Unethical Bidding Is Becoming A Big Problem For Associations

Destinations play hard to win association meetings and events. But what happens when the playbook is cast aside and rules of the game no longer apply?

Bidding for association business is a time consuming and expensive task for Convention Bureaus – from engaging local hosts and building a local industry community to support events, to the labor intensive process of submitting bid documents. Industry best practices are widely understood when competing for international meetings and events, whereby the association will select one destination from each country to go forward and bid.

Despite global associations having in their constitutions specific criteria by which CVBs and DMOs are expected to abide, the occurrence of unethical bidding is becoming more frequent, in both mature and emerging markets. While most CVBs follow the guidelines within constitutions to the letter, the goal posts can be changed unexpectedly by the association – often after much time, labor, and financial investment has already been made. An association ignoring its own guidelines is a contradiction and a point of confusion and contention amongst CVBs who have been on the wrong end of this practice. It raises the question, if an association is not adhering to the guidelines and standards they set, why should anyone else? More so CVBs who are also flaunting the criteria – all in the name of a win – need to be taken to task. It’s in the best interests of them and their destinations to follow the rules.

“While things may start out on a level playing field, the rule book could, unexpectedly, be thrown out mid-game,” says Karen Bolinger, CEO of the Melbourne Convention Bureau and partner of BestCities Global Alliance. “That gives competitor cities that are willing to ignore the standard code of conduct a questionable advantage.” Transparency in bidding has been common practice for many years by the vast majority, but with the recent emergence of questionable practices, consideration of a universal code of ethics may be timely and necessary.

The concept of unethical bidding has climbed the mainstream media agenda in the past year, with allegations of corruption in FIFA’s award of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar. In recent months FIFA’s president has spoken out stating that, as the governing body, they should be ensuring the bidding process for future World Cups is bullet proof. The same standard applies in business events, yet we are seeing those standards slip on both sides.

The reasons for associations in question not abiding by their own rules will likely vary. International meeting destinations have cited numerous examples of unethical bidding practices. They run the gamut from the offer of financial incentives to bids being accepted after the submission deadline has passed. There are even related incidences where CVBs and local hosts, who hold influential relationships with association board members, are sharing competitor bids.

According to Michael Drake, Director of Sales, Meetings and Conventions at Tourism Vancouver, another partner of BestCities Global Alliance, “We do see questionable bidding practices, but this only serves to strengthen our support of an industry-wide code of conduct. Our team has built strong relationships with local hosts, and this helps us maintain close and trusting ties with the local ambassadors who support us, our BestCities alliance members and fellow colleagues in ICCA. The global market is closely connected, and this is why we strive to keep Vancouver a model CVB for bidding ethics.”

As a leading Alliance of the world’s top convention bureaus, BestCities Global Alliance and its partners collectively strive to offer association clients the highest standard of service and business practices. Strong ethical standards are at the core of their partnership ethos. They also work with associations to not only deliver successful events which exceed delegate targets, but also ensure the event has a wider, and more meaningful impact on the meeting destination… a legacy that might be carried on the association’s next destination. That concept in itself carries a more ethical obligation.

BestCities board members and partners are committed to working with associations who align themselves with these standards, as opposed to contradicting not only their bid criteria within constitutions, but also the values and principles many of them stand for.


Written by Jeanna Hofmeister, on behalf of BestCities and PCMA www.pcma.org