Knowledge hub ICCA

Monday, 23.11.2015

An intensive ICCA General Assembly revolved around key areas of focus for the ICCA: knowledge, big data, gender equality and philanthropy. Buenos Aires was inspirational. A report by Katharina Brauer

Buenos Aires. The 54th General Assembly of the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) from 1 to 4 November 2015 in Buenos Aires brought in 766 delegates from 66 countries, a record number for an ICCA General Assembly in America. They were attracted not just by the city – the Paris of South America, the birthplace of the tango and a footballing mecca – but the new convention format. The Argentinian host committee under Mariano Castex did its best to enable delegates at the La Rural trade fair centre, which offers 45,000 square metres of hall space in the beautiful Palermo district, to work and network in a relaxed atmosphere under one roof.

270 first-timers were given a heartfelt welcome by their mentors at the opening of this four-day event, which offered condensed knowledge and interactive training. “Our mission is to be a global community and knowledge hub for the international association meetings industry and to provide competitive advantages and opportunities to do business. We aim for a successful outcome for association meetings,” said ICCA CEO Martin Sirk, outlining the organisation’s mission statement.

For the first time since 2010, the ICCA has formulated a new strategic plan for the period 2015 to 2020. The explicit aim of offering opinion leadership gives a clear future orientation to long-held values such as a focus on business, collaboration, a democratic approach and cultural sensitivity. This theme was also taken up by Matthias Schultze, managing director of the German Convention Bureau (GCB), in his keynote speech entitled “The Future Meeting Space” at the Central European Chapter’s meeting. Mahir A. Julfar of the Dubai World Trade Centre, which will soon offer 15,000 square metres of additional space, was confirmed as the director of the strong Middle East Chapter, while Africa, which has so far been its adjunct, will get its own chapter and a full-time director in January 2016.

Nina Freysen-Pretorius has achieved much not just for Africa but for women as well in her first year as ICCA president. “The ICCA is about sharing ideas and knowledge – in order to create a platform of greater transparency,” she said during the opening ceremony at the Centro Cultural Kirchner, emphasising the mission of the ICCA. Empathy and sensitivity to national cultures figured large in her speech, in which she paid tribute to the ICCA members of the South American Chapter killed in an air crash in March 2015, quoted the Argentinian Pope and made an appeal for humanity and sustainability. In the new “President’s Choice” format, she discussed with Saniye Gülser Corat of the Unesco Division for Gender Equality and Matifazda Nyazema, executive director of the Sandton Convention Centre in South Africa, among others, why empowerment and equality for women is a critical international meetings industry issue.

Given that there are 28 million girls today who have never been to school, the panel pleaded for the formation of “old girls’ networks” providing advocacy and mentoring. Against this background, it may well be a good sign that the six students from the University of Osnabrück, the University of Victoria and the University of Leeds who were invited to Buenos Aires courtesy of the ICCA Education Fund were all female. “In order to get here, you had to make an impression and write an essay. I love the welcoming international atmosphere here, which is what makes our industry so unique,” said Jeanine Howton of the University of Victoria in Melbourne.  

Transformation and knowledge were central concepts during these four days. “We have to go beyond the database and create gateways to the individuals involved,” said Martin Sirk, announcing the launch of the third ICCA Big Data Tool for 2016, which is dedicated to the challenge of finding a sponsor and bringing the people behind the logos into play. One welcome effect of the tool is that it boosts delegate numbers, as the ICCA, a key player in the industry, can testify.

Associations were the focus of the 40 interactive workshops. Karen Bolinger, CEO of Melbourne Convention Bureau, and Scott Taylor, chief executive of Glasgow City Marketing Bureau, explained their different ways of running an effective ambassadors’ programme. Whereas a club scheme in Melbourne involving 160 ambassadors generates 25 percent of all conventions, 95 percent of which are staged at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre (MCEC), Glasgow has 1,700 lifelong ambassadors and a full-time ambassadors manager. Questions about how to work with corporate ambassadors were left unanswered due to lack of time. The German cities of Berlin and Hamburg are intending to launch ambassadors’ programmes. Another seminar focused on strategic challenges for associations and seminars.  

The balance between rigorous content and entertainment made the General Assembly a real experience. Eric de Groot and Mike van der Vijver of MindMeeting in the Netherlands again came up with new ideas. The Copenhagen Denmark Lecture, traditionally held on the last day of the convention, took a fresh look at business environments.

The persuasive message of food guru Claus Meyers was to adopt a philanthropic business model. Scott Ferguson of the Halifax Convention Centre emphasised the importance of food and taste to meetings planners, describing the brand campaign he is running ahead of the venue opening in 2017, which aims to involve customers by, for example, sending them carpet samples and different forks and types of soap to try. The campaign won the ICCA Best Marketing Award 2015. The ICCA Best PR Award went to the Greater Bogota Convention Bureau for its “People: The Power of Hope” campaign, which helped it to win One Young World 2017. Anne Wallin Rodven, former CEO of the VisitOslo Convention Bureau, was made an ICCA honorary member. “Sharing knowledge – that is what the ICCA is all about,” she said in a moving acceptance speech. The next General Assembly will be taking place from 13 to 16 November 2016 in Kuching, Sarawak.