When the Hinman Dental Society orchestrates its annual Thomas P. Hinman Dental Meeting, they set their sights on Atlanta. Not only does the HDS call Atlanta “home,” but they are always looking for a city that is medically and health care-focused at its core. And the HDS is not alone. Many medical and health care associations and organizations hold their conventions, meetings and gatherings in leading-edge cities that are becoming medical meccas for the health care community.
As Sylvia Ratchford, executive director of the Hinman Dental Society explains, her association has always met in Atlanta, and the 2016 meeting will mark their 104th gathering. For the March 17–19, 2016 meeting, they are offering 290 educational courses and special events, and an exhibit hall with more than 800 booths featuring 400-plus companies. They also use about 5,000 sleeping rooms on the peak night.
“We started small, with 120 attendees, and have grown to 23,000 attendees,” Ratchford says. “Atlanta accommodates all sizes and styles of meetings — whether in one hotel or conference center or in many. We produce about 55 meetings a year, ranging in size from 12 to 23,000 so we have a variety of needs.”
Atlanta serves as a hub for medical conventions in part because it is home to industry leaders such as the Centers for Disease Control and Emory University.
“One of the unique aspects about hosting medical meetings in our city is that attendees, exhibitors and speakers are easy to come by because Atlanta is saturated with some of the best health care professionals and companies in the world,” says Mark Vaughan, executive vice president and chief sales officer, Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Atlanta will continue to have educational opportunities for the health care community through the numerous research institutes that call this city home. From a visitor perspective, our hospitality community will open $2.5 billion in new development over the next four years including new attractions, restaurants, hotels and retail offerings, keeping the destination new and exciting for repeat visits.”
Atlanta is a perfect example of the ways many cities are modifying their infrastructures to meet the needs of the growing medical meeting industry. According to Renée-Marie Stephano, J.D., president of the Palm Beach Gardens, Florida-based Medical Tourism Association, many cities believe initiatives that capitalize on the strengths of the medical community can raise not only the destination’s global profile, but also draw particular attention as a convention stop for America’s health care trade associations and professional societies.
“Nashville and Houston have been working hard to become ‘medical meccas’ and Orlando, which is already a popular destination for conventions and events, has been specifically targeting health care.”
— Renée-Marie Stephano
The Medical Tourism Association provides financial, legal and marketing consultation to health care providers and the purchasers of their services, government organizations and hospitality interests that they partner with to host workshops and conferences at sites around the world, from local road shows in Florida to international conventions in China.
“Some cities, such as New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Washington, DC, do not have to exert as much effort as others,” Stephano says. “Nashville and Houston have been working hard to become ‘medical meccas’ and Orlando, which is already a popular destination for conventions and events, has been specifically targeting health care.”
Obviously destinations that feature a large medical infrastructure — hospitals and clinics, university medical centers and research opportunities — are natural draws because they provide attendees with an avenue to network — establish new relationships with peers or build on existing ones.
“Health care professionals are also considered high-end clientele and are likely to have more disposable income, meaning cosmopolitan locations are that much more attractive,” Stephano says. “Weather, convention space, hotel accommodations or committable rooms and transportation — including rail and air — are always important considerations.”
For example, Visit Florida, the state’s tourism arm, awarded 25 medical tourism grants totaling $3.1 million. Grants were awarded in two categories: nine for medical tourism destination promotion and 16 for medical meetings and training promotion. The grants aim to help grow awareness of existing medical tourism products and services in the state, as well as strengthen Florida as a preferred destination to host medical conferences, meetings and training programs. Not surprisingly, the Medical Tourism Association held their annual congress last year at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando.
Las Vegas has long been known globally as the “Entertainment Capital of the World,” attracting a record-breaking 41 million visitors in 2014 for both business and leisure. As part of their efforts to attract more visitors, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) has turned its sights on becoming the top destination for a growing niche market: health and wellness travel.
As Cheryl Smith, specialty markets manager at the LVCVA, explains, three years ago the LVCVA dedicated resources to marketing medical meetings and health and wellness travel options in Southern Nevada.
