Welcome to part 1 of the JMIC Manifesto webinar: Economic Recovery Using Business Events. For ease of access, we have transcribed the recording of this webinar so that you can access all the insights from the manifesto in blog format.
In this part of the webinar, Robert Coren, Greg Clark and the industry panel will explore the role and structure of the manifesto itself in more detail and what changes we could see in the industry following the recovery from COVID-19.
Robert Coren: Well Greg, as we head towards the key content of this webinar, the crowdsourcing of contributions towards the Joint Meetings Industry Council Manifesto for Economic Recovery Using Business Events, let’s return to our panel for a moment to understand how the industry is coping with meeting in the age of the pandemic.
Heike Mahmoud: Everyone speaks about the new normal, but what is a new normal? Business events are not public or mass gatherings.
Kai Hattendorf: This is the line we’ve been taking to governments, and legislators, and authorities around the world, with countries like Germany agreeing exhibitions and events are different from festivals, from concerts, etc.
James Rees: The trade show industry has been very successful for many years, in earning that right to be listened to.
Arnaldo Nardone: Because we can control the events, we can control the meetings; we know who are the people that are coming. We know that we have excellent protocols in our venues, in our PCOS organizers. That we have excellent protocols in the airlines.
Lyn Lewis-Smith: We’re all looking for a solution to the same problem. And it’s all about, you know, hygiene, giving safety, security, you know, mitigate the risk for not only the event owner, but the delegate. You know, we’ve got to build consumer confidence, that people are going to come and want to meet in a social distancing flavour, if you like.
Aloysius Arlando: So all of a sudden, safety is now hip. Safety, and health, and hygiene management is going to be your baseline. It is expected for all events.
Tommy Goodwin: I’m really hesitant in some of the conversations I’ve seen, where it’s like “Okay, we’re here! This is going to be the new normal”. I don’t think that’s the case, I think there’s going to be a stage here that we’re out, there’s going to be a transitional stage, and then we’re going to come back to something else.
Matthias Schultze: We need to work on innovative concepts and think future events on different levels: face-to-face, hybrid, and purely digital.
Aloysius Arlando: So event as what we would know it, need not just be a physical event, it could also be the outgoing web engagement.
Shane Hannam: There’s a lot of new technology that we’re evaluating, that everybody is looking at. We’ve all flipped to a very virtual mode. The future is going to be very different.
Lyn Lewis-Smith: The hybrid meeting is going to be critical. But for a destination and an organization like us, we have to think so innovative right now, in terms of how we’re going to not only secure these events. They will be smaller, they’ll be more local, but how do we beam the content to the world?
Martin Sirk: I can envisage a meeting that previously was for 5000 people, being for a 100 selected people. That then is fed back out to the rest, or they go back and seed other meetings in other cities. Or, you know, I can see all kinds of different models happening.
Aloysius Arlando: Necessities mother invention, so I’ll be very excited to see what sort of inventions will come up with. As the saying goes ‘Never waste a crisis’.
Lyn Lewis-Smith: The biggest AI meeting in the world that was to come to Sydney at late 2021 is still on the books, but who knows in this climate world whether those numbers will come. I would say not. I would say there will be a select few of data scientists and engineers, but we will make the most of encouraging those people to come and live and work in Sydney. And educate our workforce for those productivity gains.
Tommy Goodwin: The destinations who are better about embedding their events in the community, are going to be that much more attractive in this interim phase and going to have the sustainable competitive advantage in the longer term. If I’m getting on an airplane to go to Copenhagen next year, and going to be willing to sit there, and wear a mask for eight hours, and go through whatever painful process of having my temperature checked. It’s not the Bella Center – the Bella Center is lovely. It’s Nyhavn, it’s CopenHill, it’s Torvehallerne, it’s how do you leverage the assets that you have as the destination, to be attractive to delegates and to associations who are planning the meetings. And similarly, how do you get them to understand your benefits and say let’s come together and create something beyond the scope of just the four days. Those destinations to get that right are going to have a huge leg up in the coming years, and the rest of the destinations are going to be playing from behind.
