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Tribal loyalties: the suppliers in your (meeting) space

International association meetings are often regarded as the Holy Grail by suppliers to the international conventions industry, and for very good reason. Lead times are generous (requests for proposals often come attached to events six or eight years down the line), and the returns, both financial and in terms of prestige and legacy, can be substantial, even for tier one cities grown fat on the spoils of leisure tourism.

But associations would be foolish to rest on their laurels and assume their place at the centre of the meetings universe is guaranteed in perpetuity. When we talk about the challenges facing associations, the conversation tends to pivot on their fast-diminishing relevance in the face of social media, open-source publishing, bespoke consumerism and a pervasive culture of instant, click-of-a-mouse gratification.

But another major challenge is the growing competition for congress delegates from the commercial sector, including from organisations who might otherwise be pitching for their business, who might otherwise refer to them as clients. Many venues – like RAI Amsterdam or Messe Frankfurt – also own event titles at home and abroad: RAI’s events include Aquatech China, for example, which attracts a staggering 80,000 delegates.

Professional congress organisers (PCO) are also moving into potential client territory.

Earlier this month Geneva-based PCO Kenes Group organised the inaugural World Hospital at Home Congress, in Madrid, which convened 400 healthcare practitioners and policy makers.

The first-of-its-kind event, created by the Kenes Group Original Events Team, attracted visitors from 40 countries and the highly respected organising committee accepted 45 oral presentations and 93 posters.

This is essentially poacher turned gamekeeper stuff.

Kenes is drawing on its years of experience organising other people’s events to create something that sounds dynamic and engaging of their own, featuring one-on-one meetings, ‘campfire discussions’, and something called the ‘house of demonstrations’ –  an onsite set that served to present different solutions for treating patients at home. Another innovative format drew on the recent learnings of delegates who had joined one of three congress tours – visiting a hospital, a HaH (hospital at home) unit, and a patient’s home, to see how the HaH model works in Spain.

If the point of an international meeting is to engender a strong sense of community and nurture future working relationships, then the meeting appears to have been a roaring success.

As Prof. Bruce Allen Leff, co-chair of the event, says: “We talked a lot about the HaH community that this meeting has helped to build, but with this congress we became a tribe. A tribe is a group of people who are ‘your people’ in a deeply meaningful way. We addressed the models, technology, scalability, and more but for what I am most pleased is what the future holds – HaH is a major culture change, and we will continue developing it beyond borders through more meetings and the dedicated WHAHC community space.’

A cursory glance across the internet suggests an association for HaH practitioners is yet to exist. This seems highly plausible and probably explains Kenes’ willingness to fill an empty space. But one thing is clear: if anyone is thinking about setting up an association of HaH practitioners, they’ve already got pretty fierce competition on their hands: a group already calling themselves a tribe in fact.