Orlando CVB Markets International Meetings Medical meeting planners who usually rely on a big influx of international attendees are facing tough times. Stricter visa regulations, threats of war and terrorism, and other crises are making it more difficult for overseas healthcare professionals to attend U.S. meetings. But the American Academy of Family Physicians has a powerful ally in its bid to attract thousands of overseas physicians to the U.S. for its October 2004 meeting in Orlando: the local CVB. In conjunction with its annual Scientific Assembly, AAFP is hosting the triennial World Conference of Family Doctors, known more familiarly as Wonca 2004. Wonca, which is expected to attract at least 4,000 physicians and their guests, includes sessions on topics such as AIDS, bioterrorism, and smoking cessation.

When AAFP first considered bidding for the rights to host Wonca, convention management division director Sondra Biggs decided to approach the Orlando CVB to see how they could work together. “We needed all the help we could get,” she admits. “It’s hard to promote overseas, and it’s expensive.” The CVB eagerly offered its resources, including marketing muscle in seven international offices.

“We have tried for five or six years to find ways to use assets that we have around the world to help our customers who are interested in building their international attendance,” says William C. Peeper, president of the Orlando bureau. He says many planners “are scratching their heads and saying, ‘How do we increase our international component?’ and a lot of them say it’s too much work.”

To target prospective attendees, AAFP and the Orlando CVB have been traveling to regional Wonca conferences and exhibiting. AAFP promotes the meeting; the CVB talks up the destination. At a meeting in London last June, a representative from the bureau’s Brussels office provided valuable multilingual help. The two organizations also have visited Melbourne, Australia, and plan to exhibit at regional meetings this year in Slovenia, Spain, and China. A member of the Orlando team happens to speak Mandarin Chinese fluently and will accompany AAFP’s staff to the China conference. (The trip to China is scheduled for November and is on for now, despite SARS.)