Dr Heather Skinner* has undertaken research into “Business Tourists’ Perceptions of Nation Brands and Capital City Brands: A comparison between Dublin / Republic of Ireland, and Cardiff / Wales”. Her research paper is soon to be published in the Journal of Marketing Management (JMM).
MICE is the acronym used for the highly lucrative Meetings, Incentives, Conferences/Conventions and Events/Exhibitions market, and is often used to describe various forms of business tourism. The International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) is the industry body for the global meetings industry, using a definition of business tourism as ‘the provision of facilities and services to the millions of delegates who annually attend meetings, congresses, exhibitions, business events, incentive travel and corporate hospitality’.
Because business tourists are estimated to account for around 14% of all international travel, business tourism is of great relevance to places seeking to act competitively in global markets. It is surprising that research into travel and tourism, and also research into places as destination brands, tends to focus on leisure rather than on business tourism. When the brand attributes and images of business tourism destinations have been studied the focus tends to be on analysing the actual conference location, rather than considering the relationship between the conference destination brand and the brand of the host nation.
The ICCA produced a Statistics Report on the International Association Meetings Market in 2015 finding that countries within the European Union (EU) host almost 48% of all meetings held globally. Yet prior to this article being published in JMM there had been very little research into the relationship between a nation brand and its component place brands, and even less comparing this across various EU member states in a business tourism context.
Other ICCA research showed that between 2008-2012 almost 80% of all business events now attract less than 500 delegates. While the number of business tourism events is tending to increase and their number of attendees is decreasing, the role business tourism can play outside of national capital cities, and particularly to regional economies and non-urban centres, is one that is definitely worthy of in-depth investigation.
“Destination novelty is important – particularly when delegates can choose whether or not to attend a business event.”
Business tourists and MICE
Because a large number of MICE activities take place in capital cities, whereas the business tourist may visit other places if they add on some leisure travel during their visit, this article in JMM also presents research findings about the way business tourists’ perceptions of the place brand images of a capital city destination compare with the images of the host nation. This research considered the issues from a comparison of two European capital city MICE destinations: Dublin the capital of the Republic of Ireland; and Cardiff, the capital of Wales. Both national capitals have good air, rail, and bus transport links, both are located on major rivers, and are located on their nation’s coast. Both cities are the locations of many of the nations’ cultural attractions. The Republic of Ireland shares a border with Northern Ireland, Wales shares a border with England, thus affording relative ease of travel between neighbouring nations. The Republic of Ireland’s population at over 4.5 million people is greater than that of Wales whose population is around 3 million people, as is its size, over 70,000 km2 compared with the under 21,000 km2 geographic are of Wales. Both cities host MICE events, although in terms of the number of meetings taking place per city, on a worldwide basis the ICCA ranks Cardiff at #276 while Dublin ranks at #18. In comparison with other European cities, Cardiff is ranked at 139, whereas Dublin is ranked in 14th place. Their relative size may account to at least some extent for the difference in these rankings.
Findings were analysed from the results of questionnaires that asked delegates at two major international conferences about the following issues:
- The extent to which the conference destination city / country is of concern to potential delegates in making a decision to attend an international conference;
- Which particular aspects of the conference destination city / country concern delegates most in making this decision;
- Were delegates more or less influenced by the conference location in the nation or its location in the capital city;
- Did delegates’ perceptions of the capital city as a conference destination differ significantly from their perceptions of the nation, and, if so, on what basis of;
- What characteristics did delegates feel distinguished nation or its capital city as an international conference destination; and
- Whether delegates spent additional time in the capital city or country for further business tourism or leisure purposes.
Unsurprisingly, after the theme of the event itself, a conference destination is indeed one of the significant influences in a business tourist’s decision to attend an event, and can also be a deciding factor to not attend, especially if the destination is perceived as difficult to get to, expensive, and if the destination image is unattractive, with little cultural appeal, and is perceived as unsafe. However, one interesting finding concerns the attraction of novelty, a place a business tourist may not have visited previously and may indeed never have decided to visit had it not been that a business event was taking place.
The novelty of a destination that may not be so highly ranked in terms of number of events held can be a positive attribute on which to promote and encourage attendance at an event. There also appears to be a need for better co-ordination between the promotion of business tourism capital city and host nation by Destination Marketing Organisations (DMOs) to positively affect the cross-over between business and leisure tourism during the same visit.
“It may no longer be appropriate to treat business and leisure travellers as such distinct and separate segments.”
Particularly in countries less frequently used for hosting MICE tourism, DMOs should better co-ordinate the promotion of a capital city and host nation, and diversity of the destination as a whole, and encourage event planners to organise more trips and delegate activities further afield, away from the main conference venue, even if facilities outside of the city are not highly developed. Delegates do recognise that while a destination capital city may be more lively, entertaining and cosmopolitan, they also recognise the charm associated with a wider host nation’s rural and scenic landscape, and they also perceive these broader destination image attributes positively.
Heather Skinner is chair of the IPM’s Responsible Tourism SIG, co-chair of the Academy of Marketing’s Place Marketing & Branding SIG, and chair of the annual Corfu Symposium on Managing & Marketing Places. She researches and publishes on matters related to various aspects of place marketing, management, branding, and tourism, and is particularly interested in issues of place identity, representation, and perception.