Ambassador Programs – friend or foe of associations?

Thomas Reiser, International Society on Thrombosis and Haemostasis (ISTH)

Ambassador Programs – friend or foe of associations?

Ambassador programs have been around for many years, if not decades. Sometimes they come about thanks to very motivated volunteers who are passionate about bringing congresses to their cities. Others are very well organized and structured programs run by convention bureaus or centers who target leaders in certain fields in a particular destination who can be encouraged (and supported) to attract congresses.

There are many excellent examples around the world where ambassador programs are done “responsibly”.

What do I mean by this?

These programs focus on a triple bottom line – that the association/congress has attractive benefits and be successful, that the local community in the field benefits and ultimately that means that the destination (in a much wider sense) will benefit.

Ultimately, this leads to a most sustainable result – the organization that brings its meeting to the destination will strategically develop, the local community will be strengthened in itself but also in support of the organization and the global field, and the destination will reap benefits beyond the congress coming to town.

This may be as far reaching as additional business being brought to the destination (i.e. companies choosing it for operation centers), global visibility, a strengthened research community, etc.

Unfortunately, there are also other examples where ambassador programs are set up to ruthlessly bring a congress to a destination disregarding any of the synergistic aspects outlined above. Granted, if a congress is ultimately attracted it may be good for the local business tourism community and another step towards meeting an annual business development target.

But at what cost to the other stakeholders in this equation?

As an association executive who is concerned about his organization making destination decisions that are supportive of the mission and overall strategic priorities, I can just say that the latter example can be enormously disruptive. I cannot recount how often the only question is who from a particular city is maybe a member of our organization and could be approached locally to lead a bid. And that is only where the lobbying starts.

The approach may be understandable to a certain degree but there is a lack of responsibility from a destination and a lack of understanding of the importance of becoming a true partner and create success beyond simply getting a meeting contract onto its books.

Clearly a more long-term/big-picture/holistic approach can and should be chosen for ambassador programs and they should be seen more as a capacity building/strengthening exercise than a simple sales function. And although it may take a bit longer to get congresses to a destination it will undoubtedly position a destination differently (value-added) and it will become a much more self-sustainable approach and therefore more viable – not just for the associations/congresses that will come to a destination but the entire destination/city/country and local professional community in any given field.

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