Powering the economy, one conference at a time
Ground-breaking social good and economic prosperity might not be the first things that come to mind when you think about conferences.
But researchers from UTS and Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) are hoping to change that.
“One long-term legacy of conferences is the cervical cancer vaccine,” says Prof Deborah Edwards from UTS Business School.
“It was sparked by a morning tea conversation after Ian Frazer presented his research as a young immunologist. That conversation took Ian’s research in a different direction, he started thinking about the links between human papilloma virus and cancer. After 20 years of research, Ian developed a HPV vaccine that could eradicate cervical cancer in a generation.”
Case studies like this provide a focal point in the research collaboration between Prof Edwards, fellow UTS Business School academic Prof Carmel Foley, and international exhibition expert, Prof Karin Weber from PolyU.
They argue that by bringing together experts in the spirit of knowledge sharing, conferences can be key drivers of prosperity in post-industrial economies.
“We really want to expand on this idea of legacy. To look at the amazing number of different outcomes that conferences can generate for different stakeholders,” says Prof Foley. “We’re educating industry to truly understand their full value. It’s not just a free ticket for a little holiday.”
“The long-term benefits of conferences are varied. They can be something really amazing and big, or they can be something smaller and a little more applied,” says Prof Edwards.
“That could be new knowledge, new technology or new techniques brought into the workplace.”
Usually placed within the tourism portfolio, conferences are traditionally measured in hotel nights and food and beverage spending. But in knowledge economies like Sydney and Hong Kong, there is a high value on new ideas and innovative thinking.
“Deb and Carmel have pioneered this shift in the research beyond just looking at economics,” says Prof Weber. “They’ve really focused on Australia, and now we’re looking to build the research globally, looking at different sectors.”
The researchers met through a study commissioned by the Joint Meetings Industry Council (JMIC). Soon after meeting, the trio realised that they had similar research interests and decided to apply for the UTS Key Technology Partnerships (KTP) program to pioneer new ways of measuring the long-term impacts of conferences.
Under the KTP Visiting Fellow program, Prof Weber travelled to UTS to further her academic engagement with face-to-face discussions and industry seminars.
“I think it's been an extremely valuable, informative experience,” says Prof Weber. “I have been able to connect with a lot of staff and meet some of the students here at UTS. That's been very insightful and hopefully it's been beneficial for them.”
During her visit, the trio held meetings with UTS academics and industry professionals from Sydney’s International Convention Centre and Business Events Sydney. They also presented their current research projects at an industry seminar titled ‘Business Events in the City: A Hong Kong Perspective’.
“Business interest at our symposium was very, very good,” says Prof Weber. “It was impressive to see that industry took half a day out of their busy schedules for our event to actively engage in discussions and sharing.”
It’s no wonder industry is paying attention. Business events is one of the highest yielding sectors in Australia’s tourism economy, and is projected to generate A$16 billion annually by 2020.
UTS residents need only look down the road to Sydney’s striking International Conference Centre to see the impact.
“Overall, Australia is being very strategic on what sectors to focus on and connecting various stakeholders so they’re all working in tandem,” says Prof Foley. “In fact, Tourism Australia has just created a committee for conventions, conferences and business events as part of its Tourism 2020 strategy.”
As their research collaboration continues to develop, the academics are exploring the possibility of co-supervising PhD students with a joint PhD program between UTS and PolyU.
They’re also looking forward to publishing a book on the JMIC study, a compilation of international case studies on the long-term benefits, contributions and legacies of conferences.