UIA Associations Round Table Asia-Pacific 2020 on 17 and 18 September – 131 participants from 23 countries met in virtual Seoul

Report of an exciting experience. By Clara Fernández López, External Relations Manager of the Union of International Associations and Member of the Executive Board of the International Youth Library Foundation

Back in March, the UIA team and the host for UIA’s Associations Round Table Asia-Pacific 2020, Seoul Tourism Organization (STO), were happy: well ahead of time, all arrangements for the programme and for the 8th Round Table Asia-Pacific had been finalized, the event venue in Seoul had been chosen, the travel details for the speakers and the UIA team were settled, tickets and accommodation were booked. The website went live and presented not only the wealth and the diversity of the education programme, underlined by the vast experience of the speakers, but also a sightseeing and networking programme offered to the participants, which we were all looking forward to. The registration platform was ready to be opened at the end of May.

On 12 May, UIA and STO agreed on accepting the risks and the reality of the global health situation associated with the COVID-19 pandemic and moving from a face to face event in Seoul to an event in virtual Seoul – planned to offer, nevertheless, an atmosphere as physical as the best technology could provide. From this date, and up to the last minute before the virtual Round Table opened on 17 September, the UIA team and the STO team worked hand in hand, email by email and zoom after zoom through three different time zones: South Korea, Europe and the United States.

All seven speakers engaged for this event agreed to join us in facing the challenges of using extensive technology and mastering those time zone differences in creating a new experience for a Round Table, with a mix of recorded presentations of their case studies plus live workshops in parallel virtual breakout rooms.

STO provided the speakers in Switzerland, the Philippines, Thailand, United States, Taiwan, Malaysia, Australia and Germany with webcams for recording their presentations. The week before the event, we met with the speakers for two rehearsals.  And from Seoul technological support was provided to the speakers, and to the participants, throughout the planning period and the two days of the Round Table event.

STO designed and developed a high-tech 3D virtual meeting platform, easy to navigate and displaying Seoul as an appealing destination, which embraced the audience and the speakers with a warm and welcoming atmosphere.  The event attracted 131 participants, representing 86 organizations from associations, industry and media in 23 countries: not only did they watch the presentations and take part actively in the live workshops and in the database training session, but the system also allowed them to meet for networking in a lounge and to participate in games and tours, give feedback on the event in a Survey, win prizes and enjoy tourism around Seoul.

The main part of the programme, comprising the opening and the closing keynotes, the database training and the presentations, took place in the Conference Hall, which was set in the virtual “Changdeokgung Palace”. The three breakout rooms for the live workshops were set on three “Artificial Islands”; the participants met in “Seoul Botanic Park” for their networking, and in the Theatre, set in “Dongdaemun Design Plaza”, for entertainment and games.

The most important tool for accomplishing this impressive virtual Round Table and for leading the participants through the various virtual venues and their associated activities was the detailed playbook, which scheduled the event minute by minute, and which provided guidance for the synchronization and the interactivity of the roles of all those involved – for the UIA team as a moderator throughout the event, for the speakers, and for the technological support by the STO team.

UIA, the speakers and the host consider this first virtual Round Table to have been a remarkable success. What we all missed is celebrating this success by tasting the wonderful food Seoul offers and sharing a drink!

NB: Seoul Tourism Organization (STO), host of UIA virtual Round Table Asia-Pacific 2020, has donated the total income from registration fees for this event to create scholarships for two students from a disadvantaged socio-economic background.  The scholarships will support the students in pursuing their studies in the field of the MICE industry – for example, organizing international conferences, exhibitions or providing language services such as translation and interpretation. This initiative focuses on delivering some positive energy into the future of the MICE industry at this challenging time.