“Hybrid meetings: combinations of virtual and in-person”

By Dr. Luiz Otavio Torres, ISSM President


Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, you have decided to postpone the 22nd World Meeting on Sexual Medicine (WMSM) in Yokohama, Japan, to November 2021. How will this decision affect ISSM (International Society for Sexual Medicine) as a society, and the World Meeting?

The World Meeting on Sexual Medicine is our biennial event where we meet our members in-person, share scientific knowledge, meet our international friends. Furthermore, our in-person committee meetings and Business Meeting are normally scheduled during our World Meeting. Unfortunately, all these in-person meetings cannot take place this year. We have decided to postpone our scientific meeting to 2021, but this does not mean that we do not have any scientific events this year, as we have started organizing monthly webinars. Our committee meetings and Business Meeting are all adjusted and are now taking place virtually, as they cannot be postponed. Of course, cancelling the event will also have a negative financial impact on the society, whereas calculations showed that postponing the World Meeting to 2021 was the best option, financially.

Will there be any drastic changes made to the Meeting next year?

We will update our program to make sure it is still relevant and includes the latest scientific updates. Next to that, our meeting will be organized as a Hybrid meeting (meaning combinations of virtual and in-person) instead of a full in-person meeting.

Would you consider hosting a virtual event instead of cancelling the 2020 Meeting?

We already had signed agreements in place with the venue, hotels, suppliers, etc. Fortunately, we have a good relationship with the Local Organizing Committee, the meeting venue and the local suppliers and were able to make a reasonable deal with them to postpone the meeting to 2021. If we were to make this meeting virtual, it would mean there would be four years between the two in-person World Meetings, and we would lose our biggest in-person contact moment with the members. And for ISSM – as a global Society – it is important to try to have the rotation of our meetings around the continents: postponing the congress to 2021 gives us the opportunity to keep it in person in Asia, in Yokohama, Japan.

Going back to large in-person events will take some time to get used to. Are you concerned this may affect the number of attendees next year?

We expect that the number of in-person attendees will be lower next year and the attendance will likely be more regional focused. That is one of the reasons we feel that a Hybrid meeting would be the best model for the World Meeting in 2021.  

The MICE industry has been heavily affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. How do you think this will change our industry, and what measures can be taken, in your opinion?

A lot of meetings are already organized virtually this year. We expect that virtual meetings will stay, but people also want to meet each other in-person when possible. Our plan for future meetings is to organize Hybrid meetings. This means it will actually be a virtual meeting combined with a live meeting, aiming for more/higher participation in total, but probably a lower in-person attendance than originally projected (due to COVID-19).