Later this month, Saratoga Springs again will play host to a technical conference for the semiconductor industry, as it has each May since 2011.
Todd Garofano, president of the Saratoga Convention and Tourism Bureau, sees the conference as a feather in the city and county’s cap, since the multi-day meeting, known as the SEMI Advanced Semiconductor Manufacturing Conference, used to be held in “tier-one destinations” and “never [in] the same location twice.”
SEMI, the trade group for manufacturers that supply the micro- and nano-electronics industries, says big-picture and technical talks are on the agenda. Some 350 attendees are expected.
Garofano cited the meeting as an example of his group’s involvement in regional economic development efforts, writing in an email that the bureau collaborates with recognized development agencies to “attract and/or develop meetings, events and conferences that target industries and/or clusters who do business (or can potentially do business) in the region.”
I had queried Garofano about groups like his taking a seat at the economic development table, as suggested in a new report prepared by the travel news website Skift and Meetings Mean Business, an industry coalition.
Traditionally, convention and tourism bureaus were seen as “a little bit of fluff” by local officials, according to the report. Their job was to encourage fraternal or professional organizations to bring their annual confab to town – the VFW, the Dental Association, the Social Studies Council. The hope was that aside from the immediate economic impact of such get-togethers, attendees would like what they saw and return again as tourists.
But as the Skift report made clear, many locales now boast new convention centers, hotels and other amenities. So the smart convention and tourism bureau looks to local assets – academics, research hubs, government experts – to offer meeting planners ways to enhance their program content while also burnishing the locale’s business reputation.
Michele Vennard, longtime head of the Albany County Convention & Visitors Bureau, calls it a shift away from the old “heads and beds” approach to recognize the importance of destination management and marketing.
The latter means making a “conscious effort to develop ‘X’ – whatever ‘X’ is” that an area wants to embrace as its strengths, and then working with businesses and institutions in those fields to land “narrow” (single sector) and “deep” (300 to 400 people over three to four days) conferences, she said, all the while asking, “How can we attract your business here.”
Like Garofano, Vennard says her group has a working relationship with established economic development organizations. “That’s where we need to be … to make those kinds of decisions,” she said.
Vennard indicated she forwarded copies of the Skift report to representatives of partner groups. Although “we do sit at the [economic development] table,” she said, a lot of potential business “flies under the radar.”
“We always need to do more,” she said.
Marlene Kennedy is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in her column are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach her at [email protected].