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Not Everything in the Past Becomes Irrelevant

Written by: Mark Cooper - Friday, July 10, 2020

On March 10, I received an email from our long-standing research partner Development Counsellors Int. in New York City, to tell me that our recent survey data was cleaned and ready to review. At this time, I had a sense that our industry would be affected by COVID-19, but was still two weeks away from knowing to what extent. 

I questioned myself and other IACC colleagues, how useful will this year’s report, in its 5th year be? You see the survey was completed by IACC meeting and conference venues around the world, before any notable effects of this pandemic were taken into consideration. The survey data was COVID free, a snapshot taken literally days before everything changed.

I remember weighing up the merits of continuing with the development of the report constantly, maybe because it is hard to separate from all the other noise. Is it going to be of any help to people? Is it good use of our volunteer and staff time? Will our industry ambassadors be able to find the bandwidth to give their views and comment? So many questions, all unanswerable. We had to make a decision whether to pull the plug in 2020, miss a year, just like so many other industry initiatives and events were doing around us, on a daily basis.

I remember one of the defining thoughts that broke through the doubt. After 5 years, it was not the results of 2020 being potentially invalid in the coming months that is important, it is what the results of this global research show us, spanning a decade, even longer, this year included.  

It was also the belief (and maybe a dose of hope!), that not all of the trends from 2019 become irrelevant. We decided to press on and to ensure 2020 does not become a blank page in the history of the meetings industry…

What we learned

July 7, we published the annual IACC Meeting Room of the Future report. All of us involved in this global research, learned a lot in the process of crafting a report fit for the brightest minds in the industry. 

Between mid-March and early-July, we realized the unthinkable, that we were going to experience seismic changes that will affect our meeting spaces. The result of the pandemic will force our venues doors to close, impact the incredible people that make the industry the only one I want to be in. And yes, even now, even when there is so much at stake, I cannot imagine being in any other industry, the one I was born and raised into. My career family. 

The first decision we made, was to not change or take out any data or venue operator views  that we thought might not be valid now, but instead to add sections, we called COVID-19 Perspective. It allowed us to maintain validity this year, knowing that when we survey industry again in early 2021, we will have valuable data to benchmark.

During May and June there were signs appearing to suggest that there will be past priorities that will not disappear. I remember being a part of an Events Industry Council webinar exploring sustainable meetings and IACC’s European Knowledge Festival that attained the Certified Sustainable Event Gold Standard. I was staggered that in the middle of all this, 1,400 people tuned in to the live webinar and engage on this issue.

There was also this incredible groundswell of action we were seeing on the Socials, our members taking out their frustrations at the halting of meetings, by serving their local communities. Hospitality at its best. Many examples of these were included in our May blog post, demonstrating kindness and compassion during these times and in line with IACC’s Better Tomorrow commitment.

CEO Lotta Giesenfeld Boman handing over food to vicar Jakob Tronêt from Sigtuna parish, Sweden.

Both of these examples when looking at this year’s data, were accelerators for trends that were already there in 2019. They were important then; they are important now and the net result is likely to show that we will not be content with mediocrity in our meetings in the future. 

The report also highlights a concerning gap in our employment of incoming generations, which may hamper the speed of adjustment for our industry. We have a good number of millennials in our employment, but a low number in senior positions of influence. Something for us to consider addressing as we re-shape our businesses.

The final observation being the willingness of our global volunteers. I was afraid they would not have time to give to an industry report. I was wrong, very wrong. They like me, were up to the challenge to figure out what the trends are and in equal measure, great contributors to the COVID-19 Perspective sections.  IACC cannot thank our global volunteer group and our sponsoring partners enough for their support this year.


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