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International Hospitality and Tourism Student Journal 6 (1) 2014 59-70

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Establishing the Suitability of Limerick City (Ireland) as a Conference Destination Host
Neasa Carter June OByrne-Prior Nolle OConner*
Limerick Institute of Technology, Ireland! ! *Corresponding author: Dr Nolle OConnor, Email: noelle.oconnor@lit.ie

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Abstract The Irish conference industry has witnessed phenomenal growth throughout the decades. The industry has continued to grow and flourish despite the universal recession of recent years. The Irish conference industry continues to contribute millions of euro to the Irish economy every year. It has been forecasted the popularity of Ireland as a conference destination will continue to grow. The following research paper will attempt to distinguish the current standing of Limerick city as a conference host city. As future growth is predicted in the Irish conference industry the research paper will attempt to extricate how Limerick city (Ireland) may increase its conference rate. Relevant Literature was examined in order to provide a background to the conference industry as a whole. The primary research conducted throughout the paper is a contribution of those native to Ireland and Europe. The primary research was collected through a combination of questionnaires and industry interviews on a global, national and regional scale. The research paper will conclude with a number of recommendations regarding Limerick as a conference destination host. A number of suggestions will be made as to how Limerick city may be able to attain a percentage of the predicted influx of conferences to be hosted in Ireland.
Keywords: M.I.C.E Industry; Conference Industry; Conference Destination; Destination Attributes; Limerick City; Ireland 2013 International Hospitality Research Centre. All rights reserved. ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

1. Introduction The popularity of Ireland as a conference destination has significantly grown over the past decade. A total of 230 conferences were held in Ireland in 2012, generating !151 million euro (Filte Ireland 2013). Furthermore there is evidence of continuous growth in the Irish conference industry. Filte Ireland has reported a potential of 400 conferences to be held in Ireland, contributing !386 million to the Irish Economy (Filte Ireland 2013). The research topic was undertaken as it was clear that the Irish conference industry deserved further research. An in-depth investigation was deemed necessary to establish how Limerick city may obtain a higher level of the predicted conference growth. Hence, the paper aims to identify Limericks current position in the Irish conference industry and how this share can be increased. The six objectives of the paper are to first, establish the attraction of Ireland as a conference destination, assess the Capital as the first choice as a conference destination, empirically explore the current relationship between Limerick and the conference industry identify the main stakeholders involved in conference industry of

Limerick and lastly, analyse the means in which Limerick city may possibly attract a higher number of conferences in the future. The aforementioned objectives will be accomplished through the identification of existing literature and conduction of primary and secondary research. The research undertaken will include a combination of journals, scholarly books, industry reports, industry surveys and interviews. Identified information gaps associated with secondary research will be filled through the conduction of primary research. The collation of primary and secondary research will expectantly fulfil the objectives outlined. 2. Literature review 2.1. A Conference Industry Background The conference industry identified at this present time has a strong influence which can be contributed to conventions and trade associations meetings in the United States of America during the 19th Century (Rogers 1998). According to Rogers (1998) industry definitions were not distinguishable

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until mid to late 20th century (Rogers 1998). Defining and distinguishing terminology is difficult (Ladkin 2002). The European Conference and Meetings Market attribute for difficulty in distinguishing the market is due to the segmentations of the markets (Rocket & Smillie 1994, Rogers 1998). When exploring the information base of the conference sector it was found that the immaturity of the conference division has led to difficulty in maintaining structure (Rogers, 1998). The conference industry is considered immature in comparison to other industries, as it is as young as fifty years in Europe (Rogers 1998).

partnership between the private and public sector in order to satisfy conference delegates. The relationship between the public and private sector is of a symbiotic nature as illustrated by Baum (2009). Baum (2009) states The complex nature of the conference industry means that is it unlikely that the private sector will satisfy the industry needs on its own, for example by providing adequate infrastructure for the conference industry.

2.4. Conference Buyers Damster (2000) describes the three main buyers of the conference industry as the corporate, association and government buyers. Delegates are also an addition to the buyers of the conference industry (Davidson & Rogers 2006). Rogers (1998) defines a corporate buyer as a conference organiser who works for corporate organisations with the ultimate result providing financial gain. The most prominent sectors of the corporate conference business include pharmaceutical, telecommunication, travel and transport (Rogers 1998). Corporate buyers are difficult to identify due to the varying level of staffing and size of the organisation (Rogers 1998). The association buyers (Rogers 1998) are also referred to as the SMERF market (Shock & Stefanelli 1992) an acronym for social, military, education, religious and fraternal markets. Such buyers are involved in events which are political and charitable (Damster 2000). Association events are not considered lucrative and do not aim to obtain as high a return investment as those of the corporate buyer events. Due to the stability of the sector, these events are used to fill off-peak seasons (Rogers 1998, Damster 2000). Government and public sector buyers have the tendency to be high profile in comparison to association and corporate organised conferences. These may include local authorities and the health service (Davidson & Rogers 2006, Rogers 1998). This high profile perception encourages the need for higher standard facilities including venue and accommodation facilities (Rogers 1998). Delegates are widely considered the more important of the buyers of the conference product. (Davidson & Rogers 2006). Customers who purchase the conference product and avail of the conference as a service. Without the participation of the delegates the industry would not survive (Davidson & Rogers 2006, Bowdin et al 2006). Stakeholders, initiators and intermediaries of the event have a large influence on the experience of an attendee. Initiators and intermediaries include corporate organiser buyers, association buyers, and Government buyers (Davidson & Rogers 2006).