“It’s a collaborative effort with stakeholders in the local medical and wellness community who work with the LVCVA to promote this emerging market globally,” Smith says. Las Vegas is one of the few destinations in the world to develop a regional strategic plan for medical and wellness travel.”
In recent months, the LVCVA has actively participated in efforts to increase Las Vegas’ capacity to host medical meetings. This includes participating in industry trade exhibitions and working more closely with the meetings booked in Las Vegas and assisting them with attendance promotion, among other services, to the local health care industry. This is a value-added service unique to Las Vegas.
In 2011, Las Vegas was ranked No. 1 on the “Top Healthcare Meeting Locations” list produced by the Healthcare Convention & Exhibitors Association. Since that time, the destination has been home to high-profile medical meetings and conventions including HIMMS, American Academy of Anti-Aging, Institute for Healthcare Consumerism, MD Expo and OR Today, among hundreds of others. Las Vegas also is home to several of the busiest bio-skills medical training facilities in the United States including the Oquendo Center and the Medical Education Research Institute of Nevada (MERIN).
“Las Vegas offers unique medical laboratory meeting facilities for hands-on bio-skills labs and surgical training; a clinical simulation center and specialized continuing medical and dental education training facilities in addition to traditional convention space,” Smith says. “These venues offer dedicated lab managers and lab technicians; complete diagnostic and pathology equipment; surgical lighting; C-Arms and endoscopy towers; general instrumentation; autoclaves; high-definition video equipment; auditoriums; onsite catering; and trained staff to assist with the unique needs of medical meeting planners including anatomical procurement services.”
For Las Vegas, meetings, conferences and trade shows are a critical part of its local economy, supporting nearly 57,000 local jobs with a $6.7 billion economic impact. “The medical meetings market provides great potential to attract more visitors to our destination, and the LVCVA is already experiencing steady success in attracting more health and wellness meetings to the destination,” Smith says. “The LVCVA is currently working with key community stakeholders to encourage conversations, partnerships and initiatives aimed to enhance the quality of medical care in Southern Nevada and lay the foundation for expanding medical tourism even further.”
Many medical meetings and conventions also are opting to add training days to their schedule to take advantage of the innovative facilities found in Las Vegas, including the Oquendo Center, MERIN, the Medical Innovations and Training Institute, the MedCure Nevada Surgical Training Center and the Center for Advanced Professional Education.
From the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, to internationally renowned Cenegenics, to Dignity Health-St. Rose Dominican and St. Rose Stanford Clinics for Neurosurgery and Cardiology, and Comprehensive Cancer Center’s affiliation with UCLA and US Oncology Clinical Research, Las Vegas offers a remarkable array of renowned medical experts.
As Smith explains, Las Vegas also is one of the few places in the United States building new medical schools. The University of Nevada Las Vegas School of Medicine and Roseman University Medical School will soon join Touro University and the University of Nevada School of Medicine in educating new physicians in Las Vegas and the State of Nevada.
“These educational institutions also recognize the value of being located in a city that offers medical professionals numerous opportunities for continuing medical education through the health-related conferences and meetings held in Las Vegas annually,” Smith says. “Simply put, rapidly evolving treatment expertise combined with medical education facilities and a world-class hospitality infrastructure makes Las Vegas a serious player in the medical meetings space, as well as health and wellness travel.”
Given its prime location, it is no surprise that life sciences-related conventions total more than 50 percent of all meetings held in Philadelphia each year.
The American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) hosted its annual meeting in Philadelphia in April 2015, its first time back to Philadelphia since 1999. AACR boasted the best annual meeting attendance to date with more than 19,000 attendees and generated more press that any other year.
Philadelphia also welcomed the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO) in June, the largest, most influential biotech meeting in the world. Attendance was 15,858 (higher than 2014), and the record-breaking number of partnering meetings totaled more than 29,000. BIO announced last month that it would be returning to Philadelphia in 2019.
“Philadelphia has many medical and science attractions and a variety of venues to hold medical meetings and conventions that both educate and entertain attendees,” says Bonnie Grant, executive director of PHLLife, the division of Philadelphia’s CVB. “In addition to being great places to visit, venues like The Franklin Institute, the newly relocated Barnes Foundation, the Academy of Natural Sciences, the Philadelphia College of Physicians and the Mütter Museum, the Physick House and the Chemical Heritage Foundation make ideal spots to host offsite tours and events.”
