Vienna reported its second-best congress result in 2014. There were considerable increases the number of events compared to 2013, as well as in the resulting overnights and value-added generated. Nevertheless, the result fell just short of the record for 2012. This was the résumé of a press conference given by Director of Tourism Norbert Kettner and Christian Mutschlechner, head of the Vienna Tourist Board’s Vienna Convention Bureau, on Wednesday, April 15. During this press conference, Heinz W. Engl, Rector of the University of Vienna (which celebrates its 650th anniversary this year), gave an insight into the relationships between university involvement and the volume of congresses in Vienna.

“In 2014 the congress city of Vienna achieved significant increases in all key indicators,” reported Kettner.” [pullquote]The number of conferences and corporate events was up 6% to a total of 3,582, which represents an all-time high. The resulting overnights also rose by 6%, and the total of 1,490,695 was only slightly below the record for 2012. [/pullquote]The Austrian value-added generated by Vienna’s meetings industry increased 8% to 898.9 million euros, also the second-best figure after 2012.

This means that in 2014 the Vienna conference industry contributed 11% to Vienna’s total volume of 13.5 million overnights. It also secured a total of more than 17,000 year-round jobs in the whole of Austria. I would like to warmly congratulate all those involved in the ongoing success of Vienna’s tourism industry for this impressive overall performance. Vienna’s economy benefits enormously, and that far beyond the tourist sector, because it is common knowledge that congress delegates are a particularly big-spending travelling public. Last year they spent an average of 474 euros per head and overnight in Vienna. The comparable figure for all visitors to Vienna is about 250 euros.”

However, it is not only in with respect to their spending that Vienna’s congress delegates differ from holiday travelers. [pullquote]They are also travel much more frequently by plane: 72% of them come to Vienna by air, while the figure for other city tourists is just 42%. [/pullquote]In contrast to almost every other country in the world, Austria levies a flight tax which, according to Kettner, is a considerable competitive disadvantage. “Not only for the congress industry,” he emphasized, “but it is completely counter-productive for the implementation of one of the main objectives of the Tourism Strategy Vienna 2020. Our aim is to introduce direct flights to and from 20 additional major cities all over the world by this date as an essential condition for achieving two other objectives: growing overnights by 40% and boosting the net room revenues of the hospitality sector by 60%. This is why we carry out active airline marketing in cooperation with Vienna International Airport. The flight tax represents a considerable drawback in this context.”

Substantial revenues for companies and fiscal authorities throughout Austria

Of the 3,582 events staged in Vienna in 2014, 1,458 were congresses (+19%), 679 of them national (+25%), and 779 international (+15%). No fewer than 2,124 of the events (–2%) were corporate events (conferences and incentives), 832 of them national (+2%), and 1,292 international (–4%).

The value-added generated nationwide by all these events and their fiscal effects were calculated using the EVENT MODEL AUSTRIA developed by Martina Stoff-Hochreiner. Value-added in the amount of 898.9 million euros (+8%) includes all domestic turnover. This figure comprises both direct spending by event attendees, organizers, exhibitors and accompanying persons, as well as revenues resulting from events in “upstream” economic sectors (e.g. construction industry, foodstuffs and stimulants industry, printing industry, banks, insurance companies, telecommunications companies, etc.). In 2014 the Vienna convention sector generated tax revenues in the amount of 253.5 million euros, of which 166.9 million euros went to the federal government, 30.4 million euros to Vienna, and the remainder to the other Austrian provinces and local authorities.

Decisive factor behind Vienna's success

Decisive factor behind Vienna’s success: international and human medicine congresses

International congresses are an indispensable factor in the success story of the congress city of Vienna. For decades now, they have not only kept Vienna at the top of the relevant global rankings, but year after year have also been a decisive factor in the city’s congress report. In 2014 they accounted for just over a fifth of all events (22%), but attracted nearly half of all conference guests to Vienna (49%), generating 72% of congress overnights and 77% of the value-added generated by Vienna’s entire conference industry.

Congresses on human medicine themes are exceptionally important with respect to both international and national congresses in Vienna. The previous year they accounted for 20% of all congress events. The fields of economics and politics ranked in second place (15%), followed by natural sciences and technology (14%) ahead of congresses focusing on human disciplines, and the field of IT and communications. Apart from their sheer quantity, human medicine congresses make the biggest impact on all economic aspects of the Vienna convention business due to their large numbers of delegates.

A key factor for the volume of congresses in Vienna – not only, but particularly in the field of human medicine – is Vienna’s significance as a university city, with the University of Vienna occupying a leading position here. The decisive consideration in this context is that its achievements in research and teaching have a strong international impact. Norbert Kettner explains: “The competitive advantage of such a historic and continually cultivated reputation cannot be overstated. However, the role of the University of Vienna in the city’s congress sector extends far beyond that. By this I mean the active involvement of the academic community in congress acquisition, an activity carried out alongside work in their respective fields of expertise.”

University of Vienna: exemplary “all-round service” for congresses

Scientific congresses and conferences have always been closely linked to universities. Congresses not only facilitate international networking in various areas of expertise, but also cast an international spotlight on the university and its location or home city.