Conferences are defined by the Convention Industry Committee (CIC) as a participatory meeting designed for discussion, fact finding, problem solving and consultation. The CIC (2003) outlines the definition of conferences as an event used to assemble and exchange opinions. Conferences are typically of a short duration (Bowdin et al 2006). The British Association of Conference Destination distinguishes a conference as an out-of-office meeting of at least four hours. A Conference is a form of business event, as business events are a combination of conferences, exhibitions, incentives travel and corporate events (Bowdin et al 2006). A conference is also commonly referred to as a convention, congress and meeting (Seekings & Farrer 1999). The British Tourism Partnership have expressed that the conference industry accounts for 28% oversee visitors to the United Kingdom (Bowdin et al 2006). The tourism and conference industry are deeply entwined (Rogers 1998). A conference can be classified as a form of business tourism according to Davidson & Rogers (1994). Business tourism in classified as the main reason for a person to travel as work (Davidson & Rogers 1994). As the conference industry has sufficiently been defined its complex nature will now be discussed.

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2.2. Defining Conferences

Rogers (1998) describes the nature of conference industry as complex The conference industry is highly complex, comprising a multiplicity of buyer and supplier organisations and business. The buyers and suppliers referred to by Rogers (1998) can also be referred to as stakeholders according to Freeman (2010). Stakeholders as is defined by Freeman (2010) are any group or individual who can affect, or is affected by the achievement of a corporations purpose. Getz (2007) describes stakeholders as those who benefit from the occurrence of an event. The main stakeholders are the buyers and suppliers, these buyers include what are referred to as the corporate buyer, the association buyer and the Government buyer. Suppliers include venues and destinations (Damster & Tassiopoulos 2000, Rogers 1998). Buyers and suppliers are to be expanded upon in sections five and six of the literature review. Morla & Ladkin (2007) divide the stakeholders into two sectors; private and public sector. Baum (2009) stresses the importance of the relationship as suppliers create a

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2.3. Complexity of the Conference Industry

Suppliers can be defined as those who supply facilities and services which are necessary for operation of a conference (Davidson & Rogers 2006). Suppliers of the conference industry are plentiful and diverse. The services which are provided are similar to those offered to the events industry as a whole. There are few services which are exclusive to the

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2.5. Conference Suppliers

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conference Industry (Rogers 1998). Subject to the extreme growth of the events industry experienced in the recent decades the network of suppliers have an integral part of the industry, and their increasing specialisation and expertise assist the production of professional and high-calibre events. In order for a conference to be successful the several various suppliers must be used in order to complete the end product (Rogers 1998). Venues providers can be considered one of the largest conference service suppliers. The conference industry is varied and is lacking in structure and definition, the venues used are diverse and many. The main conference used venues are city centre hotels, country house hotels including manors, purpose built venues, academic venues, civic venues and unusual venues (Rogers 1998). Hotels are the most popular particularly those adjacent to national and international communications infrastructure such as ports, motorways and airports. Hotels, unlike purpose built venues are limited in the amount of participants whom they may hold (Rogers 1998) a publishing from the International Association Meetings Market showed that 44% of meetings were held in hotels (ICCA, 2010). According to Shalcross (1998) it was forecasted that many hotels have come to depend on the conference industry for survival (Davidson & Cope 2002). Chetwynd (1998) suggests that delegates often prefer hotels as a conference venue, due to a friendly atmosphere provided (Davidson & Cope 2002). The report published by the ICCA displays that conference and exhibition centres are second in popularity as a conference venue with a 26.6% (ICCA 2010). Academic facilities are typically only available outside of class term and are considered attractive as the majority of these venues are accompanied by sleeping accommodation (Law 2002). Unusual venues or miscellaneous venues are also a popular option. The incorporation of conference facilities in venues such as football clubs generates income from unused resources. Attendees and participants enjoy these venues because of the unusual nature, providing attendees with a sense of excitement (Rogers 1998, Law 2002). The purpose built conference venue is becoming more popular among the public and private sector as Rutherford (1990) found that 95% of purpose built centres were publicly owned. Petersen (1989) contributed that it was in his opinion that most purpose built convention centres were built in the hope of igniting some sort of economic renewal and to stimulate the construction of accommodation bureaus (Law 2002). Accommodation providers are major supplier to the conference industr y. According to Shone (2012) accommodation providers benefit directly and indirectly. Accommodation providers benefit through the conferences held in house but also providing accommodation to delegates attending a conference in a nearby venue (Shone 2012). Other suppliers include a large range of service providers, these service providers range from audio-visual contractors, telecommunications companies, floral contractors and exhibition contractors (Rogers 1998).

Agencies are a generic term used to describe a range of different organisations which are both suppliers and buyers. Agencies undertake the task of buying and or discovering suppliers on behalf of a client and occasionally act as intermediaries (Damster 2000). The more prominent agencies in the conference industry include professional conference organiser (PCO), exhibition organisers and venue finding agencies (Rogers 1998). The combination of buyers and suppliers to agencies provides an all-round service and obtaining a competitive rate. The use of intermediaries is not without disadvantages (Damster 2000). According to Damster (2000) if it were to occur that a client approached a supplier and discovered that the intermediary were obtaining a discount in their favour and failing to pass this discount on. The agency and supplier would experience a difficult position (Damster 2000). Agencies and intermediaries charge different rates dependant on the service provided. A PCO, according to Mackenzie (2011) service charge various depending on the services required. It is common for a PCO to offer certain services free if charge such as social and tour programming as (Mackenzie 2011) states administration costs are covered either in commission revenue or built into the ticket price being sold to the delegate. A case study conducted by Shone & Parry (2004) on United Kingdom venue service provider Inntel expressed that the agency receives a commission from the selected venue (Shone & Parry 2004). Rogers (2003) conveys with regards to exhibition service provider the general payment process is based on the size of the exhibition. The size of exhibition is determined based upon the square meters area used (Rogers 2003).

