Redefine Value by Measuring the Value of Collaboration

Toronto's WinterCity Festival
Toronto’s WinterCity Festival

You’re gearing up to make a proposal to a client or CEO, and what’s the first thing you hear before you even flip open the cover?

“So, how much is this going to cost us?”

Value is top of mind in an uncertain future. Searching through Hot Rates/Dates listings for the newest, most upscale, convenient and varied destination with good space is one way to maximize value. A more all-encompassing view of value, however, is being redefined by a program’s holistic return on investment, objective and experience. The industry has gone to great lengths over the last few years to measure the tangibles, but what about the intangibles? And, are they indeed intangibles?

As the meetings industry grows more global and knowledge-based, it’s important to know the business value of knowledge gained from networking events. Our friends Down Under have some ideas about that.

The future doesn’t look uncertain at Business Events Sydney (BESydney) because they’re creating it. Last fall, the Australian DMO unveiled the 60-page study: Beyond Tourism Benefits—Measuring the Social Legacies of Business Events.

The research takes a “future-forward” look at the total impact of meetings, as it applies to the long term professional development of delegates, sponsors and exhibitors for both the host destination and visitors.

Meaning, it measures the value of collaboration for all parties concerned.

According to the survey, here are a few stats: A full 95% of respondents agree that, “Business events foster networking that leads to the sharing of knowledge and ideas.” About 57% say, “Business events act as a catalyst for research collaboration and business relationships.” And 85% believe, “Events contribute to building the knowledge and capabilities of young people working in the sector”—i.e., the future.

So what’s the value of that information? Where’s the value beyond the immediate ROI?

“If we don’t measure the multiple long term benefits, such as the ability to increase professional knowledge, improve career opportunities, disseminate the latest technical practices and forge international networking, research and business collaborations, we are undervaluing our industry,” says Lyn Lewis-Smith, CEO of BESydney. “The research highlights that business events are a key driver in knowledge economies.”

Here’s where it gets interesting. The newly developed Future Convention Cities Initiative (FCCI) is an alliance of BESydney and six other global cities collaborating to accelerate business development by sharing this type of innovative research. We have to say, it’s one impressive looking group: BESydney, Seoul Tourism Organization, London & Partners, Durban Convention Bureau, Abu Dhabi Travel Authority, Tourism Toronto and San Francisco Travel Association.

The latter six destinations are presently performing their own research based on Sydney’s model, expected to be completed this year, after which they’ll all come together and share best practices. Basically, these cities are ganging up together to compete for the future where knowledge, tech and sustainability rule the international world of business events.

Speaking about her own city, Lewis-Smith, who’s also chair of the FCCI, says: “We’re multi-faceted in terms of beauty and brains that make Sydney a truly global city…. We aim to be green, global and connected, because you have to be to succeed in our industry moving forward.”

Barangaroo, Sydney
Barangaroo, Sydney

Over $10 billion worth of investment is pouring into Sydney’s MICE infrastructure. The $6 billion Barangaroo waterfront is an extension of the Central Business District (CBD) adjacent to the famous Sydney Opera House. It’s one of the world’s most ambitious urban greening projects, converting 125 acres of previous industrial area into prime real estate for entertainment and commercial venues.

Ten minutes walk from the CBD, the new Sydney International Convention, Exhibition & Entertainment Precinct is a $860 million enhancement of existing venues in Darling Harbour. The Precinct is scheduled for completion in 2016. Check our last issue for info about The Star—an upscale $800 million hotel/casino that just opened in Darling.

This is also special. Opera Australia’s (OA) technical director Chris Yates says, “Nothing that we have done so far compares with what awaits us this year.” Opening March 24 for a 3-week run, OA will premiere Verdi’s devastating La Traviata on an $11 million stage built over the water off Royal Botanic Gardens—seating a full orchestra. If you don’t make it for that, the Opera House is a pretty good backup plan.

“Business events in the Opera House are priceless,” says Daryl Hudson, vp of Tourism Australia. “Groups can have dinner on the stage with a choir in the seats—it’s just awesome.”

In related news, we attended the Aussie buyer/supplier tradeshow Dreamtime in November. Stay tuned for an upcoming Sydney/Ayers Rock “On Location” story.

Abu Dhabi Performing Arts Center
Abu Dhabi Performing Arts Center

Abu Dhabi has had the art/architecture world in a bit of a tizzy lately. In 2014, the first foreign extension of The Louvre, designed by French starchitect Jean Nouvel, and Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Abu Dhabi will open on Saadiyat Island. Adjacent to those, Sir Norman Foster’s Zayed National Museum will house a proud collection of Arabian fine art next to Zaha Hadid’s Abu Dhabi Performing Arts Center, which looks like a human lung. Those are four of the top 10 architects on the planet right now.