Martin Sirk: The thing that I always have great confidence in is that humans have had a need to meet for millennia.
Shane Hannam: A human connection and the desire to meet face-to-face, will be as strong as it ever was, though it may look slightly different.
Martin Lewis: We’re incredibly vulnerable to what’s going on now. I can’t think of another industry which is less well suited to a world where you’re not allowed to be within 2 metres of the person next to you.
Maurits Van Der Sluis: I think everybody understands that it is very important that it will start again. Safely, of course, within the protocols and rules that are made.
Matthias Schultze: But the fundamentally important role of meetings and congresses will not change. If anything, it is likely to increase.
Lesley Williams: We have the power to bring people together, whether it’s virtually, or whether it’s face-to-face. To share knowledge, to solve problems, to create employment, and to rebuild cities.
Robert Coren: So great for destinations! Is this a new normal, or a transition to something else?
Greg Clark: Well, there’s so many fascinating comments in what the panel just said. I think I’m going to have to go through them one by one. So firstly, I completely agree with Martin that the instinct for human interaction is not just a deep social instinct. It’s also a kind of a creative spark. It’s something to do with wanting to be surprised, wanting to have something that is spontaneous, serendipitous. And I think that this leads to a permanent desire to be able to meet. The problem is that we’re now in a situation where, for various reasons, it’s difficult to meet. It’s either considered unsafe, or it’s considered impolitic, or it’s considered perhaps too expensive.
So as I said right at the beginning, the speed at which we get our comprehensively available and universally trusted vaccine is pretty important here. There’s a big difference between one year and two years for that vaccine to be available, in terms of what happens to the meetings industry in the interim. I also think that it’s probably important for us to stress that there’s kind of four stages in the process we’re in. Most of us have come out of, or are on the way out of lockdown, now, in Asia. We’re just ending lockdown in Europe, we’re sort of towards lockdown in different parts of North America, but we’re right in the middle of lockdown in Latin America. And I think that all places will have a kind of fall stage process, there’ll be a lockdown, there’ll be a transition then out of lockdown towards a kind of recovery. That recovery could take a long period of time, depending upon the nature, and character, and depth of the recession, and that will differ from place to place. And then when we get to the end of the recovery, we’re in the new normal. And I think I would argue that the new normal is there for some combination of what we had before, adjusted by the nature of the recession that we’ve been through, the continuing challenges we face in terms of human health, plus the seven themes I outlined right at the beginning of this conversation. So I think it is possible to start to talk about what the new normal is.
Now what does this really mean for business meetings, the meetings industry, conventions, and other things. I think the first thing it means is that Lyn and others are absolutely right to talk about public safety. And it’s not just the safety that can occur within the convention centre or within the venues, it’s the safety of the whole travel route to get people to the convention. And of course, the more you can use conventions, and business meetings, and other things, as a way of trialing various kinds of health and safety technology, body scanning, health pass sporting, all of these different things, the more that you can position the meetings industry as a kind of laboratory for technologies that could be used therefore more widely in other avenues and venues.
The second big issue is of course this issue about hybridity. I completely agree with Martin’s comments, that you know in future the shape, and size, and structure of these events is going to change. And a smaller number of people will gather for the face-to-face interaction, but a much larger number of people will participate in various ways digitally around the world. This means that the critical ingredients here are going to be the quality of the conversation that is happening face to face by those who gather, and how much that creates the demand for a global audience that wants to connect digitally; the depth and the meaningfulness of the interaction that the people who are connecting digitally or remotely, have; and then, the quality of the experience for the digital participants, and how much they feel they’ve had accessed to some kind of privileged channel, that wasn’t otherwise available to them, on any other universally available platform.
So this requires our meeting hosts and our conveners to become much more skilled at the kind of omni-channel strategy, just in the same way that entertainment providers and retailers have had to become skilled in this overtime. And it places a strong accent on the kind of digital and omni-channel enterprise, the customer experience.