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2.6. Agencies and Intermediaries

Conferences through the early to late nineties witnessed a shift in the increased level of consumer participation (Rogers 1998). This is demonstrated in publishing released by The International Congress and Convention Association (IACC) which provided rankings of countries and cities in terms of market share (Rogers 1998, IACC 2010). The IACC annual publication in 1996 showed 8991 conference related events worldwide. Europe held 5146 of 8991 conference related events leaving the European share of world market as 57.9% (Union of International Associations, 1997).). In statement released by WTO News (2010) there was a further prediction of growth of the tourism industry will be unstoppable in the twenty-first century, soaring to 01.6 billion international arrivals annually by the year 2020. In contrast Munro (1994) predicted a demise of the conference industry within fifty years. It was the belief of Munro that human interaction in the conference industry could be replaced with video conferencing as a substitute for company communications. With little imagination, the whole conference interaction can be handled without leaving home (Rogers 1998). Weber and Ladkin (2004) predicted that the conference industry would continue to grow mirroring general tourism trends. The IACC saw a steady increase in conferences over the past decade from 2001-2009 (IACC 2010). According to the World Travel and Tourism Council (2011) business travel has

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2.7. Conference Trends

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grown between 2000 and 2007, the sector has created an excess of 40 million jobs through increases in trade and productivity representing 20% of the growth in global employment over the same period. 2.8. Conference Findings: Ireland 1996-2012 In 1996 Dublin ranked 15 on a list published by the ICCA having hosted 24 events. (International Congress and Convention Association 1997). A survey conducted the Association Meetings Market place conducted by the ICCA ranked Ireland as number thirty-five. During the years of 2000 and 2008 Ireland experienced an increase in the amount of conferences held. Following 2008, 2009 saw a significant decrease as in illustrated in figure one.

to as APICO conducted the first annual survey of the Irish Association Market. This is as in-depth a survey as is available in Ireland (APICO 2012). The survey concentrated on the eight core Irish situated conference providers. The Irish conference Industry has already witnessed a 75% increase on performances since 2011, with a 25% increase in attendees since 2011. Venue hire costs have decreased 37.5%. In 2012 the core providers expressed that suppliers are successful reacting to market pressures by 75%. Staffing levels also saw an increase 37.5% in 2011 with an estimated 37.5% need for an increase in staffing sought in 2012(AIPCO Survey 2012).

Figure 1: Number of Conferences: Ireland 2000-2009

Dublin ranked number 33 of city rankings with the number of events from 2000 to 2006. Limerick was ranked number 288 in the survey conducted by the ICCA. Limerick experiencing a fluctuation in the number of meetings hosted between the years of 2000 and 2009 as in demonstrated in figure two.

Figure 2: Number of Conferences: Limerick 200-2009

The city rankings are substantial due to their size and size of the host Country (ICCA, 2010). These rankings show an increase in not only the European market share but also that Ireland ranked in the top forty with two cities in the top three hundred worldwide. The Association of Irish professional Conference Organisers which will be from here after referred

It is difficult to measure the economic impacts of a conference on the local host community and findings estimates at best. The conference, business tourism and leisure tourism are deeply entwined as they share a similar need for suitable infrastructure and support services (Rogers 1998). The business tourism associated with the operation of a conference provides high an economical contribution for the host community (Rogers 1998). According to Davidson (1994) the experience of conference delegates can involve an element of leisure such as frequenting restaurants and parttaking in tourist tours. Such activities are frequently included in the conference programme as method of relaxation for the delegates (Davidson 1994). The economic benefits may be difficult to measure it is still highly recognised for its valuable economic contributions to tourism destinations (Dywer 2002, Chon & Chung 2003). This sector of the industry is nonseasonal allowing host destinations to benefit from the influx of visitors, all year round. This year round provision allows for the creation of employment opportunities. The sustenance of permanent jobs leading to careers opposed to seasonal jobs. It is also an opportunity for business tourist to revisit the destination in a leisurely capacity. Davidson (1994) maintains that a pleased conference delegate can become the most influential advertisement for a destination. It contributes the dispersal of a positive reputation. The growth of this industry is placing an increased demand on labour markets for event mangers (Arcodia & Reid 2004). According to Filte Ireland (2013) the Irish Conference industry contributed !151 million to the Irish economy in 2012. Getz (2005) offers that recurring events are exploited in order to in influence the appeal and profitability of a destination. Turco (1995) contributes that all levels of government benefit from business tourism, including from the conference industry. Economic benefits are vast when hosting a conference yet however it must be noted that there negative impacts also. Copper et al (1993) states the negative impacts of conferences as opportunity costs and displacement effects. Opportunity costs are considered the use of labour resources (Rogers, 1998). Displacement Effects relate to the use of resources of an industry at the expense of another (Copper et al, 1993).

