For the past 6 years, Lesley Williams has been watching and helping BestCities grow and become the organization that it is today. Considering her long list of contributions to helping the community thrive, we sat with her and talked about the highlights of her time here.
How long ago did you start working with BestCities? Do you remember the first project you worked on?
I have known BestCities since 2010 and had several chances to work with the BestCities team when I was Head of Business Tourism for Marketing Edinburgh. It wasn’t until July 2017 that I officially joined BestCities as part of the business development team, and I worked closely with my great friend and colleague Jane Cunningham. I don’t actually remember the very first project I worked on – most likely the Global Forum that year which took place in Tokyo. I took over as MD in January 2020 and that first project I do remember clearly – it was survival!
What’s the most memorable moment you had with BestCities over the years?
That’s a tough question as there have been many. Although I took over the MD post at the start of 2020, my first “outing” as MD wasn’t until our Global Forum in Madrid in December 2021. That’s because I took the role just before pandemic hit and everything moved online.
I remember distinctly my very first in-person Board Meeting which was held in Dublin in May 2022. What was magical about that meeting was the fact that even though our partner cities had not met in person for over 2 years, their vision for BestCities was united and unwavering. The consensus about what the Alliance stands for and the direction it should take was unanimous and testament to the strong bond within this amazing group of cities who seek to collaborate and share best practices not just for their own benefit but for the benefit of the entire industry.
How have you seen the alliance evolve over the years?
BestCities as an Alliance started in 2000, 10 years before I first got to work with them. The main foundations – collaboration, knowledge-sharing, standards, and thought leadership – have stayed consistent throughout the years.
But as with any organization, there were also a lot of changes, mostly around the how and the what. For example, the Global Forum started as a sales workshop but is now one of the most anticipated conferences for associations in our partner destinations. It has become an event that seeks to educate and help build industry professionals to have more meaningful connections. This means there are more best practices to share and more peers to share it with.
Convention bureaus have also had to change becoming more than just service providers. What we offer now is a genuine partnership, buying into the overall mission and objectives of every client, connecting them with the right people and working alongside them to meet common goals. Far more rewarding and purposeful, helping to create more impact for everyone.
Our current focus on legacy and sustainability has made the Alliance a leader in the field and a trusted go-to for destinations and associations. We continue to advocate for business events to have a positive impact, recognizing that being intentional with the planning can help destinations and the communities within them thrive.
The theme for the upcoming Global Forum next year in Melbourne is “Creating Connections with Purpose,” and I think that beautifully sums up what the Alliance is all about.
What has been your favourite BestCities event or initiative?
There are so many wonderful opportunities presented in every initiative and event that it’s tough to just zero in on one! Our very own Global Forums always bring the most amazing experiences, and visiting our partner destinations is always special.
IMEX Frankfurt also stands out for me despite how exhausted I am after each event. Everyone is there, allowing us to hold our Board Meetings, our Strategic Business Development Group Meetings, and the annual BestCities Breakfast event for clients and media. This year being at IMEX also provided an opportunity for to meet with our new Strategic Thinkers Group – all of these happening even before the show started!
Every year it gave me the opportunity to catch up with the BestCities Team (working remotely we don’t see eachother that often), as well as industry colleagues, collaborators, and clients from across the globe.
As for initiatives, we’ve all done an amazing job of creating a positive impact through business events. Working with ICCA on the Incredible Impacts Programme is a definite standout. The Madrid Challenge and all the work the partner destination continue to undertake in their own organizations have also contributed positively to the industry.
I want to give a huge shout-out to GainingEdge, who delivered the BestCities Impact Measurement Report and also to partner destinations – the Copenhagen Legacy Lab, the MadridPLUS tool, and the recent Impact Study undertaken by Vancouver – all available on the BestCities website!
Why should global destinations consider joining BestCities?
We’re always on the lookout for cities that can contribute to the future not just of BestCities and the Alliance, but of the partners and the community surrounding it as well.
So If you believe in the power of collaboration and advocate for putting legacy and sustainability at the forefront of every activity, if you are a city that wants global exposure and growth, BestCities is for you.
What will you miss most about BestCities?
BestCities has the best people in it, and I will miss everyone, especially the teams I directly worked with throughout my journey here as well as the people I met and built relationships with from our partner destinations. I will miss the camaraderie, the discussions, the debates, the fun, and the endless source of inspiration and learning.
What’s next on the horizon for you?
I am more inclined to take on smaller ad hoc projects moving forward.
I have just completed a Data Science and Visualisation course at Edinburgh College (thoroughly recommended!) and am keen to explore where that takes me. I was inspired to take this course because I wanted to build skills that would allow me to efficiently report on the positive impact created by meetings. We need facts and figures to get our points across, and this course is perfect for that because it focused on analyzing, interpreting, and visualizing data in a way that tells the story effectively. In a way, it’s a form of data journalism.
I will remain a consultant with GainingEdge, which is a real bonus as it means I will continue to work with my great BestCities colleagues Nigel, Tia, Marieke, and Caryn as well as the rest of the GainingEdge network. I am also privileged to work with Meet4Impact and GainingEdge on an interesting legacy project.