Published on : Wednesday, April 6, 2016
Vienna’s record year for tourism in 2015 is matched by the city’s meeting industry, which recorded top results in all relevant key indicators: the number of events rose 3%, triggering a 13% increase in bednights, which saw induced economic impact advance some 16% to pass the one billion euro mark for the first time. These numbers were revealed by Director of Tourism Norbert Kettner and Vienna Convention Bureau head Christian Mutschlechner at a press conference hosted by the Vienna Tourist Board on Thursday March 31. Furthermore, the results of the latest study on Vienna as a meeting destination were presented. Guest speaker Prof. Michael P. Manns, M.D. president of the European Gastroenterological Society (UEG) also gave an insight into his organization’s conference strategy and scientific goals.
“Congratulations to everyone involved in Vienna’s meetings industry,” Kettner began, “as they have played their part in achieving the best results in Vienna’s history as a meeting destination. Our city hosted a total of 3,685 conferences and corporate events in 2015, which represents a rise of 3% on the total reported in 2014. The number of overnight stays attributable to these events came to 1,682,966, an increase of 13% and equivalent to 12% of all bednights recorded in Vienna in 2014. The meeting industry’s contribution to GDP was up 16% year on year to EUR 1,038.5 million, passing the billion mark for the first time. In total, the events safeguard more than 19,000 year-round jobs nationwide. Across the board, results surpassed the levels set in 2012, which was a record breaking year for the meetings industry, and the findings of the 2014-2016 study add to the positive picture: they show Vienna as a meeting destination that lives up to the ‘global – smart –premium’ criteria enshrined in the capital’s 2020 tourism strategy.”
International congresses shape overall results
The 3,685 events held in Vienna in 2015 break down as follows: 1,392 congresses (down 5%), whereof 649 national (down 4%) and 743 international (down 5%) and 2,293 (up 8%) corporate events (meetings and incentives), whereof 1,049 national (up 26%) and 1,244 international (down 4%). International congresses are a key economic driver for the capital’s meeting industry as they generate the highest number of overnight stays and the most revenue.
The fact that the overall number of this type of meeting dropped in 2015 while earnings were still so positive is only seemingly contradictory. Christian Mutschlechner head of the Vienna Convention Bureau explained: “Although it is true that there were fewer of these events, the figures show a greater number of large-scale conferences for 2015 than in 2014. They not only attract more participants, but also last longer, both of which factors have an effect on overnight stays and revenue. A single event like this simply induces more economic impact at a single stroke.” The extent to which Vienna’s success as a meeting destination is conditional on international congresses is reflected in the following numbers: while they accounted for just 20% of all meetings in 2015, events of this type were accountable for more than 50% of all participants, 76% of bednights and 81% of induced economic impact in this segment.
Conference participants also spend significantly more than non-business travelers: in 2015 they spent an average of EUR 534 each, around double the average for all visitor categories.
While the corporate meetings subcategory is less important by comparison, it still plays an important role in terms of generating demand for key infrastructure including hotels, as well as service providers working in the meetings sector.
Nationwide induced economic impact from Vienna’s meetings industry passes one billion for the first time
In 2015, Viennese meeting industry events generated induced economic impact in Austria of EUR 1,038.5m (up 16%), passing the one billion mark for the first time ever. Induced economic impact takes into account revenue that is generated and recognized in the country. This includes direct expenditure by participants, event organizers, exhibitors and accompanying persons, as well as income from upstream areas of the economy that is indirectly induced by the events (e.g. food and beverage suppliers, printers, construction companies, banks, insurance companies, communications companies etc.). Vienna’s meeting industry generated taxes of EUR 287.2 million, of which EUR 188m went to the Federal government and EUR 35m to Vienna, with the remainder going to municipalities and the other Austrian provinces. Induced economic impact and tax revenue is calculated according to the Event Model Austria, a recognized method developed by Martina Stoff-Hochreiner.
Regular customer UEG Week: Europe’s largest gastroenterology congress
UEG Week was among the most heavily attended international congresses of the year. Held annually by United European Gastroenterology (UEG), the annual event committed to Vienna and Barcelona as a returning customer in 2013. Following a successful debut for the new format in 2014, the event will continue to alternate between the two destinations until at least 2019 (this year it will take place from 15-19 October at the Austria Center Vienna). Prof. Michael P. Manns, M.D., UEG President and Director of the Department of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Endocrinology at the Hannover Medical School’s Centre for Internal Medicine who appeared at the press conference as a guest speaker explained: “Until 2013 we had always chosen a different European city to host the event, but we decided to change over to a model that would see us alternate between two cities from 2014. This move brings numerous logistical and organizational benefits while reducing the amount of work required in these areas, meaning that UEG can focus more closely on improving the quality of content offered at the congress and introduce new teaching methods and ways of transferring knowledge. With Vienna and Barcelona, the undeniable attractiveness of both cities and their conference infrastructure as well as successful cooperation with their respective convention bureaus spoke in their favor.“
UEG was established in 1992 as an umbrella organization for research and teaching focused on the digestive organs. Today it is the largest association of the leading European gastroenterological societies, representing more than 22,000 physicians and scientists. It successfully promotes scientific projects and studies and actively supports the next generation of scientific researchers through its training measures. The organization works tirelessly to support the development of standards and guidelines for the diagnosis and treatment of digestive diseases. This is achieved through active partnerships and activities with European societies and pan-European patient organizations.