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2.9. The Economic Impacts

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2.10. Conference destinations

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Rogers (1998) believes that the destination when choosing conference destination location is a highly important factor. There is a substantial amount of pressure on conference destinations to not only develop interest and growth but also maintain previous business. (Morla & Ladkin 2007). Newer destinations are constantly challenging older destinations in the development and maintenance of competitive advantage (Weber & Ladkin 2004). There are many attributes that lead to the success of a destination such as location, attractiveness and the relationship between the organisers and the destination venues (Morla & Ladkin 2007). Rogers (2003), Morla & Ladkin (2007) offer that the success of a conference destination is attributed to infrastructure, transport, accessibility, human resources, stakeholder interactions and marketing and promotion (Rogers 2003, Morla & Ladkin 2007). Weber & Chong (2002) suggested that the main issues being the presence of conference and exhibition centres (Weber & Chong 2002, Morla & Ladkin 2007). The recurring influence of stakeholders is once more exhibited. Morla and Ladkin (2007) suggest that the perceptions and collaboration of stakeholders highly determines the success of a destination. Stakeholders have the vast experiences, knowledge and resources available to predict the success of an event (Morla & Ladkin 2007). The location of a destination can be a prime consideration when choosing a conference destination (Jang & Woods 2000). Oppermann (1998) considers that the destination must be equally attractive to both conference organisers and attendees (Morla & Ladkin 2007). It is important that destinations become alike much else in the industry (Vilaseca 2000). McCabe et al (2000) stresses adequate transport and sufficient accessibility as important in the site selection of a destination. The increased accessibility to low cost carriers will influence the growth of potential destinations (Fernndez 2000). The conference industry has seen a growth in the construction of purpose built conference and exhibition centres. Such centres contain state of the art technological services and trained conference staff. Which raiser the subject if a destination must contain a purpose built facility in order to compete (Davidson & Cope 2003, Laslo & Judd 2004, Roberts 2002). 3. Methodology 3.1. Primary Data & Secondary Data Salkind (2010) provides an explanation of primary and secondary data. According to Salkind (2010) primary research is collected by a person as means of contributing to a personally posed research question. Secondary research is information collected by someone else for another research question (Salkind 2010). According to Mooi & Sarstedt (2011) secondary data is cost effective to obtain, sample sizes tend to larger, more accurate and possess authenticity. However it may be outdated, contain errors unknown to the reader, contain only factual data and may not be fully available to the researchers (Mooi & Sarstedt 2011). Furthermore Salkind (2010) maintains that the largest disadvantage of secondary data us that it may not be of

relevance to the research question. The use of academic books and journals will be the most prominent source of secondary data as the information provided have gone through rigorous verification and review. The use of official publications will benefit the researchers. These publications are up to date statistics compiled by governmental departments both in Ireland and abroad. Trade association data similar to official publication can provide in-depth specific economic data. When availing of the copious amounts of information available from internet sources one must be aware that access to genuine data may have time and cost implications (Sharp et al 1998). Primary data is a more personal approach to be taken by the researchers. Primary data is recent, specific to the research topic. Although primary data is more personal, collection time is longer and can also be finically expensive. The researchers may also be met with a time constraint which disallows the opportunity to fully commit as much time and resources which is necessary (Mooi & Sarstedt 2011). The primary research method which the author is to undertake will consist of prominently of (Sharp et al 1998) industry interviews and questionnaires.

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Prior to deciding which primary research approach the author chooses to undertake, the author must competently understand the various approaches. The author will explore, evaluate the various research approaches prior to choosing the most effective approach. Qualitative research considered subjective, this research method emphasises experiences and is descriptive (Corbin & Strauss 2008). The use of qualitative research offers the researchers a view of current culture and an ability to discover rather than test a variable, commonly perceived as the only form of conclusive research (Corbin & Strauss 2008). Sharp et al describes qualitative research as rich and can lead to a greater understanding of the subject (Sharp et al, 2002). Corbin & Strauss describes qualitative research as A process of examining and interpreting data in order to elicit meaning, gain understanding and develop empirical knowledge.Qualitative research can be classified under two categories exploratory and attitudinal according to author Naoum (1998). Exploratory research is necessary when a limited amount of in depth research is available. Exploratory research will be used by the author as a method of diagnosing and assessing potential alternatives that may arise (Naoum 1998). Attitudinal research is used to evaluate opinions and perceptions from research participants subjectively towards a particular object (Naoum 1998). Attitudinal research will be used by the researchers to understand as much as possible following retrieval of questionnaires and conduction of interviews. Quantitative Research, according to Aligia & Gunderson (2000) can best be described as collecting data and conducting an analysis through numerical means (Muijis 2010). In order to gather quantitative data efficiently the correct tools must be used in the correct manner. Newman (1998) adopted a step by step approach when discussing

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3.2. Qualitative & Quantitative Research

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quantitative research. The author believes that this step by step approach is highly applicable and necessary when designing and understanding proposed data collection tools. The aforementioned steps, which the author shall be implement will commence with the creation of a theory. This theory has been established and is the research topic Establishing the suitability of Limerick City as Conference Destination host. Previous research is reviewed, from theoretical frame work, a hypothesis is generated, data is then collected and tested and hypothesis proven or disproven (Newman et al 1998). This step is influenced by the previous research conducted in section two. Naoum describes the nature of the data collected as hard and reliable. The researchers will utilise a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods. The author has chosen the aforementioned methods of research as the author has sufficient access to such methods. The methods selected are time and resource efficient.