Where’s the value in all of that, besides eye candy? World Peace, for starters.

Saadiyat Island is being touted as a bridge between the Middle East and the rest of humanity, showcasing the absolute cream of artistic and academic collaboration for all cultures to share. Satellite schools for both NYU and Sorbonne Paris are under construction, and the outlying Masdar City project is a walled city being built from scratch, devoted 100% to renewable energy research. It’s anchored by Masdar Institute of Science & Technology, partner university of MIT, and it’s open for group events and tours through some of the world’s most advanced clean tech facilities.

For beds, Park Hyatt, Hyatt, Westin and Jumeirah have all opened new hotels within the last 60 days. We like the new 189-room Hyatt Capital Gate Abu Dhabi. The amorphous building leans 18 degrees next to the four year-old Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre, the largest convention center in the Middle East and host venue for GIBTM in March.

“We have so many new hotels; all of the big brands are establishing roots in Abu Dhabi,” says Paul McDonagh, MICE promotions executive at the U.S. branch of the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority, which just opened shop in NYC last October.

Asked for his thoughts about Abu Dhabi’s inclusion in the FCCI, McDonagh says, “Well it makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it? Instead of us all going in separate directions, we can pool our research and funding to share new ideas. It’s really a brilliant concept, and it gives us a good step into the U.S. market.”

Toronto has long promoted itself as a hub of creative and academic innovation due, in part, to it having one of the Western world’s most multicultural populations.

“The knowledge-based economy is driven by creativity, innovation, skills and entrepreneurship, and cities that have the critical mass and diversity of people, ideas, specialized skills, infrastructure and markets are precisely the elements necessary for success in this new and highly competitive economy,” says Tara Gordon, vp, meeting/convention sales for Tourism Toronto. “Toronto has a superior quality of life and a rich legacy of investment in education, research, technology and culture, and this makes Toronto an attractive destination for global events and an active contributor to the mission of the FCCI.”

So we asked Gordon, what exactly do you feel is the mission of the FCCI?

“Think of it as ‘co-opetition’….,” she says. “The FCCI is a great example of an innovative activity, resulting from competing businesses pooling their resources and collaborating to address sector challenges to address a new economy requiring a new approach to remain globally competitive in the 21st century.”

Toronto is headquarters for the Creative Class Group, founded by professor Richard Florida who wrote the seminal bestseller: The Creative Class. The book promotes the idea that professionals employed in knowledge-based industries are attracted to creative, high-tech, tolerant and multicultural cities.

Mr. Florida is a new member of Le Meridien Hotels & Resorts’ “LM100” group, comprised of “cultural innovators of mixed generation and interdisciplinary artistic fields.” These members were brought together to help develop Le Meridien’s new global design initiative called “The Hub.” Based on previous Starwood Hotels’ lobby design successes, like W Hotels’ Living Room concept and Link@Sheraton, The Hub is an artful, atmospheric place for creative professionals to network. Depending on the destination, the design ranges from cosy to cosmopolitan, with seating arranged in non-linear formats around furnishings ping-ponging from residential to museum moderne.

“Starwood has long been an innovator in the transformation of the traditional hotel lobby,” says Eva Ziegler, global brand leader for W Hotels/Le Meridien. “Le Meridien brand’s Hub concept will further evolve our new brand direction, designed to appeal to the Creative Class.”

Floating Island, Seoul
Floating Island, Seoul

When Seoul was named World Design Capital in 2010, the mayor said, “Design is a growth driver of the Seoul economy…. Seoul will send the message that design is the power to change the world for the better.”

Its designation surprised some people in the design world at first, until you factor in Korea’s focus on “ubiquitous human technology.” That refers, roughly, to the notion that everybody can be an integral part of a well-organized network through the use of advanced IT and urban/architectural design.

Case in point. The new and fantastical Floating Island complex of venues on the Han River is as beautiful as it is smart. Three artificial, flower-themed islands called Visat, Viva and Terra support a 57,000-sf convention hall, a 33,000-sf entertainment hall/cultural center, and a sports facility and marina hub. A floating walkway connects the three islands to land. There’s also the Media Art Gallery’s 85-foot LED screen and stage floating on the water facing the amphitheater-style seating onshore. Total capacity is 6,200 pax.

When in Seoul, check out the toe-tapping Ballerina Who Loves a B-boy theater show, which is very popular for group bookings. Graceful and athletic, the professional dancers combine ballet with street dance for a wild mix of cultures. Here’s the storyline: “Young ballerina dreams of becoming next prima donna until her growing love for break dancing fuels her with new ambitions.”

