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Boston conventions: "What happens in Boston changes the world."

Posted by Chad O'Connor  November 1, 2012 11:00 AM

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If you live or work anywhere near the Hynes Convention Center or the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, you know what it's like when thousands of people descend on the city for a convention or meeting. They spread out from the convention center at breaks and meal times with their badges on lanyards or pinned to lapels. You see them in line at your favorite restaurant, walking back to their hotels, or waiting in line to get on buses taking them to meetings or excursions around the city. If you’re like me, you try surreptitiously to read the name of the conference or a company name to try to identify what kind of person this is -- doctor, scientist, marketer, academic, etc.

Do you ever wonder what brought that meeting to Boston in the first place? If you live here, you know the charms and attractions of Boston. But how and why exactly do meeting and convention planners choose Boston as a location for their events?

By the end of 2012, the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority expects 601,000 hotel room nights and $625 million in revenue from conventions and meetings at their two facilities here in Boston: the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center (BCEC) and the Hynes Convention Center.

In April of this year, the National School Boards Association held its annual convention at the BCEC, with a little over 8,000 attendees. The association membership of school board members are all volunteers with other full-time jobs, so choosing to come to a convention usually means taking personal time to do so. About 40% of attendees bring their families with them, making Boston an appealing choice, with the vast array of tourist and family activities available.

It wasn’t just the abundance of things to do here that drew this group here for the first time ever. "For our attendees, the historical aspect of the city was a huge draw, as was the ease of moving in and out of the city," says Robin Preston, Assistant Executive Director of Conferences, Exhibits, and Sponsorships of the National School Boards Association.

The process of planning the first meeting here was made easier by Mary Migre, Senior Director, Sales and Industry Relations at the Boston Convention Marketing Center.

"She did an excellent job of presenting Boston to us," say Preston. Because Migre courted the group for years, Boston was always in the back of Preston's mind for a meeting location. So when the board was ready to shake up the existing four-city rotation by removing Orlando from the list, she immediately thought of Boston. Even though she had never been here before.

The attendees loved Boston -- on the attendee survey they voted it #2 on the list of favorite cities for the meeting (the city for the next year's convention always seems to make it to #1 every year). The planners liked working with Boston, too; the convention is scheduled to return in 2016 and 2020.

In June, 16,500 people attended the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) international convention at the BCEC. The group used over 41,000 hotel room nights and had an economic impact of over $25 million in the Boston area.

This is the third time BIO has come to Boston and one of the big reasons is because Boston is a biotech hub and the industry here is growing. There are hundreds of companies and thousands of employees, and many BIO members have offices here. That kind of industry concentration helps with attendance, too. For meetings like this it is typical to get about a quarter of attendees from the host state or region.

"This was a highly successful event," says Robbi Lycett, Vice President, Conventions and Conferences, Biotechnology Industry Organization. "Our members and board said it was the best one ever. Many of our attendees travel to Boston because they are looking to meet with and do business with Boston area biotech companies."

BIO has a system designed to help them do just that -- meet with potential partners to collaborate with and discuss possible deals. This year, there were more than 25,000 One-on-One sessions (a new record), about a quarter of those taking place at the exhibit booths.

Attendees also enjoy being able to take advantage of the historical and cultural sides of the city as well. "Boston is just a fun city," says Lycett. "We hear that from our attendees."

BIO hopes to return in 2018, provided there is some expansion of the convention and hotel capacity, since this convention continues to grow.

If you've never been on the planning side of a meeting this size, you may not realize how far in advance they are planned. The Academy of Management, which met here in August, has already booked its annual meeting in Boston for 2019 and is looking at reserving a spot for 2025, as well.

Some organizations book two to three years out, but it's not unusual for larger conventions to book Boston at least five years before the meeting is schedule.

The Boston Convention Marketing Center was created a few years ago specifically to market Boston -- the Hynes and BCEC -- to groups who may want to meet here. Mary Migre is already booking events for 2022. She works mostly with associations, who tend to be the types of organizations with a small window of time in the year to meet, so they need to plan far in advance to ensure they get the time they want.

That doesn't mean you can’t get into the Hynes or BCEC sooner. Corporate events and trade shows are more subject to change and usually have shorter planning periods. The team at the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority works to accommodate groups booking within the 18 months.

There are several cities Boston competes with for these conventions and meetings. If the group wants to stay on the east coast, our competition is cities like Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington D.C., or Atlanta. If the group is looking across the country for a space, we also compete with San Diego, San Francisco, and Chicago.

"Boston is a major convention city," says Migre. "Many cities have more hotel inventory than we have, but we have strong medical, educational, and technology sectors. The culture and history have a very strong impact, too, because the desirability of a location is also a key factor in decision making. In fact, many groups have higher attendance, even record breaking attendance, when they come to Boston."

When conventions come to town, the attendees interact with the people and the companies here and everyone benefits. As James Rooney, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority likes to say, "What happens in Boston changes the world."

Manya Chylinski is president and founder of Alley424 Communications.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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