How can a conference act as a catalyst for a flourishing destination?

On 12 and 13 September 2019, the MICE workshop took place during the Travel to Tomorrow summit in Bruges. Together with the organisers of Supernova – Nora Weytens of Flanders DC and Marieke Sopers of Scale-Ups EU – and moderator Samme Allen, Visit Flanders supported this session with the aim of thinking about how international conferences can have a positive impact on our destination.

The workshop set the tone with an interesting explanation of the Supernova conference, followed by a more hands-on exercise. Thanks to the attendance of different profiles such as entrepreneurs, local authorities, academics, sector federations, meeting planners and conference agencies, a range of interesting discussions made it an interesting afternoon.

They sometimes say that the best ideas come at random. And this is how the idea for Supernova came into being. This unusual conference organised by Flanders DC and Scale-Ups EU took place for the first time in Antwerp in 2018. Supernova can best be described as a hybrid conference form that contains elements specific to both an event and a festival. With technology and innovation as its main themes, supported by speakers such as marketing guru Seth Godin or the Belgian co-founder of Shazam, Philip Inghelbrecht, Supernova can be said to be a conference with social relevance. The organisation focused on the B2B audience, including international speakers, a trade fair for professionals and a pitching event where scale-ups can present themselves to venture capital funds. However they did not lose sight of the B2C audience, for example by showing them new technologies. So SuperNova became a big event, accessible to a large audience.

Supernova in numbers

  • 30,000 visitors
  • 140 demos
  • 120 participating companies
  • 16 different locations and pavilions
  • 47 speakers
Summit 19 - 1 © AF-Fotografie

“Niche-conferences are breaking out of the walls. It is important to search for relevance for a bigger target.” — participant MICE-workshop

To put the ‘theory’ into practice, this workshop ended with a hands-on exercise. The participants started working in groups with the methodology Empathy Mapping (see picture) and each analysed one target group – Resident, Participant, Entrepreneur or Tourist – keeping the Travel to Tomorrow concept in mind. In this way, the participants got a better insight into the perceptions, feelings and thoughts of the target group. In addition, the pains and gains that the target groups can experience when organizing an international conference were addressed.

Empathy Map Canvas © Dave Gray, xplane

Six major take-aways to brainstorm further:

  1. The principle of ‘growth’ does not always need go hand in hand with ‘more’. Conferences can also grow and evolve in different ways. Hybrid forms are a good example of this.
  2. It is important to have a mix of target groups from your city and destination.
  3. Always ask yourself how you can improve the involvement of both residentsand entrepreneurs in your conference. Don’t forget the tourists and look for ways to get them to participate in this event.
  4. International conferences require a lot of time, money and energy. It is important to plan these correctly in time and space throughout Flanders. We see, for example, that there is a similar conference in Leuven in terms of theme, namely &And. This will take place in May in the same year as Supernova. Do these conferences compete with each other or are they complementary? Will this remain feasible in the long term? It’s good to think about this.
  5. There must be a match between the content of the conference and what the city stands for. This way you get greater involvement of both the entrepreneurs and the residents.
  6. Planning and working together with various partners and stakeholders is key to the success of your conference. Local authorities play a key role in this.
© AF-Fotografie – moderator Samme Allen in het midden.jpg

QUOTES by participants

‘If the community invests 18 million in a new conference centre, they should give something back to the community’.

‘Niche conferences break out of their regular dimensions. It’s important to look for relevance for a larger audience.’

‘We need to inspire and facilitate even more conference attendees to reduce their ecological footprint.’

‘Sitting and listening is no longer relevant. We need to offer a more diverse experience.’

‘We must also dare to ask deeper questions and initiate ethical discussions about technology: ‘Because we can do it, we will?’’

For more information or questions, please contact: Visit Flanders Convention Bureau via

Photography: AF-Fotografie