Meetings: the one billion euro question

Can the knowledge imparted at a congress really be worth €1bn?

That’s the extraordinary claim made by the European Society of Radiology and Vienna Convention Bureau about the European Congress of Radiology held in Vienna earlier this year.

The actual figure was €813m, but that was good enough for market research organisation Triconsult who carried out the study and whose CEO Dr Josef Felix argued that, ‘the point is we have an indication that it’s is a real big number – close to one billion euros’.

It’s a bold claim, certainly, but it comes with caveats.

The total was arrived at by adding up the professional time spent compiling – and the research funding associated with – the content of 3,331 papers presented at the Feb 28-March 4 meeting.

The final figure was based on answers given by 219 congress speakers who gave detailed responses to a questionnaire distributed by the ESR, which suggested that each paper cost in the region of €260,000 to produce. However, much of that figure derived from assumptions made about ‘underlying research costs’ that were based on ‘a few indications’ from the survey.

As the paper’s author, Dr Martina Stoff-Hochreiner, says, ‘more detailed and far-reaching surveys would be needed to determine the figure with more accuracy, in light of the amounts involved.’

But, even if we take this report as an ‘indication’, it still throws light on a previously gloomy area of research and is quite the tonic for those involved in staging international scientific conferences.

It seems strange to measure the value of knowledge in monetary terms, but, then, money talks. And while the research is useful for associations looking to prove the value of their meetings to potential delegates, one suspects it will be more – or just as – useful for the ‘meetings industry’ (convention bureaux, venues, tourism agencies etc) hoping to persuade policymakers that theirs is an industry worth investing in.

I wonder, though, if the meetings industry is in danger of over-playing its hand here. After a while these huge numbers tend to make you number blind, or tempt you to ask: so what? In the end, the value of knowledge is in its usefulness. The amount of hours it took to write a paper ultimately counts for very little. Is it any good? That’s all that really matters. Since the financial crash in 2008, the meetings industry has issued a plethora of reports, each containing a headline figure more eye-catching than the last. What difference do these reports actually make? Now that’s a piece of research I’d be interested in seeing.