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April 3, 2024

The Convention Center Global Landscape: A Dialogue with Industry Leaders

In a recent thought leadership session with Steve Mackenzie, industry leaders Rip Rippetoe, president and CEO of the San Diego Convention Center, and Maurits van der Sluis, COO and raad van bestuur of RAI Amsterdam, engaged in a profound discussion on the nuanced differences between convention centers in the United States and Europe.  We’re delving into their insights, highlighting funding models, ROI considerations and the challenges within the industry.  

Tip: first, watch the video interview here.  

Convention Center Funding in the U.S. and Europe

Funding models build a reliable revenue base that supports core programs and services. Convention centers rely on robust funding models to operate. Two unique perspectives aligned to reveal something fascinating: funding models for convention center operations are different in the United States and in Europe.  

A Tale of Bonds and Taxes in San Diego

The San Diego Convention Center’s funding model relies on bond measures backed by the transient occupancy tax, as described by Rip Rippetoe. This model, typical in the U.S., involves issuing bonds by the governing authority and repaying them through designated taxes. Convention centers across the United States rely on public funding for these bonds.  

The European Mosaic of Funding

Contrastingly, Maurits van der Sluis outlined the funding landscape in Europe, where convention centers operate under three distinct models:  

Private ownership, like RAI Amsterdam

Government ownership

Hybrid arrangements where venues are rented from the government  

This diversity reflects the distinct origins of convention centers in Europe, with many starting as profit-driven ventures.

The ROI Conundrum

The convention center landscape varies significantly between the United States and Europe, reflecting distinct approaches to success measurement and revenue generation. These differing perspectives underscore the diverse business models shaping convention center operations on both sides of the Atlantic.

San Diego's Destination-Centric Approach

Convention center success in the United States is often measured beyond operational profits. Economic development, tax contributions and job creation play a crucial role in defining success. Venues like the San Diego Convention Center function as catalysts for a city's economic impact, placing them at the heart of destination-centric strategies.

Profits and Business Models in Europe

From a European perspective, profits are a key indicator of success. As such, convention centers organizing their own shows produce a dual revenue stream. The robust business model involves both hosting external events and organizing proprietary shows, presenting a unique and attractive approach to profitability.

Unique Challenges on the Horizon

From public safety to sustainability, convention centers face an onslaught of ever-changing challenges. Convention centers in the United States and Europe may differ in their most pressing issues, but both regions have made strides in their missions to protect and serve their customers.

Public Safety Concerns in the U.S.

Public safety is an ongoing concern worldwide. In the United States, this critical challenge exacerbated by ongoing turmoil. The need for constant evaluation and adaptation of security practices to ensure attendee safety emerged as a top priority. The recent incidents in public spaces underscore the heightened focus on security in U.S. convention centers.

Sustainability and the Long-Term Vision

Sustainability is a major concern for the industry's future. With flight avoidance and increasing environmental awareness, the discussion emphasized the need for a sustainable business model to navigate challenges over the next decade. The potential impact on live events underscored the urgency of adopting a net-zero approach.

Conclusion: Bridging Continents, Sharing Wisdom

While geographic nuances exist, the core goals and challenges of convention centers remain remarkably similar. The importance of shared knowledge and mutual learning between the U.S. and Europe was evident. The convention and exhibition industry thrives on global collaboration, with each continent offering valuable insights to enhance the industry's collective success.

Convention centers around the world trust Momentus Technologies for our venue and event management software. We’re proud our solutions help streamline the complexities of managing these large-scale venues. Discover how we can help your convention center improve event operation workflows, maximize profits and provide exceptional experiences to exhibitors and visitors. 


Steve Mackenzie

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