And then I think Tommy’s remarks, as a kind of third statement, that the places that will be most successful in hosting international visitors will be the ones that are most able to leverage and to congregate local participants, so that it becomes meaningful for the international participants to actually come and visit, rather than for everybody to participate online. That of course is the critical magnet, so if you can bring together the world expertise that you have in your region – on a given subject – or you can bring together the most creative people who provide another reason to be there.
It’s the ability to leverage not just your institutional and territorial assets, but to leverage your home population and to generate their participation that creates as it were the draw for the international participants to attend, and therefore for the digital participants from around the world to enjoy a premium experience. So it’s a reworking of the value chain of what makes a business event successful.
And I think they’ll obviously be multiple different forms of these hybrid events, but I think some of the things that Martin and Tommy and Leslie and Matias were saying, are absolutely correct. I think it is possible for us to understand what is the path to the new normal, and I think it’s also possible for us to shape what that new normal is.
Robert Coren: Well Gregg, let’s get on to the main course, so to speak, of what we’re speaking about here today: we’re crowd sourcing ideas for this JMIC Manifesto for Economic Recovery Using Business Events. Here’s what our panel had to say about that.
David Peckinpaugh: At a time like this, when recovery is so critical to our organization, to our society, to our economy overall, the power of business events is something I think that has to be front and centre.
Lesley Williams: And never has there been a more important time for us, as an industry, to harness the power of collaboration and community, to create positive impact, and show our worth to governments.
David Peckinpaugh: When dealing with government officials, how do we best go about that? In my opinion and in my experience, we need to focus on the economics. Whether it’s state, local, regional, national, global.
Geoff Donaghy: First of all, the industry needs to define, itself and its agenda, statistically. You know that great economic benefit, that thirty five billion dollars in Australia, for instance, and we become very good at the industry and measuring that in just about every country in the world. But we also need to find ourselves strategically, as well, and to line our goals and aspirations, and the benefits we deliver to align with the strategies, and the outcomes that whatever particular government we’re dealing with is aiming for.
Shane Hannam: Although the business event sector is important economically, in terms of supporting GDP jobs and exports, it doesn’t have the same level of importance politically, sadly. So what we need to do is find a way to express that value and the true importance of our industry, in political terms, not just economic terms.
Geoff Donaghy: But also to concentrate on the legacy, what’s left behind when those delegates that we bring into our cities return to their home venues. What’s the legacy that they leave behind for the benefit of that society?
Arnaldo Nardone: We should be flexible in our approach with the politicians. It’s not easy! They have a big problem today. They have a big problem to solve, so we have to convince them with clear arguments, that many events are related to areas of the economy, that are suffering a lot, and the events that we bring will help to develop again those areas.
Sherrif Karamat: I think far too long our industry has actually focused too much on government. And they see as wanting a handout, instead of us taking back our power. And that is by doing. We’ve got to realise that government should actually come to us, not us going to government.
Tracy Halliwell: Everything you said Sherrif is very, very well said. And I think one of the things we’ve done in London is exactly that. So, you know you go to government, you knock on the door, you try and get their help, and they, as Isobel said, because they’re only in term for three to five years, actually, unless it falls within their term of power, they’re not generally interested. So we turned it on our head a little bit and said “You know, we’ll just create things ourselves”. So going back to crowdsourcing, we created London Tech Week. The interesting thing though, about Tech Week, is that government are now coming to us, and saying “How can we leverage your event?” and “How can we get involved?” and “How can we do things?”. Sibos, we just held it a couple weeks ago, and we did a huge amount of work with DIT, so our Department of Trade and Industry wanted to come and use Sibos as a platform. And that’s where we got, you know, Britain helped us, the ‘visit Britain’, summit, so it’s starting to become a thing that ‘You build it, they will come’.
James Rees: And that model of Bureau is actually being rolled out. I’m not saying that London was the instigator, but it is a model that has been adapted by many cities across the world.
Shane Hannam: We are beginning to see elements of destinations working with educational institutions, with the local stakeholders, and the enterprise in a specific sector, and that’s already coming to play with that collaboration with the meeting planners, and the associations, and the destination.