Imagine networking in the fir-scented air of one of the world’s most glamorous and beautiful natural settings, with value-added ski and spa packages built into the price. Nietzsche called the 65-mile Engadin Valley “the cradle of all silver tones,” where the Alps gleam like coins above crystalline lakes. We visited last fall to see the new $28 million renovation of the region’s oldest hotel, the 55-room Hotel Bernina 1865 Engadina Metaresort located near St. Moritz. GM Gerard Kaspar greeted us in a warm lobby full of handmade lace, antique desks and wheelbarrows full of bright red geraniums. Italy-based Ora Hotels is the new owner.

“We took over last summer and the hotel is fantastic,” he says in that very sweet Swiss way. “Just five miles from glamorous St. Moritz, here you get the quiet you need, the beauty and the real Swiss feel.” Kaspar says, especially in the winter, Lake St. Moritz is popular for U.S. groups because of all the scheduled events, ranging from snow horse racing to the Gourmet Food Festival orchestrated on the frozen ice.

Love the fairytale views from the rooms. The owners added downy bedding, flawless WiFi, playful Swiss art and big marble bathrooms with Jacuzzis equipped with therapeutic lights—disco tub! The top floor now features seven 1,700-sf apartments with original wood walls and totally mod kitchens. For small meetings, we like the 600-sf room outfitted with regional antiques, like the vase filled with handcarved walking sticks. The 2,460-sf Sala Grande is an elegant historic treasure with crystal chandeliers and loads of natural light.

Cirque du Soleil
Cirque du Soleil

Many planners are unaware that Cirque du Soleil’s special events staff can bring the magic of their musical acrobatic performances to your private event. Who better to teach the art of creative collaboration?

“Basically, we can do it anywhere in the world,” says Yasmine Khalil, events director. “Our events are tailor-made to each client so we don’t rely on a troupe in a specific location. We have performers all over the world and when we create a special event we don’t work with the performers who are the closest, we work with those best suited to deliver the message or objective of the client.”

For private programs, events are designed so the product or group itself are center stage. For a car launch in Europe, the venue was a large transparent dome with a giant red cloth over top. All of the sudden a crane pulled the cloth off, and 50 of the new cars started driving outside around the group of 2,000 pax, while performers engaged the group. Everyone had thought they were just showing up for a reception.

“It’s that one-of-a-kind way of leaving a lasting impression on the people who are there, and the buzz factor from that experience, that gives all the impact to the reveal,” says Khalil. “A lot of people don’t know Cirque does this…. We really try to evaluate each request where we feel there’s a creative challenge and where we can bring great value to the client.”

Song Division
Song Division

Song Division is a global company that pairs groups with musicians who’ve played with everyone from Billy Joel to Aerosmith. It begins when attendees gather in a venue with a band on stage, and the MC asks members of the group for their favorite type of music. Someone will say “reggae,” for example, and then without missing a beat, the guitarist starts playing Bob Marley. Then the MC asks if anyone wants to play with the band. Usually when you have 50 or more people in a room, someone’s got skills.

“We’ll get that person up on stage, give them a spare electric guitar, and when he or she starts playing, the band starts falling in­ and the crowd goes completely crazy,” says Andy Sharpe, founder. “We just did a PwC tax conference in Toronto. They walked into a general session and the band was playing “Taxman” by the Beatles. The musicians usually play something relevant to the audience.”

Following that, the group splits into teams with various band members to write a song and music revolving around the program’s theme. Attendees are usually amazed that they can actually write a song—with a little help. Then everyone gets back together to perform their acts.

“It’s a very organic process,” says Sharpe. “People get drawn into it because they’re writing the lyrics and then the musician says, ‘Hey, let’s see what that sounds like over the music.’ By the end of the process, the group thinks their song is going to be a hit. They go through the process together.”

In a similar vein, iO Improv has trained over 5,000 comedians including Mike Myers, Chris Farley and Tina Fey. Based in Chicago and Los Angeles, the company travels worldwide to teach improv comedy at business events for up to 5,000 pax, ranging from conflict resolution seminars to sales training programs. Founders Charna Halpern and Del Close say that if performers on stage respect each other and treat each other like geniuses, poets and artists, that can translate in the workplace.

“Our goal is to make dry information funny,” Halpern says. “Although, sometimes companies just want to have a party, so then we just come in and put on a show.” Giving groups a good laugh is easy for iO with their staff of experienced writers, who in the past have moved on to shows like Saturday Night Live, The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, Late Night with Conan O’Brien and 30 Rock.

