Innovations in the mobile telecommunications and the ICT sectors are transforming the way in which people see and experience cities. Take Barcelona, which is rapidly becoming as known for its smart city infrastructure as it is for its beaches, laid-back atmosphere, modernist architecture and crowded pedestrian street, Las Ramblas. The Catalan city is home to the flagship Mobile World Congress, a trade fair hosted every year by the association of mobile operators, GSMA, and the event has helped put it on the map as a centre for mobile and IT industries.

It is a model that is being replicated throughout Europe, where some cities are becoming as famous for their trade shows as they are for their architecture, cultural heritage and culinary delicacies. 

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In Germany, cities such as Cologne and Hanover draw crowds to annual events including gaming event Gamescom and computer expo CeBit. These provide opportunities for foreign investors to tap into the potential of associated industries, such as hospitality and transportation. But, equally importantly, they provide the perfect opportunity for a city to showcase itself as a location for business investment, proving that it can deliver the type of social and cultural life that will entice people to live and work there.

“An independent international study commissioned by the city of Cologne demonstrated, in 2014, that top-class decision-makers from companies all over the world value Cologne as an important venue for meetings, trade fairs and congresses,” says Gerald Boese, CEO of the city's Koelnmesse exhibition centre.

“Cologne is becoming increasingly popular with congress organisers from abroad – especially our British neighbours and companies from the US. Together with the city of Cologne, companies and institutions, we are working to make it even more attractive as a business location and to attract foreign investors. We are pooling our advertising efforts abroad and co-operating closely with the Cologne Convention Bureau," he adds. 

Over in Spain, according to Barcelona City Council, the city has a long and proven track record of public-private partnerships organising large events and urban developments. This is now evolving into a strategy that aims to foster innovation and entrepreneurship. The Mobile World Congress, which is to be held in Barcelona every year until 2018, is benefiting the city’s rich ICT ecosystem, as well as its image and the quality of life of its citizens. As a result, Barcelona has become increasingly attractive to ICT firms in recent years.

Crowd pleasers

Moscow has also been developing a name as an events city. “Nowadays, the meetings industry, including attracting international events and conventions to Moscow, plays a crucial role in creating a positive investment image of the city,” says Ksenya Boykova, director-general at the Moscow Convention Bureau.

“Moscow offers a wide range of business opportunities, and more and more investors from all over the world are discovering the unique appeal of the Russian market, courtesy of the many different events held in our city. The fact that large-scale annual international business as well as investment events are now being held in Moscow is in no small measure due to the city’s administration becoming more active in this area and making the events industry a key part of Moscow’s FDI strategy,” she adds.

Other locations are keen to develop their ability to host major events and conventions as well.

In the Welsh city of Cardiff, there are plans to create an international convention venue for up to 1500 delegates as part of a 12,000-seat indoor arena. Speaking in 2014, a city council representative said: “The economic benefits of having such a centre in Cardiff cannot be underestimated, with major job creation during the construction phase, followed by full-time jobs on its completion as well as employment opportunities for all those sectors, such as hospitality and retail, which will be needed when it opens.”

Cardiff will face strong local competition from the nearby cities of Newport and Bristol, however, both of which are exploring proposals for arenas and convention centres. The neighbouring Welsh city of Newport, which hosted last year’s NATO summit, has unveiled its own plans for a convention centre. And across the Severn Estuary in England, plans for a 12,000-capacity performance venue, the Bristol Arena, have been announced. 

According to the Bristol Temple Quarter Enterprise Zone, the arena will be a catalyst for local development and will attract millions of pounds of investment to the city as a whole. A transport strategy is already being devised and work will start on the site early in 2016, with the arena set to open its doors in 2017.

In the right light

Hosting events and conventions does not assure a location's success, however. A major event provides a city with an opportunity to showcase itself, but with this visibility there is also a spotlight highlighting any shortcomings, too. There used to be a standing joke at one particular trade event in Europe that it did not matter which week the city hosted the event, its public transport workers always went on strike. And, although Barcelona has become a popular destination for the mobile telecoms industry, it has had to take steps to help the many convention delegates who become victims of the city's notorious pickpockets each year. 

In Russia, the challenge can be geopolitical. However, as Ms Boykova points out: “The business community, including our international partners, realise that the current situation in the international political arena is temporary. They share the opinion that Russia, including Moscow, is a strategic market with unique opportunities and they have no intention of halting co-operation.

"From this perspective, international events held in the city play an important role and provide a unique opportunity to discuss economic issues and enhance economic co-operation. As for scientific co-operation, the international community has always recognised the significance of Moscow. Our city is an integral part of the world of science, and international conventions in this field are great forums for sharing knowledge and experience.”

Good accessibility is vital to helping make a city attractive for major events and conventions. On that matter, Mr Boese says: “For an international trade fair location, such as Cologne, excellent connections to the transport network are especially important. After all, our exhibitors and visitors want to spend their time doing business at the trade fair, not travelling there and back.

"Cologne-Bonn Airport guarantees good links with the rest of the world. It’s one of Europe’s most modern airports and is a hub for low-cost carriers that fly to many destinations across the continent. It takes only 20 minutes to get from the airport to the Koelnmesse exhibition grounds and the city centre by train or taxi. And it takes less than an hour by train to get to Frankfurt Airport.”