Various forms of research tools and instruments are widely available. According to Sharp (1998) when referring to various primary research methods it is necessary to it is necessary to break them down into a number of categories, namely: laboratory measurements; field observation; archives/collection; questionnaires; and interviews. The researchers has decided that the use of questionnaires and personal interviews are best suited to the research topic being undertaken. This decision was based upon the access which the author has to those participating in interviews and questionnaires. The uses of questionnaires are considered the most widely used data collection technique. Questionnaires can be designed to find out facts and opinions depending on the design (Naoum 1998). Questionnaires can be distributed in various forms as previously stated by post, email and by conducting a web survey. The researchers must allow for time period for the possibility of late returns. Questioners administered by email and post also allows for the respondents time to gather any information which may not be to hand (Naoum 1998). In featuring the questionnaire in a web survey format, allows for anonymity of the respondents and eliminates any influence which may occur from the researchers. When completing the online survey participants may become distracted and fill out the survey multiple times and in turn jeopardise the validity of findings. To counteract this possibility the online survey may only filled out once from a single IP address. The researchers will distribute the questionnaires through email and an online survey provider. The distribution methods for the survey are most resource effective manner of distributing the surveys. Interviews are yet another popular tool when collecting primary data. Interviews can take place face to face by phone and email. The conduction of interviews face to face and or over the telephone allows for maximum interaction between the researchers and the interviewee. This allows the researchers to ask in depth questions which can be clarified if misunderstood or

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misinterpreted. This form data collection may also allow for the interviewer to gain information had not been previously considered. There are disadvantages when conducting interviews in person or by telephone. The interviewee may be influenced by the researchers through tone of voice and facial expressions. The interviewee may feel desire to the impress the interviewer which may lead to unbiased interview answers (Mitchell 2012). The interviews which are to be conducted by the researchers will be combination of email and face to face interviews. The interviewer will ensure that facial expressions and tone of voice do not influence participant. This will be accomplished through practice. The author has chosen to design two types of questionnaires. Questionnaire one will be distributed to industry participants, those who attend conferences in Ireland. Questionnaire two will be distributed to industry suppliers. Interviews will be conducted with three industry professionals. Interviews will gain insight from a European aspect, national aspect and finally a regional aspect.

3.3. Tools and instruments

Prior to the creation of a questionnaire the researchers must consider as to what is the desired result. This can be done by evaluated earlier aims and objectives of the paper (Maoum 1998).When designing questionnaires it is important that the researchers use simple language and create a format which the participant will follow easily. Terminology which may not be familiar to the interviewee must be defined. Questions featured on questionnaires a generally two types, open ended questions and closed ended questions (Maoum, 1998). There are various types of questionnaire questions. The questions which the researchers has chosen to feature are factual questions and opinion questions. Factual questions are used to obtain objective data. These types of questions are used to gain an insight to the background of the participant or organisation. It is necessary in order to support the posed research topic and support existing literature. There any many methods opinion questions may be asked (Maoum 1998). he author has chosen to use a combination of following types of questions, checklist, rating scales, numerical rating scale and ranking. A checklist question is a straightforward question and the respondent is asked to tick the option which is most relevant and aimed individuals who are able to answer with certainty. Rating scales are designed to gain an opinion and view from the respondent. The numerical rating scale is used to gain the opinion of the respondent on particular statement. Ranking is used as the participant ranks as to what if felt to be the most important priority and preferences (Naoum 1998).

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3.4. Structure and Content of Questionnaires

Pilot testing is necessary in order to allow the researchers the opportunity to establish whether or not the questionnaires design is suitable to be sent to the whole sample. A pilot study will establish if the questionnaire can be completed in a timely fashion, if the questions asked are clear

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3.5. Pilot Testing

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to understand and if there is any irrelevant information requested (Naoum 1998). A pilot questionnaire will be administered to a total of five individual, these individuals will and will not possess industry experience. In having this combination the questionnaires format will truly be evaluated.

The interviews which are to be undertaken by the researchers as previously mentioned are personal interviews and email interviews. The interview questions are designed in order to correspond with the research topic. The interview is influenced by the nature of the questions asked and the sequence asked (Naoum 1998).The personal interviews conducted are going to be of a semi-structured nature. It will contain number topics and contain a number of open and closed questions. Allowing the researchers to gather as much information as possible in the time frame provided (Naoum 1998). This will permit the researchers to fully take advantage of the interview opportunity. To successful complete said interviews the researchers will take into consideration the guidelines offered by Merton and Kendal (1946). The guidelines state that the interview should be conducted with a person of experience in the field of the research topic (Naoum 1998). The semi-structured interviews will commence asking a general question, this will build a relationship between the interviewer and the interviewee (Naoum 1998). The interviews demonstrate the range of questions which will issued during the interviews. Building a repertoire between the researchers and the interviewee will encourage detailed and unbiased answers.

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3.6. Structure and Content of Interviews

author encountered throughout the research design and implementation included time restraints and the number of individuals who responded to the questionnaires. In order for the researchers to overcome the time restrictions encountered, a time management plan for the conduction of interviews, distribution and collection of questionnaires was implemented. The time restraint was encountered not only by the researchers but also the individuals from whom the researchers was seeking input. To fully avail of the time volunteered by interviewees the researchers conducted the interviews, following sufficient time given and during a period which best suited the interviewee. 4. Findings and Data Analysis 4.1. Findings In order to utilise data collected the researchers will divide the primary research results into sections. The following sections which will be used are conference attendees, suppliers and interviews with industry experts. Similar findings identified in each of the sections will then be discussed making reference to the literature featured in section two in order to support the primary findings. Section one will analyse the findings gathered from questionnaires which were distributed to conference attendees. Questionnaires were distributed by email and through the use of an online questionnaire provider.

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A researchers may be unaware that there is to be consideration given to ethical issues prior to embarking on the research journey. Miller et al (2012) states that ethical choices arise during the entire research process including data collection and analysis. Ethical considerations are not only the responsibility of the researchers regarding their own research. Consideration should be given if the researchers feels information they wish to use as be obtained unethically (Hart 2005). The researchers will adhere to the ethical guidelines issued by the Limerick Institute of Technology ethics board in conjunction with personal ethical considerations. The adherences to ethical guidelines will not hinder the paper, it will add to the validity (LIT Student Charter 2010).