Premiere at this year’s UEG Week: reaching out to local population in host city
With 14,000 delegates from more than 120 countries, UEG Week is the largest and most important event of its kind in Europe. It has already made a name for itself worldwide as a leading event for gastroenterology and hepatology, and now the association’s strategic plan involves expanding its role by establishing UEG Week as the largest and best conference of its kind in the world. Besides focusing on scientific excellence, the organization attaches great importance to the promotion of personal exchange and providing a suitable forum for forging new contacts – work which is aimed at building up international networks with the next generation of doctors in mind. This was confirmed by the visitor numbers: despite the introduction of an ever-greater range of ways to follow the scientific program all over the world online or via webcasts, attendance levels remain steady and are even increasing slightly.
UEG is also doing its bit to raise awareness of digestive and metabolic diseases among the general population as part of its work to promote healthy living and patient wellbeing. This will also play out during UEG Week for the first time this year, thanks to an awareness campaign aimed at the local population, as Prof. Manns explained: “The campaign focuses on intestinal and stomach cancer prevention. We want to shed light on the causes of these diseases, their symptoms and the prevention measures currently available. Information on risk factors, prevention and early identification will be provided via a walk-around model of the digestive tract on display in a central location in Vienna. The installation is intended to give anyone affected by or interested in finding more about the diseases the chance to talk to doctors, patient representatives and other healthcare professionals. We hope that we will be able to bring the City of Vienna on board for the project.”
UEG’s strong ties to Vienna are underlined by the fact that the organization decided to establish its headquarters in the city in 2012. The House of European Gastroenterology (HEG) on Wickenburggasse in the eighth district is home to the 25-strong UEG team, 70% of whom are women. HEG doubles up as a hub for smaller training courses and a venue for all of the associations’ membership meetings, the importance of which for Vienna’s economy and image should not be underestimated.
2015 Vienna Congress Study: revealing evaluation and identification of trends
Commissioned by the Vienna Convention Bureau, Martina Stoff-Hochreiner has analyzed Vienna’s national and international conferences every five years since 1991 to identify key developments and pave the way for the formulation of suitable strategies based on its findings. For the latest study a total of 4,406 participants and 212 exhibitors from 37 national and international conferences were surveyed by Triconsult Wirtschaftsanalytische Forschung GmbH between September 2014 and September 2015; 73% in person, 27% via online interviews. “Our congress studies are always eagerly awaited by many international associations and other conference destinations,” Mutschlechner explained, “since they flag up general trends which allow those affected to adjust their strategies accordingly. There is, and we can say this with pride, virtually no other city that can point towards such extensive and high-quality analysis as this.”
As far as organizing travel is concerned, a lot has changed since the last time the study was published. While conference organizers or companies from related industries took care of travel arrangements in 49% of cases in 2010, this amount had fallen to 14% by 2015, when 53% of those surveyed confirmed that they had organized their own travel to Vienna. This shift can be explained by the availability of better digital tools that let participants organize their travel and accommodation independently. Accounting for 76% of the total, arrivals by air continue to lead the way, which highlights the importance for the meetings industry of the aims of Vienna’s 2020 tourism strategy – increasing the number of direct flights to Vienna to include 20 additional destinations. The vast majority of visitors (88%) booked hotels and pensions, while 7% used private accommodation and 3% stayed in business apartments. 10% of conference participants staying in hotels chose a five-star hotel, down considerably on 2010 when almost double that amount selected this category (19%). By contrast, 38% of respondents stayed in three-star accommodation, up from 29% in 2010. The four-star category remained more or less unchanged at 45%, down slightly from 49% five years earlier. For the first time this participants were explicitly asked about sharing-economy platforms, an option used by 2% of conference guests.
Kettner explained the changes as follows: “The marked differences in the three and five-star categories are attributable to tighter compliance rules – particularly in the medical sector – and also due to the proliferation of high-quality three-star hotel options in Vienna. It is also clear that the sharing economy has now hit the conference industry, too. Although this segment is still very much on the periphery, we expect it to become more significant over time. With this in mind, the City of Vienna’s efforts to take this model out of its current grey zone and establish a legal framework are all the more important.”