PHLLife also connects medical/health care conventions with experts and leaders of academic institutions, hospital systems, biotechnology companies, nursing programs and pharmaceutical firms in the tri-state region to help enhance meeting program content.
Earlier this year, PHLLife signed on to support Meeting Professionals International (MPI) and its Health Care Meeting Compliance Certificate (HMCC) course. The program, which is accredited through Saint Louis University, teaches participants critical information on compliance regulations, laws and techniques for managing health care meetings.
“The partnership offers both meeting planners and suppliers professional recognition of expertise in a highly regulated field, while giving Philadelphia great visibility as a city with a robust medical community and a vast array of institutions and attractions that help planners achieve the requirements for compliant meetings,” Grant says.
Health care also is the No. 1 industry in Nashville, contributing an overall economic benefit of $38.8 billion and more than 250,000 jobs to the local economy annually. Nearly 400 health care companies have operations in Nashville including HCA Holdings, Community Health Systems, LifePoint Hospitals, Healthways, Iasis Healthcare, Ardent Health Services, Vanderbilt Medical Group and TriStar Medical Group.
“In health care business climate, the Nashville MSA ranks second among the 13 MSAs,” says Heather Middleton, vice president of public relations for Nashville Convention & Visitors Corporation. “To engage medical associations nationwide, we employ sales professionals in key markets where major medical associations are located including New York, Chicago and Washington DC.”
In addition, the Nashville CVC is working in partnership with Nashville Healthcare Council and local health care companies to bring more health care association conventions and events to the area.
According to Middleton, within the last year, the following associations have held conventions or events in Nashville: American Heart Association, American Occupational Therapy, American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, American Dental Hygienists, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, American Health Insurance Plan, National Association for Homecare and Hospice, and the American College of Veterinarian Surgeons.
Like Nashville, Denver also is making significant strides to woo the medical community to host conventions and meetings in their locale. According to Rachel Benedick, vice president of sales and services at Visit Denver, their Ambassador Program connects Visit Denver with leaders in a variety of medical specialties who are themselves in national leadership positions and in a position to influence meeting locations.
“We have held several receptions with prominent members of national medical associations to ask them to help bring their national conventions to Denver,” Benedick says. “At these meetings, we explain Visit Denver’s role and that we will do all the ‘heavy lifting’ to bring the group to Denver. We also explain the national prestige that comes to Denver with these types of meetings, as well as the economic benefit to the region. And we educate them on Denver as a convention destination since oftentimes, our own locals are so busy traveling to other locations that aren’t as familiar with their ‘home city’ and all that it has to offer from a convention perspective.”
In the last year Denver has hosted the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer, The American Thoracic Society, American Academy of Family Physicians, American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, Association of periOperative Registered Nurses, American Association of Diabetes Educators, Healthcare Convention and Exhibitors Association, Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology, American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, to name a few.
To accommodate the growing demand from the medical community, Denver is celebrating the largest city rail initiative in American history adding 125 miles of rail lines. In addition to the expansion of the Colorado Convention Center, Denver recently opened three world-class boutique hotels, and there are seven new hotels with an additional 1,500 rooms under construction. Although currently plagued with some financial problems, the VA Hospital will eventually open next to the 1.4-million-sf Children’s Hospital and next to the Anschutz Medical Campus, forming one of the largest contiguous medical centers in the U.S.
The American Academy of Nurse Practitioners held their 27th National Conference at the Orange County Convention Center (OCCC) in Orlando in June 2012. Now called the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, Debra D. Parr, CMP, conference program manager at the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, says they chose Orlando’s convention center because they had the dates they needed as well as the space.
“We held over 300 sessions comprised of clinical presentations, seminars, hands-on workshops, poster presentations and general sessions,” Parr says. “Additionally, we held 12 industry-sponsored/supported meal symposia and product theaters during our conference dates. Our conference also uses a lot of public space, and we had over 230 exhibitors.”