The University of Vienna recognized the multiple benefits of this, and in the 1990s began to expedite and support the organization of congresses. However, at that time many aspects of the legal environment of congress organization were still rather tricky, because as a federal institution the university had no basic infrastructure at its disposal. Following the granting of autonomy in 2002 and the subsequent transformation of the universities into independent, performance-oriented institutions with greater responsibilities, the University of Vienna carried out an internal needs analysis in the field of “events & congresses”, and went on to develop a business plan. The university gradually built up a complete range of services, from initial planning phase to congress follow up, and successively concentrated this task in its “Event Management”. Initially launched as a special project in the year 2007, after a successful trial run in 2013, it was finally permanently established as a service facility in the organization chart of the University of Vienna. In the meantime, this service is very much in demand both internally and externally.

In 2014 an external evaluation of the University of Vienna’s event management carried out by international experts from America and Germany arrived at the following conclusion: compared to similar facilities at universities both in Europe and in the USA, the service was assessed as being very advanced, and the congress department was even described as exemplary. This professional level was “rarely found at German universities”, and the event management of the University of Vienna “played a leading role in this sector in Austria and Germany.” Over 1,500 events were staged the previous year – and that in addition to regular research and teaching.

Overall, last year Vienna hosted a total of 1,458 national and international congresses, 434 of which (30%) at one of the universities, and more than half of them (246) at the University of Vienna. “The University of Vienna extensively supports the positioning of the City of Vienna as a leading congress city,” commented Rector Heinz W. Engl. “In 2014 a total of around 32,500 delegates from all over the world travelled to Vienna to attend national and international conferences and congresses held here. With events facilities and lecture halls at 63 different locations, the University of Vienna is one of the most important venues in Vienna – and indeed in Austria as a whole.”

Christian Mutschlechner, Director of the Vienna Convention Bureau (VCB) of the Vienna Tourist Board, emphasizes that “The University of Vienna is a stroke of luck for the VCB in a number of ways. Not only on account of its support for Vienna’s acquisition of congresses, but also due to its efficient in-house event management, which acts as a ‘Professional Congress Organizer’ for all the congresses held at any of its locations. It offers a ‘full service’ to congress organizers, ranging from making bookings, delegate registration, technical equipment and fitting-out of premises to logistics services, IT support, printing and web services all the way through to marketing activities and assistance with financing, sponsoring and budget control. This ‘comprehensive package’ ensures that organizers receive these services in optimal quality, because nobody knows the various premises better and has greater experience with their specific possibilities than such an ‘in-house’ event management.”

VCB gearing up for pharmaceutical industry’s planned disclosure of cash flows to physicians from 2016

One of the secrets of the VCB’s success is anticipating developments in the global convention business. The latest issue at the current time is the disclosure requirement for members of the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industry Associations (EFPIA) that comes into force in the year 2016. From this date, the association, to which nearly all the pharmaceutical companies in Europe belong, has obligated its members to publish on a voluntary basis any financial contributions made to physicians, preferably complete with names. This will also include payment of congress participationn fees. Christian Mutschlechner made the following point in this context: “Ever since October 2014, we have carried out a survey of relevant congress delegates in order to assess the possible effects of this measure, and so as to be able to develop strategies for dealing with it in good time. The findings of this survey will be incorporated into the Vienna Congress Survey which we produce every five years. It just been carried out again this year, and will be published together with the results of our survey.”

Congress Highlights Vienna 2015


European Congress of Radiology / 20.000 participants / 4. – 8.3.    Austria Center Vienna

22nd Annual Willem C. Vis International Commercial Arbitration Moot / 3.000 participants /  27.3. – 2.4.     University Vienna

European Geosciences Union / 12.000 participants / 12. – 17.4.    Austria Center Vienna

Pioneers Festival / 2.500 participants / 28. – 29.5.    Hofburg Vienna

Congress of the European Ophthalmological Society / 4.000 participants / 6. – 9.6.    Austria Center Vienna

Congress of the European Hematology Association / 10.000 participants / 11. – 14.6.    Reed Messe Wien

20th World Congress on Obesity Surgery / 2.500 participants / 26. – 29.8. / Hofburg Vienna

9th Congress of the European Federation of IASP Chapters – EFIC /      4.000 participants / 2. – 5.9.     Reed Messe Wien

ECI 2015 – 4th European Congress of Immunology / 6.000 participants / 6. – 9.9.     Austria Center Vienna

18th ECCO – 40th ESMO European Cancer Congress / 18.000 participants / 25. – 29.9.     Reed Messe Wien

International Bar Association 2015 Conference / 4.000 participants /      4. – 9.10.    Austria Center Vienna

Walk21: 16. International Conference on Walking and Liveable Communities / 1.000 participants / 20. – 23.10.    Vienna City HALL

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A long-time meetings industry addict, Gorazd is the Founder and owner of marketing and event agency Toleranca Marketing. He has many years of experience in planning, preparing and carrying out large international meetings and exhibitions. As the founder of the "Power to the Meetings" methodology, he still firmly believes in the power of live events and human to human communication. He is also the author of numerous articles and editor-in-chief of the meetings industry magazine Kongres Magazine.