AIPC Annual Conference: Don’t waste the crisis!

Sunday, 12.07.2009
Beacon. It has towered there for 2000 years, withstanding crises and wars and serving as a beacon for countless ships; and all this endurance has now found its just reward. On 30 June, just before the 160 attendees travelled to the AIPC congress and 51st AGM in A Coruña, the Torre de Hércules became a […]

Beacon. It has towered there for 2000 years, withstanding crises and wars and serving as a beacon for countless ships; and all this endurance has now found its just reward. On 30 June, just before the 160 attendees travelled to the AIPC congress and 51st AGM in A Coruña, the Torre de Hércules became a UNESCO World Heritage site. The population of 300,000 are proud, first and foremost Enrique Pena Gonzalez, Director PALEXCO Palacio de Exposiciones y Congresos: “I hope this will also brighten spirits and inspire us to navigate through these difficult times.”

Keynote speaker Dr. Linda Yueh, macro-economist and lecturer at Oxford, among other universities, brought some light into the dark of the crisis. To start with she warned in the words of US President Obama’s Chief Economist “not to waste a good crisis! I see it as an opportunity to change politicians’ viewpoints, as these are extraordinary times. The crisis has a new quality due to globalisation.” Then the managers of and from international convention centres found themselves caught up in a 75-minute whirlwind titled “Global Economic Status and Outlook: The World Today and Tomorrow”.

Yueh started with the bubble, shed light on the world finance system and predicted: “2010 will be better than 2009, in 2011 the economy will grow again regionally, if the banking system works and the governments don’t do anything foolish. I know these are great expectations.” The governments are now investing 3.5 trillion dollars, around a fifth of which in “green investments”.

For Yueh this is one of the motors to get us out of troubled waters. The charismatic Asian offered insights into global macroeconomics, including a structure and response analysis of the markets and ended by quoting former US Vice President Dick Cheney: “There are known unknowns and unknown unknowns but I hope that I have shed a bit of light on the known unknowns.”

Various lectures, panel discussions and roundtable meetings made it clear that the situation is serious but not hopeless. The association segment was confirmed as a reliable beacon, while corporate business is in decline – be it in Adelaide, Australia, Basel, Switzerland, Cape town, South Africa or Washington, USA. The members’ reports came to similar conclusions albeit with different backgrounds.

While Alec Gilbert, CEO Adelaide Convention Centre, reported that the expansion of the ACC has been postponed for three years, Jonas Scharf revealed that Basel will continue with its 300m enlargement. “But we have lost some of our British customers due to the currency fluctuation,” admitted  director Scharf. “Corporate customers up to 30 per cent down,” reported Greg O’Dell, CEO of Walter E. Washington Convention Centre. However, he was aware of his “political advantage” in the US capital with a pitying look at Nevada: “Las Vegas lost 400 events in the first quarter of 2009.”

Convention centre directors are reacting with or without discounts, investing in staff, offering further training, avoiding dismissals and trying to step up their marketing measures: “We must fight more for our business, build a profile, and definitely not save on marketing,” confirmed Dirk Elzinga, CEO of Cape Town International Convention Centre.

To help delegates realign their efforts, the AIPC’s management focuses on new perspectives. Hence the agenda included “Innovation Management” or “The Client Perspective” with Luca Favetta, Senior Director Global Events EMEA at SAP and Sherrif Karamat, COO of the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) with 6,100 members, of whom 65 per cent are associations and 35 per cent companies. Both made today’s requirements quite clear with a list projected over the attendees’ heads. The focus was on “value added” – in all areas, be it attendee and exhibitor marketing, digital infrastructure or services – planners rely on centres as “solution providers”.

Frederik van Oenen, head of Arthur D. Little Holland, also tried to find solutions – in vain but the amusing discussions spawned by his failed “Innovation Management” meeting went on until the evening. But before that Isabella Marras, Program Officer Green Meetings, UN Environment Programme (UNEP), held everybody’s attention by throwing a spotlight on one of the growth drivers in her lecture “Sustainable Meetings: A UN Perspective”. “The UNEP Green Meetings Guide has just come out. A green meeting needs to minimise negative impacts on the environment and have positive effects on the host community.” Marras wants to co-operate closely with the industry.

More far-sightedness was also demanded by Simon Anholt, who had already been invited to Graz in 2007. The publisher of the Nation Brands Index and City Brands Index pointed out the image problem of the meeting industry, which was due to its lacking profile and proximity to leisure tourism. “You are currently at risk of getting a negative image. But you could change that, if you really wanted to,” he advises a concerted strategy to “escape the combination of business and leisure that stands for excess.”

“This is a demanding time,” recapped AIPC President Edgar Hirt. “Putting our heads together to think makes sense, supported by the insights that we get from our colleagues and speakers. I think we have all gained something, and have contributed to the know-how that makes communication in our association so valuable.” The next AIPC will be from 3 to 7 July 2010 in Liverpool, and for 2011 sunny San Diego in California, USA, is on the agenda.

Fireworks for A Coruña

Success. “I invite you to go out and talk, day and night,” Enrique Pena Gonzalez encourages his guests to discover A Coruña in Galicia. The city with a population of 300,000 in the extreme north west of Spain, even put on the pyrotechnics – not for the AIPC but to celebrate Torre de Hércules becoming a UNESCO World Heritage site. On the face of it, the city seems a bit austere but once you take a look at the Atlantic that washes around the peninsula of the old town, you forget about it. A Coruña (Spanish: La Coruña) is the base of international players like Inditex, which runs 4,264 branches of the Zara brand in 73 countries. Gonzalez is the director of PALEXCO Palacio de Exposiciones y Congresos including a 1,500-seat auditorium, views of the sea and heart-warming Spanish

The photo gallery…
Enrique Pena Gonzalez Location-Tips “Inside A Coruña”…