The European Congress of Radiology has grown to become one of the largest and most innovative medical gatherings anywhere in the world. Hosted at the Austria Center Vienna each year, it attracts over 28,000 participants from more than 130 countries. It has huge importance for Austria from an economic and research point of view. However, the international meetings industry is currently changing at an incredible pace, which calls for new approaches – both this week at the 25th anniversary event and in future.
Large-scale congress uses neighbouring buildings
“The ECR is always moving with the times and forward-looking in everything it does. We make the most of the available resources, using them optimally while keeping the environmental impact to a minimum,” said Peter Baierl, Executive Director of the European Society of Radiology. This includes using existing buildings near the Austria Center Vienna such as the Tech Gate Tower, the Donau-City Church and Hotel Melia. Unlike at many other events, a conventional poster presentation format has not been used since 2003 thanks to the availability of specially developed proprietary software. “These days it is just not appropriate to fill up entire halls with printed materials and posters, just to end up disposing of them as soon as the congress is over. This is a waste of resources and places an unprecedented burden on infrastructure. Conferences venues and fairs do not need to offer more space and ever larger halls, instead they need to come up with smart solutions that are in-keeping with the times,” Baierl added.
Much more than just a series of lectures
The days when specialist congresses were little more than a series of lectures are long gone. “Our venue offers the kind of variety not found anywhere else in Europe, with 24 halls and 180 rooms that allow us to respond to all kinds of creative requests,” Baumann-Söllner explained. Austria’s largest congress centre offers customers full service under one roof: from the ideal spaces and lounge areas to security, light and sound and excellent catering. There is also a high-performance WiFi network which can connect up to 35,000 devices simultaneously – an absolute must in the age of digital congresses. “In addition to learning new things, congress participants expect to be given the opportunity to interact with speakers and compare notes in a pleasant atmosphere. As a congress venue, we are always faced with the need to provide the right setting to facilitate this exchange,” Baumann-Söllner said.
Participant numbers continue to rise – but for how long?
As one of the largest congresses out there both in terms of participant numbers and turnover, the ECR has a slightly critical view of the trend towards “gigantism” in the currently booming meetings industry. “Future successes will come from investment in modern meetings technology. The number of people who will fly to Vienna for a congress at a total cost of several thousand euros is more likely to decline in future. And employers will prefer their people to participate in congresses digitally. Congresses will have to start future-proofing now, and put the necessary measures in place to contend with falling numbers of on-site participants. Larger halls are definitely not the solution,” Baierl confirmed. The ESR is also urging organisers to rethink the closed concepts currently in place for events and open up new ways for the general public to participate in them. Austria’s largest congress centre also sees this as the number one trend for the future: “We will open up the venue for the local population more and more over the next few years and want to support any congress organisers who are interested in striking out in new directions here,” said Baumann-Söllner in conclusion.
One radiology congress secures more than 500 jobs
A study published by the Institute for Advanced Studies (IHS) confirms the importance of the conference industry for the Viennese and national economy. Each year the ECR brings around 25,000 participants from all over Europe to the Austrian capital, something which has a clearly measurable, positive impact on tourism, hospitality and infrastructure. In Vienna alone, this translates into gross economic impact of around EUR 17m a year and around EUR 28m for Austria as a whole. In terms of employment in person years, these values equate to around 330 jobs created for the capital, or 509 nationwide by the ECR. On top comes investment in knowledge transfer by the ECR which comes to several times this total.