Senthil Gopinath, CEO of International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA), understood quickly that his association members would be particularly affected by COVID-19 pandemic disruption. Their annual events are often the prime fundraisers and education delivery mechanisms. “I was on a flight from Amsterdam to China and realized that [the virus] was spreading quickly,” he says.

ICCA rapidly launched a series of educational trainings and workshops. Demand was intense. By working with International Association of Convention Centres (AIPC) and others, they were able to reach record numbers of people in the industry.

When it came time to shift the delivery mechanism for the 59th ICCA Congress, Gopinath knew his group had to model strategies for members while delivering education in ways unlike any congress staged before. “We needed to demonstrate that face-to-face and streaming events can be harmonized and build trust and business relationships,” explained ICCA Board of Directors President James Rees.

The event, themed Transforming Global Events Together, will be distributed in coordination with Maritz Global Events at seven hubs all over the world, with the event centered as planned in Kaohsiung, Taipei. That way, people who feel comfortable can attend in person, but the larger, newly engaged audience can access the content digitally when it is convenient for them.

A Case Study in Transformation

ICCA Director of Association Relations Ksenija Polla explained that the main program will cover four hours of live broadcast daily that will be streamed in the hubs and online. Speakers, such as Jean Pierre Lacombe, director of IFC Global Macro, and Genevieve Leclerc, managing director with Meet4Impact, will be available on demand for those who may have missed them. Outside of the main program, each hub will have localized programming for the members in the region.

The six-week event kicked off with a press conference on Friday and was designed as a case study in experimenting with new ways of delivering value. Its intent is to be interactive and client-centric. The end goal is to explore new ideas, formats and technologies to create a “Kaohsiung Protocol,” a framework that identifies major trends and key strategies to enable the international meetings industry to thrive, now and into the future.

Thriving also requires delivering value for sponsors. The conference built in engagements on “the road to Kaohsiung,” so partners and attendees can have deeper levels of communication based on what they might want to accomplish. “We have a lot of tools to play with and a lot more time—six weeks rather than three days,” said ICCA Board Member Gregg Talley, president and CEO of Talley Management.

The program will also tell the stories of what people are going through during this challenging time. Ben Goedegebuure, global general manager for Europe, the Middle East and Africa for Maritz Global Events, focused on the importance of meeting despite the uncertainty. “We want to be a light in this difficult time,” he said. “That is why we need to come together, now more than ever.”

Looking Forward

Gopinath sees reason for hope.

“Even though we all want face to face as soon as possible, it is amazing to see how quickly everyone shifted all over the world,” Gopinath says. “The industry never slowed down. Groups have been extraordinarily innovative finding different models to connect.”

Beyond the experiment of the coming month and a half, he is looking forward to ICCA 2021 in Edinburgh, Scotland, in February.