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3.7. Ethical Considerations

While conducting primary and secondary it is inevitable that the researchers be met with a number of limitations. No research project is limitation free and for the research project to be as genuine as possible these limitations must be identified and discussed. Marshall & Rossman (2010) states A discussion of the studys limitations demonstrates that the researchers understands the reality. Limitations which the

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3.8. Limitations

Of the individuals contacted by the researchers 60% of those contacted responded. The level of response was predicted. To prevent the researchers encountering such as issue a higher amount of questionnaires were distributed to conference attendees. Registration fee proved to be the most important factor to attendees when choosing to attend a conference. Of the questionnaire participants 45% rated registration as the most influencing factor when choosing to attend a conference. Of those questioned 30% of respondents were of the opinion that conference content was the highest influence as depicted in figure three. Seasonality did not have an influence on the conference attendees. Geographical location was of influence to 25% of those queried. Of conference attendees queried 50% volunteered that attendance is not sponsored with 35% of attendees attendance financially sponsored. The remaining participants totalling 15% have their attendance sponsored sometimes; this can be attributed to place of employment, educational situation and conference content. Of those surveyed the majority of participants are residing in the region of Leinster with 40%. Munster held 35% of the respondents while no respondents of the questionnaires were located in Ulster and 25% of respondents are currently residing in Connacht. A geographical breakdown of participants residence can be viewed in figure four.
Figure 3: Important Factor When Attending a Conference

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4.2. Conference Attendees

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Figure 4: Residences of Conference Attendees

Figure 5: Conference Service Providers

When questioned as to what was felt to be the most important aspect when selecting or promoting a conference venue, location was deemed the most important. Location was rated the most important by 40% of respondents. While previous experience was deemed the least important receiving 50%. Full results of this query can be located below in figure six.

Figure 6: Selecting or Promotion of a Venue

Questionnaire respondents were asked as to where in Ireland would they perceive to be the most popular conference destination. Dublin was rated the most popular with an astounding 100% of participants choosing the capital city. It can be argued that that such a high response many correspond with the fact that Leinster occupied the majority in terms of attendee residence. Discussed by the researchers were the most notable findings of the questionnaires distributed to conference attendees.

Section two provides analyses of the findings gathered following the distribution of questionnaires to conference providers. Those identified as service providers include venue providers, exhibition service providers and those in the hospitality industry. Of those contacted the highest numbers of respondents of 35% were in the hospitality industry. These individuals include accommodation providers, cafes and restaurants. Of the amount respondents queried venue services and conference service providers each had 30% while exhibition respondents totalled 5%. These findings are represented in figure five.

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4.3. Conference Service Providers

It is also important to note that alike the conference attendees surveyed 100% of conference service providers believed Dublin to be the most popular conference destination. This is despite the fact that the majority of respondents of this questionnaire were located in the Munster region of 53%. Of those whom participated in the questionnaire 78% of service providers were under the impression that if a conference is not based in the region of the organisation of a conference is affected. The prominent reason for this belief there will be a lack of knowledge of the local area. When questioned what is the most attractive attribute of a potential conference destination 40% of conference service providers believed location. Accessibility was believed to an attractive attribute by 25% of respondents alongside previous experience which was deemed attractive by 25% of respondents. Facilities were deemed attractive by 15% of the respondents. These finding are represent below in figure seven.

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Figure 7: Attractive Venue Attributes

4.4. Interviews Findings The author believed conducting interviews with industry experts would give the research topic validly. The interviewees each represented a different perspective, global, national and regional. The interviews conducted will either support or contrast the findings identified through the distribution of questionnaire.

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4.4.1. Interview One The interview with Interviewee 1 represents a global perspective of the current Irish conference market. The interview covered a range of topics including the comparison of the Irish conference market and the European market and her role as chairperson of AIPCO. The researchers has selected some key points from this interview which will be. The researchers posed the question of how the Irish conference market compares to other European markets. The response offered by Interviewee 1was positive and in favour of the Irish market and that Ireland as conference destination is stronger than the nation believes. Interviewee 1also expressed a belief that the Irish conference industry has grown in recent year with the addition of the CCD (Convention Centre Dublin). As a conference destination Ireland is very very strong but despite our strengths we underestimate how strong we are and can be. The researchers also felt it necessary to ascertain what was perception foreign clients and attendees of Ireland as a country. The researchers felt this necessary in order to identify the attributes potential visitors may identify. Interviewee 1contributed the opinion of foreign clients and attendees was that of a positive nature, although in some instances stereotypical. Interviewee 1expressed that in her experience a number of foreign clients and attendees would in fact think of Ireland as Green, goats and sheep. Not all attendees or clients whom have not visited have Ireland have this perception, according to Interviewee 1it is dependant how far afield one was to go.

