BestCities Global Forum: Intertwining Purpose and Connections in Melbourne!

7th Mar, 2024

The Melbourne Global Forum underlined the fact that face-to-face meetings are key to cultivating meaningful connections, while purposeful associations were also high on the agenda for the entire delegation that travelled to Australia. Destination leaders, association professionals and industry players were the recipients of a number of workshops, presentations and practical experiences that once again emphasised the importance of face-to-face learning and collaboration at the heart of association work.

Manuel A. Fernandes reports


For several years now, BestCities has provided a stage of excellence to sustain an industry-thought dialogue between international associations with great social responsibility and cutting-edge destinations with an ambitious, forward-looking vision. To recap, the BestCities Global Alliance consists of 13 carefully selected top MICE destinations that set a high standard in organising association conferences. Continuous and mutual learning is therefore one of the clear advantages of this membership, which usually leads to the Global Forum. The annual Global Forum is the meeting point for this ongoing process, attended by authorities from the alliance's member cities, international associations executives, trade media and speakers. ‘Meeting the Challenge: Creating Connections with Purpose’ was the theme behind this 2024 Australian chapter and the five different sessions we witnessed not only did justice to these challenges but also demonstrated how these connections can lead to a greater good for associations.


In what was my fourth meeting in a row between the cities that make up the alliance, this year's Melbourne forum had the ability to continue the discussion left by the other chapters while swerving into the world of associations again... by creating connections with purpose. In fact, of all the editions I've attended, I dare say this was the one that prompted the most discussions and fireside chats on the most pressing issues for associations. In Copenhagen, we put the promotion of event legacies at the centre of the table by measuring the impacts of its Legacy Lab; in Madrid, we took this concept to a hands-on approach in designing strong RFPs that was enshrined in the 'Madrid Challenge' - integrating impact and sustainability into the day-to-day planning of conferences; in Vancouver, the scope of the issue was deepened with the Conference Legacy Impact Study that the Canadian city used with practical cases of sustainability. This time, and with an industry ready and fired up for the usual business dynamics, Melbourne set out to recreate purposeful meetings that would facilitate peer-to-peer connections and strategic partnerships (the main topic of the latest HQ #113). It was a light but assertive edition in which the associations were often able to choose the direction of the conversation, and in which the programme followed a logical sequence of topics which, although they had been dissected by other conferences, had room to breathe in Melbourne with a high level of participation from everyone.

“The key characteristic of a leader is foresight. The reason they can lead is that they see things not just as they are, but as they will be.”


Designed to close each calendar year in December, Melbourne Convention Bureau opted to host this Forum in January 2024, so that it would coincide with the tennis Grand Slam, Australian Open among other activities. This was an excellent opportunity to showcase the city's potential as a host for sporting mega-events beyond the well-known ones such as transport, technology and health, and to enjoy other summer activities in the Southern Hemisphere. “The curated programme at Global Forum Melbourne was designed to cultivate a community where mutual learning drives the success of business events. The Global Forum was a terrific opportunity to also showcase how our city’s exciting events calendar, state-of-the-art infrastructure and world-class supply chain can enhance conference and meeting offerings,” said Julia Swanson, MCB Chief Executive. Throughout the four-day programme, the working sessions included many of the places Melbourne is known for: the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre, one of the largest and most modern event spaces in the southern hemisphere, was the starting point for the welcome reception at the Lume, and also for the first day's sessions; the imposing Marvel Stadium, refurbished to the tune of AUD$ 225 million and capable of hosting sporting events, concerts and congresses, served as the stage for the afternoon sessions, the Cargo Hall by Showtime Event Group - a former docking shed reimagined with a reference to its maritime past - extended the second day's programme at South Wharf. The last round of the event took place at the Aerial, just a few steps from the convention and hotel area.


Demographer and social analyst Mark McCrindle, founder of the McCrindle agency - recognised worldwide for coining the name of the first generation born in the 21st century, Generation Alpha - cut the ribbons with a fresh perspective on the five main trends transforming the association landscape. Between changing demographics, human-centred technology, economic volatility, virtuous consumerism and redefined work, McCrindle sought to explain that the concept of change, while inevitable, must be guided by the measurable pointers of the future and not by an unshakeable need to do something "unprecedented" for the sake of it. Purpose Drives People; People Build Communities; Communities Change the World - this is how Social Impact Leader, Natalie Simmons, introduced the UN Sustainable Development Goals and ESG frameworks to a greater understanding of design thinking for meetings and global problem solving. For Natalie, in today's world we must incorporate purpose into all our operations and strategy to prepare businesses for the future and become a profitable force for good. For example, brands that have a clear, purpose-driven strategy outperform their competitors by 134%, and this is not a coincidence. In the second day's sessions, Olena Lima, founder and consultant at Member Boat, explained how the transition from a traditional to a digital world can help association professionals deliver an exceptional member experience. Through tools such as CRM, Digital Marketing, Marketing Automation and AI, Olena pointed out that good data most often makes good marketing, and that segmenting your membership while collecting reliable behavioural data can positively map your member's journey with you. In one of the highlights of the programme, Belinda Moore, association expert and researcher stole the show with a fantastic presentation outlining how to thrive through change to unleash the Power of Strategic Planning. According to her, associations do not exist to recruit or retain financial members, they exist to make a positive impact on those they serve. The association is just one tool that can be used to achieve your purpose and the strategic plan is the roadmap for your journey to make this happen. Among factors transforming the operational landscape of associations and issues dominating association planning, the author focused on the positive impacts that associations should instill in those they serve. Finally, the Dutch meeting designer, Mike van der Vijver, discussed the added value of well-thought-out and designed programmes for meetings and events at the end of the Forum.

Regarding the carbon footprint, the approximately 149 tons of emissions generated by flights, use of transport, catering, venues and other sources of the event were offset thanks to a partnership with Trees4Events. In addition, Forum delegates also helped raise $2,500 for OzHarvest, a food charity organisation. Next year’s BestCities Global Forum will be held in Dublin, Ireland.

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