Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, you have decided to host the 17th World Conference of Associated research Centers for the Urban Underground Space (ACUUS), which was supposed to take place in Helsinki, Finland, virtually. What sparked the decision to host an online event instead of postponing the in-person Conference to a later date, as many other associations have?
The COVID-19 pandemic is drastically changing the entire world. It has also affected the core scientific and technical field of our organization. For example, most experts agree that mass transit systems in urban areas should drastically change the way they operate in the post COVID-19 era. This is a vital question for every big city, let alone megacities, which we cannot afford to postpone, not even a day.
As this is your first virtual event format, how has the planning and organization changed?
Some of the fundamentals of our conferences, like the high quality of the scientific papers and the strict peer-review process, have remained unchanged. What has indeed changed is the efforts of the organizing committee to create an almost “real” conference environment and the presenters to make their speeches more powerful and effective using the latest technological tools.
Can you give us an impression of what the virtual Conference will look like for attendees?
Together with the organizing committee, we have spared no effort in trying to make our participants feel as though they are in a true conference room. There will be Q&A sessions and the presenters will be able to interact with their audience. There will also be some nice “surprises” that will stimulate interest and personal involvement.
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 in the future?
I am not quite sure about this. On the one hand, people around the world as well as the scientific community are in deep shock that, most probably, will take several years to recover from. On the other hand, this could also have the opposite outcome: the day after we feel that the pandemic has ended we could see a rebound effect to travelling, maybe with some permanent cut down to unnecessary travels.
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?
Definitely, the challenge is huge. However, since the MICE industry has already developed an easier and efficient way to move on, I believe it should now turn its attention first to making it resemble the in-person experience as closely as possible. Then, in the post COVID-19 era, it should focus on taking the full advantage of in-person meetings. I truly believe that there is no substitute for the combination of a good, skillful speaker in front of a vibrant and enthusiastic audience.