Peter King: We had an inaugural last year around malaria. We bought all of the world’s leading exponents on that disease of malaria into Melbourne. These are initiatives coming out of our Ambassador Program, where global experts in a particular field recognize the need to gather expertise, and they come to us and say “Can you help us build a conference?”.
Carina Bauer: This is a great opportunity for us to restart that conversation. So that we explain to governments, not just the direct economic benefits of holding an event, and not just the benefits in terms of accelerating those business deals, and business compensations, and using events to really regenerate industries, which is what we know we can do, but also then that third element is that long-term legacy impact on the city, and the knowledge economy within that destination. And this is really the moment where we can really utilize this manifesto, the communication that we have to explain that value and how that really works.
Lyn Lewis-Smith: Taking Greg’s language, and using that to government, will cut through. And so I think as an industry, we need to change the narrative. We really do need to change the narrative. It needs to be around that innovation, around the education knowledge. And the experience economy, I know I’ve heard him talk of that, and visitor economy coming together, but it’s academic institutions that are at the backbone about our cities and our countries as well.
James Rees: So that we are seen as industry enhancers, rather than simply as the deliverers of great events that happen to be about a certain industry. We change the angle of that narrative.
Lyn Lewis-Smith: Change the narrative about the language that Greg’s using, I think governments will sit up and take notice.
Lesley Williams: I think the penny is dropping. I hope the penny is dropping. Governments are realizing more how important this industry is. Their ears are opening, and this is our opportunity to be heard and to become a strategic partner.
Shane Hannam: There’s always going to be the challenge of having different political priorities in different countries and regions.
Kai Hattendorf: No two markets are the same. No two legislations are the same. And what works here, won’t necessarily work over there.
Petra Stusek: But everyone involved from CVBs, venues, hotels, PCOs, DMCs, event companies, and performers, we all need to survive until the normalisation process starts, until the new type of normal is established, and we can successfully do business again. So the governments have all the power to ease this process substantially, if they understand the economic and social significance of the industry.
Maurits Van Der Sluis: The European Union is preparing to have a lot of money ready for our industry, especially for our industry. They also said “first go to your national and local governments”, because this is where the spend, of course, is directly.
Barbara Weizsaecker: EU authorities, I have to say in this crisis, are very open, they listen a lot, very attentive, and they also really use our arguments to be put into their drafts for the recovery plans for the recovery measures for the budgets. But at the same time we offer them platforms and stress that we want to be part of the solution of this crisis too. We’re not only demanding, we can also offer them something.
Kai Hattendorf: So that we are the fastest of all Fast Tracks to economic recovery.
Caroline Teugels: A moral pledge from the iceberg, that associations and their events are not in the long queue for helping in the recovery post COVID-19, but in the short queue to help these recoveries, this together with our partner cities, the regions, the destinations. Let’s do what is needed to make sure that we continue to be relevant, and make this world a good place to live for all. After COVID-19, let us reach out to better.
Robert Coren: Greg, what do you think of our manifesto? And does it change the narrative?
Greg Clark: Well, I think it’s absolutely what needs to be done, and I’ve read the draft manifesto and I think it’s getting us in the right direction. I want to make a couple of areas of emphasis, that I think we’re actually mentioned by Carina, and Lyn, and by Lesley, and Arnaldo, and of course Geoff. It seems to me that the work that you’ve already been doing on the kind of economic cost-benefit analysis, and defining in greater depth, the medium term legacy, just as Carina said. This is very important.
But this is the kind of the day minimums activity, this is what you need to do in every industry, all of the time, if you want support from government. I think there’s something extra, and additional, that’s now being required. I think Lynn began to speak about this. I think we need to talk much more about the innovation economy in the experience economy, and how these two superclusters as it were connect across different sectors in our economy.
So the experience economy is retail, it’s hospitality, it’s entertainment, it’s sport, but it’s also health and education, and other things. The innovation economy is of course science and technology, but it’s also creative industries, it’s also health and education in other ways. And really what you have to say to city leaders is what kind of innovation economy, what kind of experience economy we try to create in the city, in the future, as we become competitive again. And how can we use business events as a catalyst, and a driver of those.
