UNSDG’s a powerful way to tell our story

For a number of years the meetings industry - and convention centres as their most visible representatives at the destination level- have been looking for appropriate vehicles to document and illustrate the broader benefits they generate for both global and local community development. The reason: because for too long the only measure applied to this sector was delegate spending – really just a by-product of these events, rather than the real and varied reasons they were taking place. This simply wasn’t good enough in the face of the kind of ongoing support we all need to do our jobs properly in an industry when much of the required investment is public money and must be seen to offer good and publicly-relevant returns.

The search wasn’t easy. Faced with as diverse a range of outputs as the events themselves – everything from professional development and medical advancement to knowledge transfer and positioning a city or country in a particular sector – many simply fell back again on things like hotel room-nights and spending by organizers on things like dining, event services and local transportation for the simple reason that these were readily measurable and could be extrapolated into things like tax revenues and other benefits of particular interest to local and national governments.

Enter the United Nations Sustainable Development goals, or UNSDG’s. These broad statements of intent were developed in order to create a “blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. They address the global challenges we face, including those related to poverty, inequality, climate, environmental degradation, prosperity, and peace and justice. The Goals interconnect, and in order to leave no one behind, it ís important that we achieve each Goal and target by 2030” but as general as they are they are particularly relevant to telling the story of our industry and our facilities – for a number of very important reasons;

First, they are global – and globally recognized. That meant that instead of coming up with something industry-specific, and having to promote adoption by a wide range of interests, they were widely recognized and came from a highly credible source. For an industry that remains largely a mystery to the world as a whole, this was a huge benefit.

Secondly, they are as diverse as our industry – recognizing and addressing many different kinds of both social and commercial development and the many different forms these take in various parts of the world. Again, this is a big bonus for an industry whose work facilitates such a wide range of subject areas and forms of communication.

Third, they acknowledge the long-term nature of benefits development – an issue that has haunted the business events sector for as long as new forms of value measurement have been pursued. The reality is that the specific benefits arising from a particular meeting, convention or exhibition don’t arise all at once, even though surveys and value calculation tend to represent a “snapshot” at a particular moment in time. They rather occur as part of a continuum, where the accomplishments and legacies of an individual event are part of a process that will play out over many years – exactly the kind of time-frame the UNSDG’s address.

Fourth, they are not “owned” by anyone in particular – which means they cannot be put to exclusive use by any single interest to the exclusion of others. The process of demonstrating how particular SDG’s are addressed by certain events or activities is a process that can take many different forms, each as valid as the others, and individual case studies can be assembled in any number of different ways to illustrate the principles we all want to show the importance – and the relevance – of what we do.

Finally, the ability to apply and use such measures as UNSDG’s needs and encourages collaboration – and collaboration is what our industry can and should be all about. The organization and delivery of a successful event needs to be based on a partnership where all parties recognize that everyone has a role to play in shaping the outcome, and will succeed or fail together.

These are all good reasons why the UNSDG’s have been adopted as a value statement by so many in our industry – and why they can serve us well in our ongoing effort to clarify the value of what we do in support of global development.

AIPC members, along with industry colleagues, are now engaged in a process of documenting their most important achievements in a UNSDG context. But the bottom line is that because this needs to be a collaborative effort, there is a role for everyone to play, from centres and other suppliers to event organizers and the communities that host these events. That’s a good thing – because it gives us something we can focus on to demonstrate why a healthy meetings industry and competitive convention centres are good not just for their respective communities but for society as a whole!

Rod Cameron, Executive Director AIPC ‑ International Association of Convention Centres

* The 17 UNSDG: www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/sustainable‑development‑goals/

Tags: AIPC, Venues, UNSDG