With attendance down nearly 28 percent at this year's Offshore Technology Conference, the Texas Medical Center wants to take a health care conference in its third year and make it something the city's tourism industry can count on in years ahead.
Medical World Americas is a three-day conference starting May 18 that covers a broad variety of topics around health care and brings in experts from around the world. It has also prompted other health care-related conferences and events to co-locate in Houston at the same time, creating a whole week dedicated to health care.
MWA's counterpart, Medica, is an annual conference in Germany with more than 130,000 visitors from 120 countries. The program wanted to expand to North America and looked at Houston because of the TMC. Three years ago, Dr. Robert Robbins, CEO of the TMC, originally envisioned the conference to be Houston's next OTC within five years of its launch. It's taken a little longer, he admits, but still sees an opportunity to make it a staple of the city's convention schedule.
"I really believe that over the next four to five years as we get TMC3 opened and hopping, get more companies here, this will get Houston in the center of everybody's sights about where the hot new life science and medical cities are," he told the HBJ.
In its first two years, MWA had a $1.5 million economic impact on the Houston area and accounted for 1,200 hotel rooms, according to Houston First. While those numbers pale in comparison to the tens of thousands that attend OTC, which has been around much longer, MWA has had significant traction. While Houston has hosted medical conferences in the past, there haven't been as many as Houston First would have liked, despite health care being a major industry here.
"For whatever reason, in the past, we've not been able to crack that code as much as we'd like to," said Michael Heckman, senior vice president for Houston First Corp. "It's a great opportunity."
This year's keynote speaker is Dean Kamen, who invented the Segway as well as health care-related technologies. Around 2,500 medical professionals are expected to attend the conference, which will be held at the George R. Brown Convention Center, up from 2,300 last year, Heckman said.
Kamen's keynote represents an ongoing shift for MWA to focus more on health care commercialization, which has also been a major focus for Robbins in his tenure at the medical center.
"More and more, you're going to see this place become hotter in terms of biotech and the translation of fundamental commercialization of products. The meeting is going to need to change to reflect that," Robbins said.
Source: Houston Business Journal