People think of fun loving, hospitable, friendly people and I think that its a good perception and its correct. I think with the proper gate that we are on the right path. It is evident following the information gathered and identifies in section two that Dublin is the most popular destination in Ireland and held the highest market share. The researchers felt it important to identify if there was an opportunity for Limerick to gain a percentage of the market share. Interviewee 1did express that there is potential for another county to gain a percentage of this market share, however doing so would be difficult. Dublin is the most favoured destination city in Ireland as it is the capital, but also the accessibility of the city to those visiting from abroad according to Jean. Interviewee 1then continued to express as to why other counties find great difficulty in gaining this percentage share and what actions must these counties undertake. It became apparent the opinion of Interviewee 1was that counties hoping to gain this market share must work together and support the appointed ambassadors. In order to provide as much clarity as possible the researchers must make clear what an ambassador programme is. According to Rogers (1998) an ambassador programme is the identification and recruitment of an individual in the local community. The conference ambassador receives support and training from the regions conference providers. The ambassador is used in order to gain support from the local community (Rogers 1998). The counties have and in particular the regions need to do a lot of work in particular the ways in which the counties are going to win, is identifying the conference ambassador, motivating them to put their names in for bidding for conferences and making them happen by virtual link their local link that is what will be pivotal in terms of the regional success. Following the interview with Interviewee 1 it became apparent that the Irish conference industry is continuing to grow. The perception is shared on a global scale and the Irish conference industry is viewed in a positive manner. It is also important that Irish PCOs (professional conference organisers) continue to enable growth and that conference ambassadors continue to apply for bids. Irish PCOs it should try to gain an AIPCO quality mark in order for to provide potential clients with a sense of security. Irelands main unique selling points are the infrastructure and vat reclaim, showing continued support from the government and supporting bodies. The vat reclaim enables conference organisers and those established abroad to reclaim vat on conference accommodation, if the criteria is met (Revnue.ie 2013).

The discussion with Interviewee 2represents the perspective of the conference industry in Ireland on a national level. The interview covered a range of topics from the number of international and national conferences organised in Ireland and the number of conferences are located outside of Dublin. The researchers believed it

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4.4.2. Interview Two

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necessary to ascertain how amount of the conferences the organisations are approached to organiser are national and international. This question was used in order to provide perspective of t the level of international conferences held in Ireland. Interviewee 2expressed that majority of conferences MCI are approached to organise are international. Interviewee 2also provided reasoning that the majority of Irish conferences are do not require to be organised by a PCO (Professional Conference Organiser) The researchers proceeded to question as to how many of the conference organised by the organisation are done so outside of Dublin. Interviewee 2established that 80% are Dublin of the conferences organised my MCI are held in the capital. Interviewee 2justified the figure stating access but was a strong reason for this also that the conference ambassadors maintain a level of influence. Ambassadors often have links with universities in the capital and this would tend to be utilised. The introduction of the CCD (Convention Centre Dublin) is also an impacting influence. They say access most commonly, but we do challenge them on that. Most conference ambassadors have a link with a university, and if that university is in Dublin, then the event is more likely to be hosted at that university, To ensure and questions may have been overlooked the researchers provided the opportunity or Interviewee 2to contribute any information which may have been overlooked. Interviewee 2concluded the interview by stressing the need for regional cities to actively engage in the process of acquiring as much business as possible. To endeavour to gather business which is not of such a scale which would require a PCO but there is still an event to organise. Just that all regional cities need to reach out more to local associations and bodies directly to pick up the business that does not have a budget to engage a PCO Subsequent to the interview with Interviewee 2it became apparent that many of the viewpoints expressed where similar to those expressed by Jean. Interviewee 2also emphasised the need for the identified ambassadors to continue to aid in the bidding process for conferences in their respective regions and cities. It was also that evident that Limerick city is a destination identified in current industry with MCI pitching University of Limerick as venue 20% of the time.

questioned as to whether or not there is a difficultly in attracting conference to the city. Interviewee 3stated that Limerick isnt well known international and when a web search is conducted and findings are unflattering. Despite this, once individuals visit and experience the city, conversion tends to be high. When asked in the opinion of Interviewee 3how Limerick can overcome the stigma surrounding the city Interviewee 3believes it is possible. To overcome the stigma is building relationships built on professionalism and providing the correct information. Yes and no I would say Limerick isnt well known internationally. and what is known of it if you Google it isnt always positive it tends to be the negative but once people, we tend to spend a lot of our marketing budget on inviting people here on site visits and once we get them here and once we get them here we tend to convert them our conversion rate is very high. The researchers questioned for an estimate of how much revenue the Limerick conference industry roughly contributes to the city annually. The University of Limericks contributes roughly four or five million Euros to the city each year. This contribution takes into account the use of accommodation and hospitality services. The prominent issues distinguished during the interview with Interviewee 3were that Limerick currently contributes a substantial amount to the Limerick economy. Despite the controversy surrounding the city, there is that this perception can be overcome. The Limerick conference industry will continue to contribute a substantial amount to the citys economy.

The final interview was to provide the researchers with a regional viewpoint which is central to the research topic Establishing the Suitability of Limerick City as a Conference Destination Host. In order to assess the current relationship Limerick city as with the conference industry the author felt it appropriate to gather an informed estimate of the number if international and national conference held in Limerick. Due to the venue being a university the conference department operates solely during the summer months (June, July and August). According to Interviewee 3the conference department would experience an equal split between international and national conferences. The researchers also

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4.4.3. Interview Three

The researchers identified the main points gathered from the primary research: Access is crucial to the success of a conference location Cities utilise appointed conference an ambassadors Limerick city is an established conference service provider It was identified that access is key to the success of a conference location. Interviewee 1and Interviewee 2collectively stated the view that the successful attainment of a conference can be attributed to location. This can also be supported through results gathered from the questionnaires, with conference service providers and attendees both rating location as an influence. Literature identified in section two also provides support to this. Rogers (1998) states when choosing a conference venue location is the most important consideration (Rogers 1998). Cities must utilise the appointed conference ambassadors which has been appointed. Conference ambassadors promote and increase the awareness of the city and the services. It gains and utilises support from the local community (Rogers 1998). Interviewee 3stressed that the University of Limerick did actively support the appointed ambassador for Limerick. Interviewee 1and Interviewee 2united encouraged the involvement of an appointed ambassador as much as possible.

