level and are tailored to meet the specific strategic needs of any city, country, region or discipline. They are conducted by qualified teachers from within and outside the meetings industry. At present the courses include:

  • Young Executive Programme - concentrating on conference management services for those with a minimum two years in the industry;
  • New Executive Programme - an in-depth introduction for new, middle and senior managers entering the meetings industry for the first time in their careers. This programme concentrates on all aspects of the meetings market;
  • Middle Management Programme - focuses on marketing and strategic planning and gives an introduction to general management techniques for those on the way to senior management;
  • Management Horizons Programme - a biennial Top Management Forum where the latest ideas on management techniques, strategies and philosophies are discussed;
  • Train the Trainer Programme - training and qualification of IMA trainers.

Personal interaction

ICCA was formed in the early 1960s and since then has held 36 General Assemblies. This year, however, the annual ICCA meeting represented a milestone in the association's history. With the first ICCA Congress which dovetailed with the 36th General Assembly, we introduced a new global forum for all professionals involved in the planning, management, servicing and marketing of international meetings whether they are ICCA members or not. At the time of writing, the event, which included a showcase exhibition, was still to take place in Innsbruck, Austria, at the end of October 1997. I can't describe the outcome but I can report that we had lined up some inspirational keynote speakers from the world of business, politics and literature, prepared a programme designed to entertain and educate all participants and provided opportunities for everyone to enlarge their network of professional colleagues and friends.

A similar atmosphere of camaraderie is generated by ICCA's participation in industry trade shows. We have fully manned booths to welcome members and visitors and run workshops or seminars at the leading MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions) events around the world. At the European Incentive & Business Travel and Meetings Exhibition (EIBTM) in Geneva, Switzerland, each May, for example, we work closely with the organisers to stage events which motivate buyers to attend and create an environment conducive to business exchange while generating the human interaction so important in our business.

If some of ICCA's activities which I have described here strike a chord with you and you would like to find out more about the association, the Executive Office in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, will be glad to hear from you. Or you may like to access the ICCA home page on the Internet: ICCA Congress City ICCA Executive Office, Entrada 121, 1096 EB Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Tel: +31 20 690 1171 Fax: +31 20 699 0781 E-mail: icca@icca.nl