What makes a city a major player in the medical meetings industry? The answer is manifold, ranging from generic advantages such as great airlift and diversified lodging options to factors that are more industry specific, such as a strong local medical community and suppliers who are cognizant of strict compliance guidelines. Many cities, both domestic and international, appear to have the formula worked out, as they do significant meetings business in this sector.
American Express Meetings & Events, with a clientele that is over 30 percent health care companies, has a bird’s-eye perspective on site selection trends. “Within North America, Chicago, San Francisco and Boston are predominant cities for congresses and conventions,” observes Richard Parker, director of health care. “For standalone medical meetings, we see a lot of activity in Philadelphia, although not as much in Jacksonville or Cleveland. Globally, Barcelona, London, Vienna, Munich, Copenhagen, Paris, Rome and Milan are also key cities.”
“Cities with “an adequate number of venues that are within spend and compliance guidelines are ideal hosts for medical meetings.”
— Richard Parker
In any of these destinations, planners abiding by the pharma code can have confidence that they will find supplier partners who can provide value while respecting their budget limitations. Cities with “an adequate number of venues that are within spend and compliance guidelines are ideal hosts for medical meetings,” Parker says. Additionally, medical meetings-friendly CVBs and hoteliers take into account “confidentiality on leads, exclusivity (full disclosure/approval on competitors in the same hotel) and the ability and flexibility to provide food and beverage within stringent meal caps.”
According to Kristin Wilcox, team lead, pharma purchasing for ITA Group, “The pharma company that I support has really come down on being audited and whether they are following the F&B and room rate guidelines, from an open payment standpoint and the transfer of value to the health care providers. So definitely that’s what we’re looking for when we send out our RFPs.”
Hoteliers who are especially keen on catering to pharma and medical device groups can earn the HMCC (Healthcare Meeting Compliance Certificate) offered to both planners and suppliers by MPI and St. Louis University. “Hoteliers may not need to understand (compliance) like a planner would, but just knowing that there are rules and how to be sensitive to meal caps and why planners are requesting what they’re requesting makes (the certification valuable),” says Taya Paige, business development manager with ITA Group and contributing author to the CMP-Healthcare (CMP-HC) certification. “It’s really hard to work with people who have no education in that area. And definitely the CVBs can play a role. They can insist with their hoteliers that if you’re handling pharma, you need to obtain this compliance certification so that we know that you understand this industry that we’re going after. So they’ll recommend the property for pharma bids that come in.” Paige adds that it is helpful when hoteliers have purchased a subscription to My Compliance Wizard, an app launched last spring by Pat Schaumann, director, professional development, health care sector at MPI, and BusyEvent Mobile. The tool keeps users up to date on changes in compliance rules for HCPs from various countries.
In short, the destinations most appealing to the medical meetings market are those whose suppliers are knowledgeable and proactive when it comes to compliance. They are not “complacent” when it comes to those rules, Parker explains, “but instead embrace compliance initiatives, invest in their people to make sure they are informed about international regulations governing health care meetings, and commit to a creative approach, despite the obvious budgetary limitations. Compliance does not mean innovation should be stifled.”
Apart from the proficiency of local suppliers to accommodate these needs of medical groups, a secondary advantage that a city can offer is a robust medical community. Among the standout cities in this regard are Orlando, with its Medical City in Lake Nona under development; Philadelphia, with its dynamic biotech startup scene; and Cleveland, with its Global Center for Health Innovation. The presence of these companies and facilities can mean stronger local attendance for client-facing meetings, the availability of medical institutions for offsite events, as well as the possibility of culling speakers from the institutions. “These resources are advantageous for medical groups meeting in these cities as they offer access to a larger pool of key opinion leaders and facilities that enable showcasing medical, surgical and hospital goods,” adds Parker.
For example, management consulting firm Stafford Snyder found Cleveland’s local medical facilities advantageous when holding its health care executive conference, Disrupted Healthcare, in the city last September. The Global Center for Health Innovation has 27 tenant partners, including HIMSS, Siemens Healthcare, Philips Healthcare, Cardinal Health, GE Healthcare and the Cleveland Clinic. Stafford Snyder was able to utilize several speakers from tenant companies. According to Dave Johnson, director of public relations and communication for the FirstMerit Convention Center of Cleveland and Global Center, “Health care is far and away the leader in terms of events that we host; 27 percent are health care related. The Global Center hosted over 300 meetings last year, all health care related, primarily in the tenant partner suites.” Half of those events took place in the fourth-floor HIMSS Innovation Center.