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4.5. Crucial Findings: Questionnaires and Interviews

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Limerick city has an existing conference position. This identification is based upon the contribution of University of Limerick to the region on an annual basis of an estimate of four or five million Euros according to Yvonne. This is also supported by Interviewee 2who claims that of the sales pitches conducted by Interviewee 220% these pitches are aimed at University of Limerick. Findings identified in section two and shown in figure one and figure two show that of the 77 conferences held in Ireland in 2009, Limerick held six of these were held in Limerick (ICCA 2010). Although this finding is supported through the information gathered in section two, the findings gathered from the questionnaires corroborate. Dublin was rated by attendees and service providers as the most perceived conference destination. Through primary research the researchers has attempted to fill information gaps identified in section two. The researchers used a number of primary research collection techniques. The researchers focused upon the use if questionnaires and interviews. Questionnaires were distributed to conference attendees and conference service providers. The distribution of questionnaires to both groups allowed the researchers to gather opinions from the two primary stakeholders in the conference industry. The researchers also conducted number interviews with industry professional. The interviews conducted provided the researchers a regional, national and international perspective. The combination of literature gathered in section two and primary research will enable the researchers enforce the research topic of Establishing the Suitability of Limerick City as A Conference Destination. 5. Conclusion and recommendations 5.1. Accomplishment of Objectives The primary objective was to establish the attraction of Ireland as a conference destination host. Ireland is a popular conference destination due to the infrastructure, accessibility and human resources available. All of which are impending influence of the success of a conference destination according to Rogers (1998).According to an interview conducted with Interviewee 1 it was also established that Irelands popularity as a conference destination can be contributed to the friendly nature projected by the country. It is also influenced upon the unique selling points attributed with the country which include the vat reclaim offered. Ireland has a high level of educated work staff all which in conjunction with that stated by Rogers (1998). Ireland also has a total of five international airports with over six million individuals visiting Ireland in 2011(Filte Ireland, 2012). In 2012, the country held a total of 230 conferences (Filte Ireland, 2013). The subsequent objective was to assess the capital city as being the first choice conference host in Ireland. According to a survey conducted by the IACC (2010) Dublin currently ranks number 33 in a list of popular conference destination cities. Through an interview conducted with Interviewee 1 it was stated that Dublin is the

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first choice conference destination due to the fact that it is the capital of Ireland but that it also the second tier city in Europe. The capital is also home to a number of purpose built venues including the Convention Centre Dublin which are state of the art. The interview conducted with Interviewee 2concluded that the capital is also popular due appointed ambassadors having established connections with the capitals universities. The capital was deemed most popular among the conference attendees and suppliers questioned primarily based upon accessibility and location. Assess the current relationship between Limerick and the conference industry was the next objective. Limerick ranked number 288 in a survey conducted by ICCA (2010), of a county of similar size and infrastructure Cork was ranked 260. Each county have an international airport and have universities which influence heavily to the counties conference contribution. Following the interview conducted with Interviewee 2it became evident as Limerick has industry recognition. Interviewee 2would pitch the University of Limerick approximately 20% of the time to clients. An interview with Interviewee 3established that the Limerick conference industry contributes a substantial amount to the Limerick economy. The University of Limerick contributes approximately four/five million euros per annum. This contribution is a combination of accommodation and the use hospitality services. The University of Limerick conference department state the conferences hosted are an even one to one ratio of international and national conferences. The main stakeholders of the Limerick conference industry are any organisation which benefit from the hosting of conferences in Limerick (Freeman 1984). According to Interviewee 3Keane the University of Limerick contributes a substantial amount to the Limerick economy. It was stated by the university event manager that said amount is spent on accommodation, bars, restaurants, tourist tours. The stakeholders would therefore be considered the accommodations providers, bars, restaurants and tourist tours. Through primary research of the main conference service providers as conference services, venue services, hospital services and exhibition services in the region are also considered a primary stakeholder (Damster & Tassiopoulos, 2000). Additional stakeholders typically associated with a conference destination host include conference attendees (Rogers, 1998) as identified through the questionnaires distributed to conference attendees. Limerick city can attract a higher number of conferences in the future through a number of means. The strategic use of identified conference ambassadors as the connections of the ambassadors can strengthen the cities connections. Limerick can attract more conference to the city through positive marketing and building existing relationships. The city must continue to bid for conferences which are too small for a PCO so but too big to be organised in-house. Such is supported through published literature from Rogers (1998), interview participants Interviewee 2Butcher, Interviewee 1 and Interviewee 3Clarke.

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5.2. Recommendations Limerick city and region must continue to support the identified conference ambassadors as they are integral part winning conference bids (Roger, 1998). This is also supported by Interviewee 1, chairperson of the Association of Irish Profession Conference Organisers (APICO) and Interviewee 2Manager of Associations Relations at MCI Dublin. It is also recommended following an interview with Interviewee 1Evan, conference service providers should aim to achieve an APICO quality mark. An APICO quality mark provides the service provider and potential client with reassurance of service excellence It is suggested that stakeholders of the conference Industry of Limerick continue to strive to extinguish the unfavourable stigma surrounding the city. Following an interview with Interviewee 3Clarke, event manager of the University of Limerick the most effective actions is positive marketing and continued professionalism. The paper which has been undertaken by the author has used a range of existing literature regarding the conference industry. Primary research was conducted and combined with the literature to fulfil any information gaps. Derived from the primary and secondary research collected the author was able to accomplish the objectives set in section one. Consequent to the accomplishment of the objectives the author was then able to conclude the research paper with a number of recommendations. References
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