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Conference tourism: rise in events held in Italy

President of Federcongressi & eventi Alessandra Albarelli.

In 2018, Italy hosted 421,503 conferences and events for a total of 597,224 days, posting increases of 5.8% and 6.7% from 2017.

The Italian Survey of Conferences and Events (Osservatorio Italiano dei Congressi e degli Eventi-OICE), the study on the Italian conference and events tourism promoted by Federcongressi&eventi and conducted by the Graduate School of Economics and International Relations of Universita Cattolica del Sacro Cuore – ASERI, was presented in Rome. The number of events promoted by companies to strengthen their presence on the market continues to grow, while effective measures need to be developed for association conferences to see off international competition.

In 2018, Italy hosted 421,503 conferences and events for a total of 597,224 days, posting increases of 5.8% and 6.7% from 2017. The average duration, at 1.42 days, remains stable, while participant numbers were down slightly to 28,386,815 (-2.4%), as was the overall attendance figure, to 42,319,349.
The slightly negative growth figure for these last two pieces of data was mainly due to the fall in conferences promoted by international associations, showing that Italy urgently needs to undertake substantial promotional activities to meet increasingly fierce competition from competitor destinations.

These are the key figures from the Italian Survey of Conferences and Events, the research project promoted by Italy’s meeting industry association Federcongressi&eventi, conducted by the Graduate School of Economics and International Relations of Universita Cattolica del Sacro Cuore and coordinated by Professor Roberto Nelli.

Now in its fifth year, the study continuously monitors the events and conferences organised in Italy, showing the size, characteristics and trends of a sector that not only generates economic activity, but is also a driver of social and cultural development.

Who stages events in Italy: companies continue to invest, incentives needed for associations
Companies are the main promoters of events, registering steady growth year-on-year. Conventions, meetings, product launches and incentive events were confirmed as effective marketing, communication, brand-awareness building and lead/sales generation tools for companies, and accounted for 65.5% of the events held in Italy in 2018, an increase of over 10 percentage points compared with 2015 (55.4%).

Associations were the second largest promoters, but their share of the total continues to fall. Last year, association events – mainly conferences – accounted for 22.8% of the total, versus 25.5% in 2017, 31.6% in 2016 and 34.8% in 2015. The third group of promoters by number of events organised was organisations and institutions, whether government, political, union or social, which accounted for 11.7% of events, a slight rise from 2017’s figure of 9.9%.

The constant decline in the share of events organised by associations – albeit with marked differences between the regions (in 2018, association events increased in North-West and Central Italy, but decreased in the North-East and in the South and the Islands) – shows the need for ad hoc institutional measures to boost Italy’s appeal as a conference destination. Given their duration (over several days) and number of participants (sometimes in the thousands), conferences – particularly those promoted by international associations – are the most desirable events for destinations, as they offer benefits in terms of economic impact, media and social visibility and regional development.

“Internationalisation, planning and quality are the three elements Italy needs to compete and get out of the impasse we have observed in the associations markets”, commented President of Federcongressi & eventi Alessandra Albarelli.

“Internationalisation means strengthening Convention Bureau Italia’s role in promoting the country as a MICE destination, in partnership with national tourist board ENIT; planning consists of implementing, together with all the institutions, particularly the Ministry of Agricultural, Food and Forestry Policies and Tourism, long-term, targeted strategic activities for the sector; quality consists of providing operators with more effective training to seize the opportunities offered by the market. For this reason, the association has always been committed to developing regional aggregations (convention bureaus), and will respond concretely to the need for solid and constantly updated marketing expertise, launching, from the autumn, an academy with two courses, dedicated to “venue managers” and “destination managers”.

We will only be able to meet the challenges ahead if we know how to combine the individual and collective commitment of public and private stakeholders”.

Events have a local dimension
As regards the geographical provenance of participants, most conferences and events (59.5%) are local in dimension – i.e. with participants (excluding speakers) mainly coming from the same region as the host venue. National events, i.e. those with participants mainly from outside the region, decreased, from 35.2% in 2017 to 32.4%, while international events (those with a significant number of participants coming from abroad) increased, from 7.9% in 2017 to 8.1% in 2018.

The North is leader, but the South and the Islands continue to gain ground
By geographical region, the North attracts the most conferences and events. Of the 421,503 events surveyed by the Italian Survey of Conferences and Events, more than half (57.7%, a rise of 7.8% on 2017) were held in northern regions. The figure comes as no surprise, since the North is the is the richest area in terms of event venues (52.6%) and companies, the main promoters of events. Central Italy (with 25.3% of venues) was the destination chosen for 24.6% of events. Despite the number of venues, the South and the Islands continue to grow as an events destination, as a result of both the effective promotional activities conducted by convention bureaus and local public authorities, and investment in infrastructure and services. In 2018, the South and the Islands (with 13.7% and 8.4% of venues respectively) hosted 17.7% of events, an increase of 8.3%.

“Enhancing the ability to attract events, particularly international ones”, says Professor Roberto Nelli, “must be built on an analysis of the supply- and demand-side characteristics of the meetings industry along with a geographical analysis of Italy’s local systems, which look at a region’s assets in terms of production structure, cultural vocation and appeal. A first attempt at mapping events and conferences hosted in Italy shows that, given the current situation in which most events are hosted in places that can be described as part of Italy’s ‘Great Beauty’, it is possible to identify meeting industry development strategies that leverage the strengths of certain regions: for example, those with vast potential in their cultural and natural heritage that has not been fully exploited, located mainly in Central and Southern Italy, and those which, although boasting less cultural and natural heritage, offer a rich productive fabric linked in particular to the ‘Made in Italy sectors’, chiefly situated in the central and northern regions of the country”.

Where events are held: hotels and conference centres the best performers
Since most events held in Italy are promoted by companies, it should come as no surprise that conference hotels play host to most events: 80.6% of the total, +6.9% versus 2017. Conference centres also performed well, not only accounting for 3.2% of total events (+3.9%) but also registering the highest average number of events per venue: 156.3.

As regards the other main types of venue analysed by the research, events held in trade fair conference venues remained unchanged (0.4% of the total), while the number held in historic residences (not used as hotels) came in at 2.4%, a decline of 1.4%.

Revenues stable
In light of an economic scenario seemingly dominated by a wait-and-see attitude, more than half the events venues (50.7%) expects revenues to remain unchanged in 2019. 37.2% forecast growth, with non-conventional spaces and trade fair conference venues in particular more optimistic.

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Vicky is the co-founder of TravelDailyNews Media Network where she is the Editor-in Chief. She is also responsible for the daily operation and the financial policy. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Tourism Business Administration from the Technical University of Athens and a Master in Business Administration (MBA) from the University of Wales.

She has many years of both academic and industrial experience within the travel industry. She has written/edited numerous articles in various tourism magazines.