Opinion | Challenges are Opportunities in the Event Industry

7th Dec, 2021

Conventa, which has signed the “Net Zero Carbon Events” pledge © Marko Delbello Ocepek

Over the last 6 weeks I had the opportunity to attend numerous industry events, which was both energising and inspiring, especially because they happened in a face-to-face environment. The key message I took from these event professionals gatherings is a very positive one: our industry is an extremely resilient one, turning challenges into opportunities. The presentation of the event industry pledge at COP26 to become carbon zero by 2050 is a clear demonstration of that resiliency… and so much more is happening.

At one of the sessions of the AIPC talent programme, the participants were asked what they saw as major risks for our industry. The list was impressive, going from unpredictable decisions by authorities on event protocols to losing talents to other industries. This had the potential of being a therapeutically session. And then Sandy Kennedy, CEO of the Entrepreneurial Scotland Foundation, who was giving the lecture, showed us that value creation – in terms of market capitalisation - has never been higher than the last 10 months. In 2021, market capitalisation of the top 100 companies rose by a staggering 48% according by a report released by PWC. So, while we feel there is a lot of uncertainty, there are clearly a lot of opportunities too – also for the events industry.

In order to identify these opportunities, we do need to think differently. And sometimes, sources of inspiration come from outside our industry. Just to give an example: when fire-detectors became mandatory in The Netherlands, one insurance company saw this as an opportunity to engage with its customers by offering a service to install them. The win for the customers: no hassle to find a company to install the detectors and 100% compliance with the insurer’s policy when it came to the installation of the devices. Not only did this result into a new revenue stream for the insurance company, but it also boosted customer loyalty.

If we look at the challenges the customers of convention centres are facing, we see something similar. Events need to be safe, sustainable, multi-channel, provide a return on investment, leave a legacy, and offer a great experience to the delegates. For convention centres this is a clear opportunity to re-engage with their customers and address these challenges in full partnership – where needed with the support of a third party.

"Next to talent, sustainability will be a key success factor going forward."

This will not be an easy endeavour. Convention centres went through thorough reorganisation and now need to get their organisation back to speed. This quote from Christian Folden Lund, CEO at Bellagroup, speaks for itself: “Today was a significant day as we launched a new 5-year strategy and changed our group name to Bellagroup. The name change is a culmination and visible proof, of the transformation our company has been through on top of a dramatic time of closures, empty hotels and venues. We have new owners, new management, new strategy, new operational model, new arena and now also a new name that ties the whole thing together.

We do see more and more business coming in and I´m especially proud that we have managed to on-board more than 200 new colleagues since this summer. With the current pace, we will at the end of 2021 have a group where 50% of all employees will have less than 6 months in their current position. Luckily 50% of the new employees we on-board have some sort of previous history with our group, I believe this will prove to be a great mix of experience and fresh new input.” Talk about turning challenges into opportunities.

Next to talent, sustainability will be a key success factor going forward. As mentioned by all speakers during the presentation of the event industry pledge at COP26: sustainability is no longer an option, it is a must have and it will evolve into minimum service standard. Here also, we saw some great thinking demonstrating the ability to turn challenges into opportunities: both Alan Steel from the Javits Center in New York and Monica Muller-Lee from the Hong Kong Conference and Exhibition Centre provided great insights on how there are turning their facilities into examples of sustainability. The full video of the pledge presentation can be found here

I think what these examples demonstrate is that our industry is not only able to handle risks, but that we are able to deal with uncertainty. Risk relates to what is known and knowable. Uncertainty relates to what is unknown and/or unknowable. In both situations, decisions need to be taken. The big difference is that in the case of uncertainty, we do not have any data to base our decisions on. And yet, convention centre leadership across the world did exactly that: be risk managers AND navigators of uncertainty.

Seeing what is happening at conventions centres across the globe and especially the mindset of the leadership makes me very positive about the future of our industry. To end with a quote mentioned during Sandy Kennedy’s session: “your position gives you power, but your decisions make you a leader”.

AIPC - the International Association of Convention Centres, is the industry association for professional convention and exhibition centre managers world wide. AIPC is committed to encouraging and recognizing excellence in convention centre management, while at the same time providing the tools to achieve such high standards through its research, educational and networking programs.

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