I think there are then sort of three other things I would like to say. The first thing is I think it’s very important to position business events, not just as a kind of worthy contender, or as something that should not be ignored, but actually to position them as a critical catalyst of recovery. That if you like, business events are the safe, well organized, properly resourced activities that city governments can as it were back, knowing full well that there will be all sorts of lessons learned about how these business events have gone that provide opportunities for major sporting events, that provide opportunities for big learning events, that provide as it were opportunities for cultural and touristic events, and other things. In other words, business events are volunteering to go first, to be the guinea pigs of recovery, in order to provide lessons, insights, and knowledge, which will be generously shared, of course, with these other sectors where convening is also very important. And in this way, the business events can position themselves as a leader, as a pioneer, as doing something generous for the rest of the city, or the rest of the region.
I think the second thing that’s very important is to be aware of positioning business events in terms of the agenda that emerges out of COVID-19. Now, when I was speaking a few minutes ago about the seven big themes, whether it’s the zero-carbon theme, or whether it’s the healthcare and medical services theme, or whether it’s the new social capital and equality theme, or whether it’s the sovereign capacity and the re-engineering of supply chains to create a more resilient form of globalization, or whether it’s work that’s happening in how to make digital fair, and how to make digital inclusive.
We should think about not just how these kinds of themes are reflected in the titles of the conferences and their purpose, but also how these themes become reflected in the way that the business meetings are undertaken. The more we can do that, the more you can position business meetings, not just as critical to the recovery, but also as critical ingredients or solutions, or powerhouses if you like, for the long-term future shape of the society and the economy that we wish to have.
So, in my opinion, the work that has already been done in the manifesto is great, but I would add to that some of these nuances about the journey towards the new normal, and how business events are an absolutely essential part of that journey being taken, in a way which is pioneering, intuitive, innovative in itself.
The other thing I think I would say, and I say this in a slightly different tone of voice, is that there may be options in all of this not to wait for permission, or blessing, but as it were to take actions that have a demonstration effect, as long as you’re reasonably confident that it will be possible to do that, in ways that will demonstrate to decision-makers the importance of accelerating the recovery in the business meetings market first. I’m not quite sure how you do that, but it may be that you can generate all sorts of public opinion around activities, you could host some virtual events and ask people how much more they would enjoy if they were actually able to visit – these sorts of things maybe important.
Robert Coren: Greg one of those themes of course is the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Here’s what our panel had to say about that.
Carina Bauer: The other thing that I noticed in the manifesto is a reference to the UN SDGs, and what that manifesto talks about is how many of the UN SDGs business events actually support, both environmental and social, because I do think the UN SDGs are going to be even more important as we come out of this crisis.
Martin Sirk: The SDGs are a very, very valuable tool, because they’re a form of language which has been adopted in many spheres, and so when you talk in the language of SDGs, you can get the attention of people whose objectives and missions are built around those particular frameworks.
Barbara Weizsaecker: Because all the recovery will be focused on green sustainability and digitization. This is everything we can deliver, and we can really help a great deal to make all the industries we serve implement that change very quickly.
Martin Sirk: What I would love to see is that post COVID-19. We enter an era of the responsible delegate, so that delegates are going to meetings with a strong sense of purpose. They’re not simply going to learn to pick up new ideas, to get stimulated, to make some new contacts. They’re going because they really want to help solve a particular issue, or move something forward. And that could be a business issue, it could be an environmental issue, it could be a societal issue.
Greg Clark: Again, I think this is a brilliant idea, absolutely essential, and critical to creating a coherent understanding across the business meetings industry, about how these particular activities relate to a global agenda. I think it’s also important to say that this is not a substitute for something else that all business meetings leaders need to do, which is talk to as it were the local sustainable development goals of local leaders, which may not express themselves in terms of the UN form. So I would start with every individual mayor, or regional governor, or state governor, and look carefully at what their strategic agenda is. And I would position business events in the way that they can support them. In other words, every level of government has its own version of the SDGs, and although nearly all of them sign up to the SDGs, what they particularly sign up to is their version or their variation. So I would be careful to nuance the language towards the local variants that make sense. However, focusing on the SDGs is a very good way to provide a coherent narrative across the industry as a whole.
