End of Year Review - 2022
AMI editor James Lancaster casts his eye over another turbulent year for meeting professionals…
When Meeting Professionals International (MPI) cancelled its European educational conference in Brighton, England, in response to ‘ongoing travel restrictions’ and ‘growing concern’ about the Omicron variant of Covid-19, it looked as though 2022 might be another annus horribilis for association meeting planners. The less potent, but more spreadable, variant would eventually lead to a spike in the number of deaths comparable to previous peaks. The difference this time was the vaccine. Although international distribution was uneven, in those countries where the vaccine rollout had been most successful – the UK and Israel, for example – deaths were around 75 per cent down on previous highs. Organisers still faced much uncertainty at the start of the year, but the vaccine's proven efficacy meant there was genuine light at the end of the tunnel.
For virtual event platforms, there were early signs that the investment bubble created during the pandemic was about to burst. Hopin, the London-based start-up valued at a staggering $7.7bn in August 2021, shed 138 jobs or 12 per cent of its workforce. More job losses and a flurry of event tech company mergers and acquisitions were to follow throughout the year as the permanent, large-scale migration to online events some had predicted in the heat of the pandemic failed to materialise.
Trouble of a weightier sort was brewing in Eastern Europe. Russia had amassed up to 190,000 troops on the border of Ukraine and, despite Kremlin assurances to the contrary, a major escalation of the Russo-Ukrainian war, which began in 2014 with the annexation of Crimea, looked inevitable. On the 24th of February, just as Covid deaths were peaking, Russia invaded Ukraine. As Europe and the Anglosphere reacted with fury, Russian forces attacked its neighbour from the north, south and east intent on capturing the capital Kiev and toppling the elected government. How would those tasked with convening people from all over the world respond to the rapidly unfolding events?
While some associations put out strong statements condemning the Russian invasion, some appeared not to have grasped the scale of what was happening in Europe. Before long, however, associations from all sectors were presenting a strong front against Russia’s attack on Ukraine. Major meetings industry bodies - such as ICCA, UFI and MPI - suspended Russian chapters, banned Russian delegates from attending conferences and trade shows, and contributed thousands of pounds towards humanitarian appeals. In the Ukrainian city of Lviv, the tourism office, home to the city’s convention bureau, was converted into a media centre, while local PCOs (professional congress organisers) helped organise the thousands of evacuees heading for the border.
Meanwhile, in Western Europe, the organisers of Mobile World Congress, GSMA, were celebrating a ‘vibrant and dynamic’ return to meeting in-person after tens of thousands of visitors flocked to the event in Barcelona. The international trade body – full name Global System for Mobile Communications Association – said 61,000 delegates from 200 countries attended the four-day event at Fira de Barcelona. At its pre-Covid peak the meeting attracted 110,000 delegates. It remains to be seen if those numbers will ever be seen again.
For online event platforms, there were early signs that the investment bubble created during the pandemic was about to burst...
By now associations in Europe and North America (travel restrictions in APAC were still being lifted) were increasingly convening their members in-person after two years of virtual meeting. The 10th edition of the European Association Summit took place in Brussels in a hybrid format, although most delegates chose to attend in person. There was a similar pattern elsewhere with Sydney-based congress organiser ICMS flagging up that registration for two of its hybrid association events, the 20th International Conference on Soil Mechanics and Geotechnical Engineering and the International Meeting on Lithium Batteries were tracking overwhelmingly in favour of in-person delegates. In Asia, Singapore opened its borders to fully vaccinated travellers from April 1st.
New Zealand was preparing to host international conference delegates once again following the lifting of border restrictions. Fully vaccinated travellers from about 60 countries, including the UK and US, were now able to travel to the country. Australians had been allowed in the previous month. Meanwhile the international business events community reunited at IMEX in Frankfurt. The trade show was a milestone moment for the industry; its biggest international gathering since the pandemic. Russian exhibitors were banned from the show as a mark of solidarity with Ukraine, which sent exhibitors from Lviv to the show. Elsewhere in the world, Hong Kong was opening its borders to fully vaccinated travellers.
This month saw more merger and acquisition activity in the event tech space as Cvent, the event management software giant, snapped up VenueDirectory, the UK-based venue finder and booking service for an undisclosed sum.
A new vehicle designed to encourage innovation and growth in association was launched. The Association Investment Partnership (AIP) was the brainchild of five industry veterans who believed associations could thrive by adopting a more business-minded approach. The group said it has investors (a mixture of individuals and Family Offices) waiting to pour money into associations, who could show convincing plans for growth.