“One thing we’ve noticed is that people don’t say what they actually want to say,” Halpern says. “We teach you how to stop, listen and be in the moment…. Because when people are afraid to be looked down on, they don’t want to share their ideas. We work to create the kind of environment where everyone is free to talk and create great ideas.”

When your neighbor is a major league baseball park, you have undeniable built-in value for sports fans in your group. We looked in on the 511-room Omni San Diego Hotel, where public spaces are packed with baseball memorabilia from the private collection of John Moores, former San Diego Padres owner and Omni partner. Among the vintage treasures, there’s a Mickey Mantle-signed baseball, an autographed bat cracked in 1962 by slugger Willie Mays and a contract signed by Ty Cobb in 1914.

Planners can play into the baseball theme with roving receptions for 60 pax through these areas. Or they can utilize the hotel’s upscale L Street Art Gallery, McCormick & Schmick’s Seafood Restaurant, and 27,000 sf of meeting space that includes a 9,300-sf grand ballroom and 4,000-sf outdoor terrace handling banquets for 660/450 respectively.

“This is the only hotel in the country that’s directly linked to a major league ballpark,” says Patsy Bock, area director of sales/marketing. “It’s great for planners since they can easily add things like VIP behind-the-scene tours of PETCO Stadium, receptions for 300 at the park’s Omni Premier Club and high-end board meetings in the Padres’ visitor’s clubhouse.”

Attendees have access to PETCO via a pedestrian skywalk connecting Omni’s 4th floor with the park’s Field Level. Bock says groups love mingling in the locker room where jerseys bearing each board member’s name hang in lockers. “These are things that no other San Diego hotel can offer,” she says.

Casa de Campo
Casa de Campo

Following a $30 million renovation last year, Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic continues to be one of the most iconic, well managed and comprehensive resorts in the Caribbean. What a lot of planners don’t know, the sprawling property is rimmed with a wide array of private villas available for group events.

The 6-bedroom Casa Hacienda, for instance, is the type of home that elicits deep spontaneous sighs the moment you enter. Outside, the colonial-style loggia wraps around a large waterfront lawn and infinity pool cut into the coral­—a dream spot for long lunches or 100-pax sunset cocktail receptions.

Indoors, the jalousied shutters and creamy all-white decor with white orchids and big green ferns is a welcome air-conditioned refuge adjacent to the seriously well-equipped Viking kitchen. Casa de Campo chefs and sommeliers from the onsite Beach Club by Le Cirque can create wonderful pairing dinners for groups in the villa, before everyone heads to the Beach Club for a big bonfire party on the sand.

We also checked out the 6-bedroom waterfront Villa la Laguna del Mar. It’s a more modern open-air design with Balinese furnishings and sculptures encircling a large winding indoor/outdoor lagoon. The glistening dark mahogany walkways around the lagoon and pebble waterfalls create an entirely organic experience, leading to the lawn and infinity pool overlooking the sea and private pier. We can’t begin to explain the complete physical and emotional decompression that takes place when you sit on one of the plantation lounge chairs with a fresh pineapple drink in one hand and the day’s menu in the other. Try the fresh mahi-mahi caught that morning and mango cheesecake. Nobody wanted this day’s tour to end.

For overnight groups, planners typically book 10-12 of the villas in the inventory. When it’s time for everyone to network, organize a local dance performance around the hotel’s central pool and handsome new outdoor/indoor lounge. The cabana seating poolside makes for great impromptu breakout sessions.

New Orleans
New Orleans

There’s a time for all of these high-concept venues and glamorous group experiences, and there’s a time to dance Zydeco and slurp on crawfish steamed in local Abita beer at a Cajun Fais Do Do in New Orleans. The value is through the roof in terms of cost versus experience. BBC Destination Management can host the Fais Do Do out in the swamp, inside a grand hall in the French Quarter or their own backyard if you ask them friendly. Basically, instructors teach everyone how to dance, and then they’ll dance with you until you tell them to stop. Someone’s grandma is serving jambalaya, gumbo, shrimp etoufee, boudin and steamed “mudbugs” (crawfish) while the live band works the crowd. It’s different than any other party you’ll ever organize. Nowhere else does the trumpet player tell stories about how as a kid he learned to rub an alligator’s belly to make it fall asleep. And then serve BBQ short ribs to the group between sets.

Or, just take the group to Preservation Hall or any number of other jazz joints in the city. Through 2012, the Louisiana State Museum is hosting “Preservation Hall at 50.” The exhibits detail the story behind N’Awlin’s most famous musical venue through vintage photos, artifacts, oral recordings and more.