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Associations Forum brings study tour to Sydney


American association senior executives arrived in Sydney last week to share ideas with their Australian counterparts as part of an impressive four-day study tour.

Eight international guests from the American Society of Associations Executives (ASAE), a membership organisation of more than 21,000 association executives and industry partners that represents 10,000 organisations, took part in the study tour, which was the first of its kind to be held alongside the Associations Forum National Conference (AFNC).

Organised by Association Forum and supported by Business Events Sydney (BESydney), the study tour included an ‘Australian Familiarisation’ session held at the NSW Trade and Investment office. The guests learned about topics such as history, politics, the economy, culture, sport and the Australian associations sector from National Director of the American Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Charles Blunt.

In addition to attending the two-day AFNC, ASAE executives engaged in a ‘Meeting of the Minds’ seminar, where they discussed issues and challenges facing associations with Australian representatives.

American Society of Association Executives, chief global development officer, Greta Kotler said the seminar highlighted the fact that Australian and US associations are very similar, with just a few legal and regulatory differences.

“On the whole, the issues we are facing in our organisations, such as membership retention, adopting new technologies and revenue generation are very similar,” she said.

“We’ve found that Australians are particularly good at governance, in terms of ongoing training and best practice. Also, many of the American delegates have been able to meet face-to-face with representatives from their Australian counterpart associations, which has been a great opportunity.”

Associations Forum general manager, John Peacock said that the discussions between Australian and ASAE representatives were incredibly valuable.

“We’ve learned how the various associations are tackling issues such as membership retention and recruitment, effective governance, the CEO/Board relationship, regulatory frameworks, marketing and technology to name a few,” he said.

“In particular, we’ve found that American associations are a step ahead in terms of implementing technology and social media. For example, many US associations are now using private social media platforms on their websites to create further value for their members. I think Australian associations are still exploring this idea. While many of the issues our two countries are facing are very similar, it is always valuable to hear the US perspective, especially since their population is much greater.”

Aside from attending the seminar and the AFNC, Kotler said the American delegates enjoyed admiring Sydney’s famous harbour and visiting its many tourist attractions.

“Some of us experienced the Harbour Bridge with BridgeClimb Sydney and went to the Blue Mountains. We’ve enjoyed spending time near the harbour, walking along Bondi Beach and going to some of the outdoor cafes. We’ve also eaten a lot of delicious food in Sydney and have enjoyed trying some Australian wines,” she said.

“On the whole, visiting Australia has been extremely worth it, even though the distance can seem daunting.”

In addition to supporting the study tour, BESydney ran a pre-conference seminar to promote the benefits of bidding and hosting international association conferences, which featured a first-hand account from the CEO of Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA) Claire Hewat, who was involved in hosting the successful 16th International Congress of Dietetics in Sydney last year.

“Our success as a business event destination is intrinsically linked to our understanding and relationships with the local and international association market,” said BESydney CEO, Lyn Lewis-Smith. “The study tour and the seminar are fantastic opportunities to connect with and understand the sophisticated American association market, engage with our innovative local sector, and discuss the wide-ranging benefits, for both national associations and the State, of hosting international conferences.

“Association events offer huge benefits beyond just the tourism dollars they generate – many of which flow directly to associations. From knowledge exchange and government acknowledgement to investment opportunities and general profile-raising, international conferences present enormous opportunities that can help our local associations and economy to thrive!”

Sydney has long been a popular destination for association conferences, a fact Lewis-Smith attributes to the city’s proven track record, innovative research institutions, diverse industry leaders and the range of exciting and versatile venues options.

The AFNC was held from 15-17 July at the Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre. In its eighth year, the conference was attended by over 400 associations and charity executives, who had the opportunity to hear new ideas from industry experts, meet over 50 not-for-profit sector suppliers showcasing leading products and services and network with likeminded peers.

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