For Parr and her team, Orlando is seen as a great destination for health care/medical-focused conferences, conventions and meetings. “The OCCC is central to quite a number of nearby hotels, some of which are connected by walkways. There definitely is enough shopping, restaurants, theme parks and other attractions for free time,” Parr says.
Although the AANP’s attendees seemed to enjoy Orlando, their attendance did not exceed the preceding year and following year which surprised Parr.
“We thought that many attendees would extend their time in Orlando for a family vacation,” Parr says. “Perhaps the lower number that year was attributed to the national economy.”
Orlando also plays host to almost half of the top 50 largest medical meetings including such events as ASH 2015, The American Society of Hematology; HIMSS, Healthcare Information & Management Systems, one of the largest and most important health care IT conferences in the United States; and the Emergency Nurses Association.
Boasting the second-largest convention center in the United States means that Orlando offers exceptional retail, dining and entertainment districts close to the convention center, easy access to medical facilities for tours and for medical demonstrations. Meeting professionals also have access to local medical speakers from many of Orlando’s noted medical facilities, including Nemours Children’s Hospital, the Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute at Lake Nona and the Nicholson Center for Surgical Advancement, where more than 50,000 physicians have trained in leading-edge surgical techniques.
“We estimate that between 2015 and 2017 almost 300,000 attendees are projected to attend medical meetings in Orlando,” says George Aguel, president and CEO, Visit Orlando. “Needless to say, the health care industry is important to Visit Orlando and the entire Orlando community. We plan to continue our efforts to ensure our leading position in this key segment of the meetings industry.”
Few cities in the U.S. have as many top medical facilities as Jacksonville, Florida, including the Mayo Clinic, UF Health Jacksonville, UF Proton Therapy Institute, Wolfson’s Children Hospital, Nemours Children’s Clinic and the Ackerman Cancer Center.
Recently the Vasculitis Foundation, Society of Trauma Nurses and the Florida Council of the Blind and other associations held events — from intimate board meetings to large-scale conventions — in Jacksonville.
“Jacksonville’s health industry is leading the way in cancer research and cardiac health as well as key medical research and biotechnology, making the city a draw for medical experts from across the globe, an ideal destination to host many medical meetings and conventions,” says Patty Jimenez, communications specialist at Visit Jacksonville. Visit Jacksonville’s convention services team works with hundreds of groups annually to fulfill their needs during their meetings and events in Jacksonville — everything from recommending offsite venues, to arranging special speakers, setting up transportation and organizing tours of local attraction and facilities.
“Our team has deep connections to the local medical industry and a wide network of regional medical experts and often connects visiting medical groups to the local experts in their specific fields,” Jimenez says.
And that’s not all: The health and medical infrastructure is supported by a thriving city with unique meeting venues, modern convention hotels, active arts and culture scene, unlimited dining options, fun nightlife and endless opportunities to explore the outdoors in some of Florida’s best parks and beaches.
When the American Academy of Dermatologists held their 68th annual convention in 2010 for the first time in Miami, they actually shattered attendance records. More than 19,000 attendees, reflecting a 30 percent spike in attendance, resulted in a historic milestone for the association.
“Miami continues courting the industry,” says Jennifer Diaz with the Greater Miami CVB. “The medical industry thrives down here for specialty services.” In fact, there are a wealth of renowned medical establishments including the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, University of Miami – Diabetes Research Institute, Mount Sinai’s new state-of-the-art Surgical Tower, University of Miami Life Science and Technology Park, and The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis.
In a continued effort to meet the needs of the growing medical community and entice visitors to Miami, the to-be-completed Miami Beach Convention Center will be a state-of-the-art building geared toward medical conventions. “We met with the top medical associations to find out what their needs are in order to have MBCC tailor-made for them,” Diaz says. In addition to the new facility, an adjacent venue, the New World Center, features an amphitheater that provides a space for high-end meetings, with capabilities to do projected surgeries live.
It’s evident that the educational opportunities for the health care community throughout large U.S. cities continues to grow and develop. Combine that with the expansive development over the next few years of new conventional centers, meeting spaces, attractions, restaurants, hotels and retail offerings, and you’ve got a wealth of new and exciting destinations ideal for repeat visitors from the medical sector. AC&F