AIPC Conference Rejuvenated Thanks to New Format

There were a lot of expectations in Antwerp at the AIPC Annual Conference this year. Hosted by the Flanders Meeting and Convention Center – the ‘Room with a ZOO’ which played a key role in providing a wide range of distinctively different spaces, the event kept delegates engaged in new and varied environments and experiences – something that had not necessarily been the case in previous years.

AIPC, the international association of congress centres, represents a global network of over 190 centres in 64 countries with the active involvement of more than 1,000 management-level professionals worldwide. It encourages excellence in convention centre management, based on the diverse experience and expertise of its international representation. To do so, it is engaging in a variety of educational, research, networking and standards programs.

Its Annual Conference is part of those efforts to bring excellence in all areas of centre management: 2019 saw more than 150 delegates converge to Antwerp and its one-of-kind convention centre – it sits next to the city zoo, and is literally a stone’s throw from the train station – to tackle the overall theme of “Practical Strategies to Meet Changing Expectations”.

As usual, the Conference started by a keynote speech which put things into perspective. In that regard, Dr. Linda Yueh, a globally recognized economist and authority on trade issues, delivered a realistic picture of how current economic and geopolitical issues are re-shaping the business environment of centres. At the end, technology futurist Sophie Hackford shared her insights about the future implications of rapidly changing tech capabilities – and how these will accept meetings in general.

Innovative this year

What was really new this year is how the programme had delegates get to work. In that regard, the “BrainShare” session was developed as a unique opportunity for participants to address the challenges associated with growth, from scalability to resourcing and from accessing talent to resulting adaptations to business models and ecosystems. Developed Oscar Cerezales, it asked key questions in the context of immersion-scale orientation, with dedicated topic stations and discussion labs used to arrive at conclusions that were then merged to create an overall change strategy.

Of course, I, like the rest of the audience, was particularly interested in a session called ‘Insights from Key Clients’. After all, how associations and congress venues can work better together? What’s the overall experience of clients when it comes to convention centres around the world? Chantal Van Es, Head of Sibos, Isabelle Bardinet, CEO of the European Society of Cardiology, Kai Hattendorf, CEO of UFI, the global association of the exhibition industry, and Jurriaen Sleijster, representing IAPCO, the international association of PCOs, all  shared their perspectives on change and evolution in the industry.

Chantal, for instance, explained that “our last conference took place at ICC Sydney, and they understood our needs like maybe no other venue before. Sibos is all about financial compliance, all about anti-money laundering, and all about cybersecurity, amongst other things. The goal is to bring people together and make them think about how to solve common challenges and that is what we’ve always tried to do with an event like ours. If convention centres understand what we want to achieve and they can be part of it, then it’s win-win situation. At Sibos, we see meetings as a premium service that’s becoming more and more rare: that’s why we have to provide one-of-a-kind experiences.”

More generally, Isabelle Bardinet pointed out that if we all must demonstrate our open-mindedness, flexibility and forward-thinkingness, by experimenting with meeting environments for instance, we must not forget the basics of conferences. “If the basics are taken care of – and believe me this is not always the case – we’ll be eager to do more and be open to new ideas and formats,” she said. “One thing is certain, tough: meeting and planning are fundamental pieces of what we do at the ESC. The more problems the world will unfortunately have, the more people will need to meet. Simply put: we’re going to keep meeting. Even if there is an economic downturn, we’re just going to adapt.”

Concluding on an event that delegates enjoyed, from the informal survey I made, AIPC President Aloysius Arlando said “This year’s Annual Conference was a significant departure from previous events – but that reflected the kinds of big industry changes we see happening around us. By using our own interactions at the conference to learn and grow as managers we are continuing a great AIPC tradition of sharing for mutual benefit – something we will only intensify as we grow into the future”. 

This article was written by Boardroom Chief Editor Rémi Dévé The right to use, part or all of it in subsequent works has to be granted by the Publisher.

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