I also think that Martin’s right. That as it were the conscious business meeting attendee or delegate, how she or he behaves, how the richness of the experience is made real for them, and how privileged we are in a sense to be able to travel the world, to meet one another, to visit locations that are otherwise a long distance from where we live, and to really enrich the place through our visiting, as well as to be enriched by it, is a very important message. And I think he’s absolutely right that responsible participation and business events will become critical in the future. Of course, the key link here is to make sure that the important delegates, who come to town, genuinely have opportunities to meet with local leadership, so that local leadership can benefit from their presence in the city, just as the visitors themselves can benefit from being there.
Robert Coren: Greg you’re very fond in your presentations of that apocryphal Chinese curse “May you live in interesting times”. This really has been an extraordinary inflection point, hasn’t it? What do you make of how we’re going to fare over the next couple of years?
Greg Clark: Well, I think it’s right to begin with a combination of enthusiasm and sobriety. I do think, as I’ve tried to say already, that the period of time it takes to get a vaccine, or failing that the period of time it takes to be able to risk-assure groups of the of the healthiness of gathering together, is going to have a dampening effect for some time. You see, the problem is that governments and regulatory bodies are never paid to take risks with people’s lives, whereas entrepreneurs are paid to take risks in bringing together events, putting on fantastic gatherings, and exploiting all of the opportunities that come from having wonderful people together, exchanging ideas.
The problem is there’s a little bit of a mismatch of culture, between what governments feel they need to guarantee, and what entrepreneurs feel they need to pursue. So I think it’s going to be a challenging time, I think that we should see this though, not as an attempt as it were to attack the meetings industry or to stop business events from happening, we should see this overall as an invitation to innovate. To innovate in the way we combine physical and digital gatherings, and make both equally meaningful and exciting. To innovate in the way we bring people together, and the mindset that’s created, both by those who are hosting and those who are visiting, that’s going to be very important.
The way in which we elongate and elaborate the nature of the connections that are possible, so that the face-to-face connection is not the only kind of connection that is rich. And I think, most importantly in all of this, how we ensure that the meetings industry is seen to be something that is in favour of a new normal, that is decisively better, richer, more sustainable, and in a sense, more ambitious than the old normal was. The old normal was ambitious, it was entrepreneurial. Business meetings were at the cutting edge of helping to generate new value, in all sorts of ways.
The new normal needs to be even richer.
And we should use the opportunity to make this amazing change, to become more agile, as an opportunity to be an even better version of what we were before. So I think we have to be optimistic and positive about this, and accept that constraint is one of the conditions under which innovation can occur.
Robert Coren: Greg it has been a huge pleasure to hear what you have to say to us today. On behalf of everybody who’s been involved in this webinar, thank you so much for joining us today.
Greg Clark: Thank you very much!
Robert Coren: Huge thanks once again, to Greg Clark, for his extraordinary thoughts today. Huge thanks, also, to our sponsors – AIME, the Asia Pacific Incentives and Meetings Event; IMEX, in its new planet IMEX platform; IBTM, and its new IBTM connect platform; and Meetings Africa. And huge thanks, as well, to the massive cast of industry luminaries who have contributed to this program. We could not have made it without all of you.
The Joint Meetings Industry Council Manifesto for Economic Recovery Using Business Events is nearing completion, and a final version will be published soon. The content that contributed to its creation is also being made available for further viewing. Interviews were conducted by my Iceberg colleague, James Latham. The webinar was engineered by Phil Tobit. Archive video reports were edited by Toby Miller, and the webinar itself edited by yours truly.
May this industry and all of us very soon be living in less interesting times.
From all at JMIC, and the Iceberg, and from me Robert Coren, goodbye.
You may also be interested in…
- The JMIC Manifesto – Economic Recovery Using Business Events Part 1
- The Future of Event Tech is in your Hands
- Safe and sustainable – the future of our events industry
- Breathing life into the JMIC Manifesto
Find more content like this on our virtual resource hub, IBTM Connect.