Destination promotion: don’t forget public transport!

24th Jun, 2015

Mohamed Mezghani, Deputy Secretary General, UITP (International Association of Public Transport), explains how good and efficient public transport is a strong asset for attracting international meetings.

I visited IMEX Frankfurt for the first time this year. Being in the top management of an international association organizing several events of different sizes worldwide, it was very instructive for me to get to know the events industry players, their products and their approach, as well potential destinations and their capacity to attract participants.

As public transport association, one essential criterion when selecting cities is their accessibility, in addition to the availability and costs of venues and logistical services; not only from an international perspective but also the local accessibility by public transport of all places that a delegate will have to visit or pass by: airport, hotels, convention center, venue for social activities, etc. Easy mobility of participants and visitors has an impact on their perception of the event. With good connectivity by public transport, there is no need to organize bus shuttles or to order hundreds of taxis and queueing for them. At the end, it costs less to the organizer, and makes the participant less stressed about their transport. At the last UITP World Congress and Exhibition which took place in Milan on 8-10 June, the local transport agency decided to open a new metro station facing the convention center, two days prior to the event. It made the life of 15,000 exhibition visitors and congress delegates easier and less tiring by avoiding them to walk 800 meters to reach the closest metro station.

In IMEX Frankfurt I had numerous meetings and visited several stands. I discovered very creative slogans promoting destinations. I listened to many presentations putting forward food, shopping facilities, cultural and leisure activities, options for post and pre-event tours, etc. … but almost none has used good public transport as a selling argument for their destination. I remember a presentation of a large European city listing all its assets but not a single word about local transport while this city is often nominated amongst the top cities for its efficient mobility policy. Why? Is it due to the ignorance of those in charge of promoting the destination? May be they are not aware of the benefits that a good public transport can bring to the visitors or they simply ignore its performances? In both cases it is not valid reason.

City authorities must make the case for public transport in a stronger way and promote its benefits. In a period where environmental concerns are growing, public transport and other sustainable means including cycling and walking, should be strong selling arguments for destination as they convey a positive image of the city. On the other hand, events’ organizers have a social responsibility in promoting green transport. Organizing sustainable events is not just about recycling badges or using eco-friendly material; it should include green transport modes alike. It is a pity to see that there are still cities building large and modern convention centers with huge parking spots and no connection with mass transit.

In the recently published ICCA statistics report the most popular cities for association meetings by number of participants are the following:

Top 10 city ranking by number of meeting organised in 2014

Rank City # participants # meetings in 2014
1 Paris 130,516 / 214
2 Barcelona 127,469 / 182
3 Madrid 91,452 / 200
4 London 89,969 / 166
5 Vienna 81,902 / 202
6 Amsterdam 79,356 / 133
7 Berlin 76,880 / 193
8 Istanbul 75,861 / 130
9 Copenhagen 57,551 / 105
10 Singapore 57,497 / 142

It is no accident that all these cities, without exception, have a dense metro/tramway metro, an easy to use and integrated ticketing system, a public authority responsible for the coordination of all public transport modes at regional level. Almost all of them are ranked in the Urban Mobility Index1 above average and six of them are amongst the Top 10.

In other words, good and efficient public transport is a strong asset for attracting international meetings and conventions. Public transport could be a strong ally for hosting events. Don’t forget it!

To give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, I noticed two cities in IMEX Frankfurt which used the image of their metro to promote the destination: New York, with a large poster of its famous subway displayed at the top of their stand, and Bangkok with a leaflet presenting all travel options within the city. I hope to find much more at the next edition of IMEX.


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