Jane Cunningham Reflects on 12 Years with BestCities Global Alliance

For more than a decade, Jane Cunningham has served as director of community engagement for BestCities Global Alliance, a key role that focuses on connecting communities and creating open and trusted environments for exchange. The industry powerhouse – who is also a certified virtual facilitator – is passionate about the positive impact meetings can have on organizations and participants, and the lasting legacy they can leave in host communities.

We sat down with Jane to reminisce about her memorable moments at BestCities.

Jane Cunningham reflects on 12 years with BestCities


How long ago did you start working with BestCities? 

I interviewed for the job in 2009, when I was six months pregnant. It was a new business development position and only a 12-month contract – so it’s remarkable that I’m here talking about my journey 12 years on. The alliance, as you can imagine, does feel like an extended family. I have to thank Richard Yore with Yore Solutions Inc., and Gary Grimmer with GainingEdge, for making it happen. 


Do you remember the first project you worked on?

I remember that our first IMEX dinner consisted of only two people. Jane Vong Holmes with GainingEdge reminded me of that – I seem to only remember the good stuff! Following that event, we had an amazing workshop in Edinburgh and then Copenhagen. We’ve evolved and grown since those early days, and I’m proud of the global, pioneering events we host now. 


Can you share a couple of memorable moments you’ve had with BestCities over the years?

The Experience. In 2014 the BestCities workshop took place in Cape Town. It remains very special, as the majority of our partners and clients had never before visited Cape Town, so we had the great pleasure of experiencing a wonderful destination. One evening, we walked on the beach together – just took off our shoes, rolled up our trousers and chatted. It was amazing.

Jane Cunningham on the beach of Cape Town in 2015


The Inspiration. I was lucky to be invited to speak at a side meeting of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in 2018. I shared the results from a GainingEdge and BestCities project about creating accessible destinations, which was inspired by Venus Ilagan, visiting fellow and consultant The Harvard Law School’s Project on Disability, and Silva Taurer, regional manager of the Digital Build Environment Institute. It was an eye-opener to what our industry could do to build a sustainable society through congresses and the communities that benefit. I was totally inspired by the stories shared and the drive for better communication and collaboration between government and civil society. 

Jane Cunningham in front of the UN COPD banner in 2018

"It is an evolution of thinking, we need to do more to be more inclusive. I have not used destinations that don't have the right attitude. If you want to have every expert at your conference, you must do more to ensure everyone is welcome."

- Silvia Taurer, Regional Manager Digital Built Environment Institute


How have you seen the Alliance evolve over the years?

From an Excel spreadsheet of contacts to an active global community, BestCities has built an amazing reputation as a trusted alliance of convention bureaus around the world. The shift from supplier to partner has also marked a massive transformation in this ever-changing destination and global meeting landscape.


What has been your favourite BestCities event or initiative?

It has to be the Global Forum! The event inspires lifelong friendships, networking and professional connections, valuable education, inspiring debates on timely issues… and we all leave happy and fulfilled from spending that time together. It truly is a magical event.

This year felt very special. After a couple years of connecting our community virtually, we were able to meet face-to-face in Madrid. Twenty-five international associations, BestCities’ 12 destination partners, the extended Madrid team and our engaged industry journalists, as well as my colleagues Lesley Williams and Nigel Brown.  

The alliance is committed to driving meeting legacy, which is why we created the Madrid Challenge. As a result, our partners signed up to evolving commitments that focus on sustainable destination development and destination engagement, and association representatives signed up to include legacy in their RFPs. I could not finish my time with BestCities on a more rewarding high!

The Incredibles - Jane Cunningham, Lesley Williams, and Nigel Brown at the Global Forum in Madrid

By the way, the picture of Lesley, Nigel and I is our “Incredibles” stance. At the ICCA Congress in Houston, we dressed up as The Incredibles with the strapline “creating incredible impacts together.” Looks like we did it again! 


Why do you think global destinations should consider joining BestCities?

BestCities is ideal for destinations that are open to sharing intel and can commit to being partners with the alliance and advancing the meetings industry. BestCities partner destinations are part of a tight-knit global community driven by a bigger purpose to create amazing experiences that benefit conferences and host communities alike.  


What will you miss most about BestCities?

I’ll miss the people from BestCities’ partner destinations, head office team and the international association community that has supported the alliance and been there as a sounding board to greenlight or workshop our many new ideas!  I have received an amazing number of personal notes in a special book from Madrid. If ever I need a pickup, that is where I will turn!!


What is next on the horizon?

Well, I am not leaving the industry so I will be not far away. I am a passionate advocate of the power of conferences and their role in destination transformation, and that will remain important in my next role while looking for opportunities to inspire and support!