Known as the world's largest medical meeting, the Radiological Society of North America's annual conclave is held in Chicago every November. It could well earn the distinction of being the most international of U.S., too, with one-third of its professional attendees coming from outside of the U.S. If you do the math, that's about 10,000 visitors of the 62,000 total registrants (half professional, half exhibitors) who have become vital not only to the association's health and the annual meeting's success, but to advancements in radiology, according to Dave Fellers, CAE, executive director, RSNA.
Fellers discussed how RSNA is able to attract such a large international contingent year after year in the post-9/11 era at a session at the Professional Convention Management Association annual meeting in Toronto in January. As part of a panel about the U.S. Visit Program, he gave advice on how U.S. associations can attract — and maintain — an international clientele.
Start with offering quality and quantity of educational programs and standout exhibits — and promote their prestige. “We promote the ‘brand,’ and our brand is that we are the global arena in which to see, evaluate, and buy radiology equipment,” said Fellers.
Promote the destination and identify key attractions for international visitors. Despite the fact that RSNA is held every year in Chicago, “the destination is a draw,” says Fellers. “We create and print Chicago buttons that promote ‘RSNA 2006’ as giveaways and people love it.” RSNA also promotes the great opportunities for holiday shopping, since the annual meeting is always held the week after Thanksgiving.
Target and market to international prospects with information, information, and more information. “Our attendees compared the early days of the U.S.'s new fingerprinting requirements for passports and barriers for getting visas to the days of Hitler,” says Fellers. “So we wrote articles about it, educated our attendees through communications, and by the second year, we had few complaints.” RSNA's otherefforts include articles, print communications, advertisements, flyers, e-mails, and a Web site, all geared to international visitors.
Visit and exhibit at other international meetings related to your field. “My president and I visit five other international radiological conferences a year,” said Fellers, who attributes that visibility as critical to the North American meeting's success.
Focus on customer service: Treat international attendees with the utmost respect and make it easy for them to attend your meeting. A section of RSNA's Web site is dedicated to international attendees, providing travel support — including an easy registration process and hotel booking online — and visa assistance, which includes multiple links to government sites. It also includes a letter of invitation; visitors can print a standard letter, personalize the invitation, or request a mailed invitation to RSNA. Of course, it does not guarantee the issuance of a visa, added Fellers.
Use an international or overseas travel agent to offer packages to your meeting, making it more affordable for people to attend. RSNA uses a Paris-based travel agent (ESA Voyages) that provides travel and housing assistance for 3,000 international attendees.
Conduct focus groups with international attendees to find what they want and with exhibitors to find what they offer.
Offer something new every year. For example, RSNA has added WIFI lounges, sleeping lounges, translators/interpreters, technology programs, and an international reception.
Get to know federal officials — which can include representatives from the airport, customs, and Transportation Security Administration as well as embassies and consulates — to make sure they treat foreign attendees right. “We met with O'Hare airport officials, TSA, and customs to educate them about what RSNA is and how important it is to lessen the waits at the airport,” said Fellers.
Form an International Advisory Committee to guide you and help promote the meeting.
RSNA Annual Meeting
- Headquartered in Oak Brook, Ill.
- Represents radiologists and allied sciences
- Mission/focus is research and education
- 40,000 members (7,000 international)
- Staff of 155; budget of $38 million
- Holds the world's largest medical meeting, in Chicago every November
RSNA at a Glance
- 62,000 attendees (50% professional, 50% exhibitors)
- One-third of professional attendees are international
- Use 69 hotels and McCormick Place
- 760 exhibitors; 520,000 square feet
- 10,227 submissions; 213 scientific sessions; 300 refresher courses; 1,633 scientific papers; 638 posters; 1,425 education exhibits; 460 poster presentations
- More than 50% of all submissions are international
For more on handling international meetings, click here.