Proportion of female participants up, green meetings in the ascendency
Another of the striking outcomes of the study is the sharp increase in the number of female participants, which reached a new record high of 44% in 2015 (2010: 34%, 1991: 21%). It can be assumed that this trend will continue and that this development will require certain infrastructure changes regarding meeting facilities and services. This covers everything from the quantity and ratio of male and female restroom facilities, to room temperature and catering preferences.
Another clear trend relates to conference delegates’ preparedness to keep their ecological footprint as small as possible through green meetings: more than two thirds (67%) of respondents confirmed that they would have no problem doing without printed materials. The number of green meetings in the Viennese congress industry is rising sharply, from 42 meetings in 2013 to 81 in 2014 before going on to reach a new record high of 140 in 2015, 22 of which were certified by the Vienna Convention Bureau. Participants have indicated that they wish to continue to attend events in person even though increasingly attractive technical solutions present a viable alternative: more than three quarters of those surveyed (76%) stated that they did not want to take part in a conference via a live stream.
Stricter medical sector compliance regulations: no major consequences expected
The results of a survey of medical congress delegates regarding the introduction of a European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industry Associations (EFPIA) compliance regulation that entered into force this year were awaited with baited breath – and not just by Vienna. The members of this industry association, which virtually all of Europe’s pharmaceutical companies belong to, are now required to disclose all transfers of value from pharmaceutical companies to healthcare professionals and healthcare organizations – including payments to conference delegates – preferably naming names, although this particular aspect remains voluntary. For Vienna where around 20% of all congresses are medical in character, this is a particularly important development. However, the results of the survey go a long way to assuaging concerns: 81% of respondents said that the measures would have no influence on their decision to participate in a conference, and only 28% were aware of the new regulation. One likely reason is that 63% of delegates now pay to attend themselves, a sharp increase given that just 46% did so in 2010. Of those delegates who had part of (16%) or all of (21%) their costs covered by someone else, 19% said that they would still visit the conference if they had to pay for it out of their own pocket. 7% reported that this was dependent on certain factors (costs, conference location and duration). Just 11% said that they would no longer attend.
General factors that counted against attendance were lack of time (73%), budget constraints (52%), too many similar events (28%) or insufficient attractiveness of a meeting destination (21%). 10% – virtually double the amount seen in 2010 – cited travel fears or safety concerns as a reason.
Strong approval for large-scale conferences and rotation between a select few destinations
Contrary to previous years, there is a strong overall tendency for conference participants to treat a congress visit as a business-only trip without incorporating a private stay into the visit. That said, 2015 saw a moderate change of this trend. While in 1991 the average conference delegate spent 7.4 days in the city, this total had decreased to 4.6 days by 2010 to match the average conference duration. In 2015 the average stay rose slightly to 5.0 days, against an average conference duration of 4.5 days. The percentage of accompanying persons is declining steadily, reaching 0.11% in 2015 (2010: 0.17%).
The survey also revealed two views held by participants that play to Vienna’s strengths: firstly, there are no reservations about large-scale conferences as 68% disagreed with a deliberately worded statement suggesting that satisfaction levels decline the bigger an event is. And secondly, fully 75% said that it would have no impact on their decision on whether to attend if a conference rotated between a handful of cities rather than changing destination regularly. Both of which are good news for Vienna, which has always been successful when it comes to acquiring large-scale conferences. Additionally, the Vienna Convention Bureau is a pioneer of the “co-opetition not competition” strategy. It has been using this collaborative approach rather than going head to head with its competitors since 1995 when it entered into a partnership with the Barcelona Convention Bureau – a move that has successfully won over numerous congress organizers, many of whom now only alternate their events between the two cities – UEG Week being a case in point.
High praise for Vienna as a conference destination, almost half of guests planning a return visit
Of the EUR 534 average spend discussed above, accommodation accounted for the largest proportion (23%) of the daily outlay, followed by travel costs (22%) and conference fees (19%). Next came shopping (13%), food and drink (11%), culture and leisure (7%), transportation in the city and transfers (4%) and telecommunications (1%). When it came to getting around the city, the conference tariffs offered by the Wiener Linien public transportation operator were very well received: 37% of delegates used a self-funded congress ticket and 30% used a ticket supplied by an organizer.
An open question invited respondents to share requests, observations and complaints about the event. Highlights included the excellent organization, which 32% of those surveyed touched on – far more than any other point – followed by Vienna’s ambience, which 17% singled out for particular mention. As far as potential improvements were concerned, catering at the conference center was referenced by 13% of those surveyed, making it the most commonly cited issue. This was followed by organizational concerns (12%) and technical equipment in conference rooms and halls (9%).
Vienna attracted glowing praise in a comparison with other conference destinations: 46% of respondents said that Vienna was their top destination, and 45% named the city as one of their preferred destinations. Other aspects that resonated well were the city’s general ambience (25%), its geographical location (17%), transport links (12%) and cultural attractions (8%). Just under half of respondents (47%) indicated that they were planning to return to the city in a private capacity at some point in the future.