Associations were increasingly convening their members in-person after two years of remote meeting...
Meeting planners in the United States were responding to the US Supreme Court’s decision to end a 50-year constitutional protection for abortion, with the overturning of Roe v Wade. In a flash poll by Northstar Meetings Group more than 40 per cent said that state abortion legislation would influence their site-selection decisions in the future, and most of those said they would avoid meeting in states that banned abortion.
Meanwhile event tech platform Bizzabo was laying off 120 people – 30 per cent of its 400 employees – in response to what it called the ‘swift economic downturn’. The company raised $138 million from investors in December 2020, when it looked like the pandemic would leave a permanent mark on the events industry.
At the same time a record number of delegates, from more than 110 countries, were arriving in Edinburgh for the 14th International Congress of Cleft Lip, Palate and Related Craniofacial Anomalies (Cleft 2022). More than 1,500 delegates filled the EICC, the highest number in the event’s history, as the strong bounce back for in-person association events continued.
Association leaders met in Lisbon for Association Worlds Congress, the first in-person iteration of the event since Gothenburg 2019. Numbers were down (roughly 100 delegates were in attendance), but engagement was up, with a pared-back programme allowing for much more audience participation. Some associations were bruised by the experience of going virtual or perhaps attempting hybrid for the first time. But some wondered why associations even used the 'h' word. Their reasoning? From a delegate perspective you are either in-person or you are attending an event remotely (virtually). Not both.
Almost 200 medical and health associations demanded a legally binding phase-out of fossil fuels. The World Health Organization (WHO), the International Paediatric Association, the World Medical Association, and the World Federation of Public Health Associations are among the signatories of a letter calling on governments to create a fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty. “The modern addiction to fossil fuels is not just an act of environmental vandalism. From the health perspective, it is an act of self-sabotage”, said WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
Diversity, legacy and sustainability were the industry's watchwords...
The varied landscape of the new business reality was evident across the show floor at IMEX America, which was taking place at Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas. On one side of the supply chain, Craig Jarrett from Royal Caribbean International observed: “Both planners and suppliers are hugely busy with event pipelines stretching up to six years ahead. We’ve met buyers today to finalise events in 2028.” On the other side, some of the 200+ education sessions explored the challenges planners were currently facing. In Venue Contracts for Today’s Unruly Environment, Tyra Warner, Chair of the Dept. of Hospitality Tourism and Culinary Arts, College of Coastal Georgia, opened by declaring that the, ‘old rules are out of the window’. “We’re in the relationship business and traditionally contract negotiations reflected that. Increasingly, however, there’s less collaboration or room for negotiation. Many of you are not getting the outcomes you want from your conversations with suppliers and that’s why you’re here.” With many in the audience agreeing that it is currently a seller’s market, Tyra shared her advice: “In a negotiation, the name of the game – for both parties – is to minimise risk. Figure out what your event’s strengths are and trade on those.”
Representatives from the meetings industry attended COP27 in Egypt to unveil the sector’s Roadmap to Net Zero...
Representatives from the meetings industry attended COP27 in Egypt to unveil the sector’s Roadmap to Net Zero. Hundreds of events professionals watched streamed presentations and panel sessions detailing the initiative’s progress since its launch in 2021, how the industry can move forward effectively using the roadmap, and how action areas and workstreams on topics such as travel, accommodation, energy, waste, and measurement are the next steps. UFI's Kai Hattendorf said: “This is the biggest, most inclusive action ever from our industry. At COP26 we just got started, with our pledge, and a huge amount of momentum. Now, at COP27, we’re launching the roadmap. "By COP28, we will have models for implementation, successful pilots to announce and share, and we will have companies beginning to report their progress into the framework."
Krakow, Poland, played host to more than 900 delegates at the first in-person ICCA Congress in three years. The five-day event was focused almost exclusively on three themes: sustainability, legacy, and diversity, equity, and inclusion. And there was barely a dry eye in the house when, during the closing ceremony, delegates were entertained by a choir of Ukrainian refugee children.
Meanwhile consultants Gaining Edge, issued a press release stating that an enormous venue which served as the media centre for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics and Paralympics was on track to become China’s premier international convention centre. The China National Convention Center Phase 2 (CNCCII) is in the Beijing Olympic Central Precinct and is scheduled to open in early 2025.
And the outlook for next year? Well, things are looking a lot rosier, according to the latest Pulse Survey from Northstar Meetings Group/Cvent, with booking levels are at all-time highs and budgets matching - and in some cases outpacing - inflation. And planners are finally more sanguine about their supplier relationships.