An indirect benefit of the presence of numerous health care companies and institutions is that it tends to promote an awareness of the industry among local hoteliers and DMOs. For example, Paige notes that Newport Beach, California, is up-and-coming in the medical meetings arena, an initiative spurred in part by the medical community surrounding the venerable Hoag Hospital. “It’s really driven them to understand that environment,” she says. “So while (the presence of a strong medical community) may not be the first thing a buyer thinks of, I believe suppliers may have a better understanding (of the medical meetings market) if they have a strong medical community. Visit Newport Beach, for instance, is making sure that all of their hoteliers have the HMCC, and so they attend shows like the Global Pharmaceutical and Medical Meetings Summit and the Pharma Forum where the certification is offered, and they additionally exhibit there.”
The initiative Newport Beach has taken may compensate for its “resort” image, which can be a deterrent for medical groups bringing in HCPs. “The perception factor is a key component, especially for meetings where HCPs are in attendance,” says Parker. But the concern tends to apply more to hotels than destinations. “For my clients, if there is ‘resort and spa’ in the property name, we are not to select that or even send out a bid,” says Wilcox. “Some hotels will even (identify as) a four star vs. five if they really want to go after pharma groups, or they will change the name of their hotel (to exclude ‘resort and spa’),” Paige adds.
One of Nashville’s primary meeting hotels balances “resort” with “convention center” in its name: the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center. Health care IT company eClinicalWorks found the Gaylord to be an ideal hotel partner, in part due to its ability to handle the numerous breakouts medical meetings are known for. Within the hotel’s 700,000-plus sf of function space, eClinicalWorks staged 120 breakouts in eight concurrent sessions for its 2015 National Conference, bringing in thousands of doctors, office managers, physician’s assistants and others medical professionals.
Nashville itself was quite appealing to the group. “Our attendees loved going to Nashville, everything from the Southern hospitality to the entertainment options,” says Jennifer Moore, event team lead at eClinicalWorks. “We always provide opportunities for our attendees to enjoy the city itself.” The Nashville Convention & Visitors Corporation assisted with information booths at the meeting so attendees could learn of various free-time entertainment options.
The historic Grand Ole Opry served as the site for eClinicalWorks’ keynote speech, given by the company’s CEO and founder. “Having the keynote at the Grand Ole Opry is a bucket-list item, you feel like you’re part of history,” says Moore. “For us to be there and see the gold albums on the wall and to know that Dolly Parton sang on this stage, it was magical in a lot of ways. People truly loved it.”
The city also has a vibrant medical community, including HCA Healthcare and Lifepoint Health, companies that are clients of eClinicalWorks. “They truly appreciated the fact that we were in their hometown, and we were very proud to be in their hometown,” says Moore. “I don’t think (their presence in the city) made us choose to go there, but it was one of the added perks. People (from those companies) knew we were there and that allowed them to bring more attendees and welcome us to their city.”
Like other top medical meeting destinations, Los Angeles has a rich infrastructure of medical organizations, including UCLA Health, Orthopaedic Institute for Children, Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute and the Los Angeles Medical Center. And opening in August in the heart of UCLA’s campus is the new 254-room UCLA Meyer & Renee Luskin Conference Center, which will host medical meetings in 25 meeting rooms and a total of 25,000 sf of meeting space, equipped with advanced AV and videoconferencing technology.
Genetic testing company Natera, based in San Carlos, California, finds L.A. to be ideal for its consultant board meetings and national sales meeting.
“We have several employees and doctors (flying in from overseas) and we try to look for locations where airports have lots of direct flights, so that’s one component. And L.A. has a major airport that’s easy to get to,” notes Connie Cruz, MAE, marketing manager, global events. “L.A. also has great nightlife and a lot of activities, so that way after the meetings are done there are many opportunities for our doctors and our employees to also have fun without having to travel very far.”
Accordingly, Cruz looks for hotels that are in walking distance of entertainment. She also needs hotels to be flexible with logistical details and support a significant number of breakouts. “We can have last-minute room list changes because the doctors have a lot of last-minute requests,” she says. “We use 300 guest rooms (for the national meeting) and we need anywhere between 20–25 breakout rooms. Our group likes a lot of small breakout rooms, and finding a hotel that can meet that is important.”
Cruz has found the 628-room Loews Hollywood Hotel, with 76,000 sf of flexible meeting space, to be accommodating on all these counts. Yet another site criterion has become a familiar one in the industry: the ability and willingness to work within compliance guidelines. Natera became a public company in July, Cruz notes, and the “pharma code is new territory for us.” C&IT