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ICCA presidential report covers Covid, congress, community and co-operation

International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) president James Rees delivered the following presidential report to association members at the 59th General Assembly on 19 October which, for the first time, was held in a virtual format.

In preparing for today’s General Assembly, I have found it difficult to believe that a year has passed since we gathered for our annual congress in Houston and none of us could have predicted how our working lives would have been so comprehensively changed in such a short period of time since that event.

It is clear that this has been a year unlike any other we have experienced and it is one which began with such optimism for our association, following on from a very successful year in 2019.

However, as the year developed, we have seen the subsequent impact of the Covid-19 virus which has had such a devastating effect on all ICCA members across the globe and the international associations that we serve. As a result, everything ICCA has been doing this year has been designed to support members, protect our industry and to ensure ICCA continues to be there to support you in the future.

2020 began with the launch of ICCA’s Association Community, a ground-breaking initiative for ICCA which has strengthened the process of integrating associations into our business network, allowing us to have more direct input from THE most important voice in the world of association meetings.

The ICCA Association Community provides association executives with access to education, connections, tools and resources to support the organisation of their meetings and future strategies. In turn, they provide valuable insight and innovative ideas that help to shape ICCA and our members’ future plans.

Importantly, ICCA has continued to put increased association engagement as one of its key strategic goals and this will be seen in the attendance of so many international association executives at our forthcoming congress in Kaohsiung and our global hub locations.

Embracing associations in this way has provided us with a greater understanding of their needs now, and in the future, helping to grow ICCA’s relevance whilst maintaining our unique values and integrity. The work that started this year has seen associations begin to move from the previous ‘verified association’ status to full Association Community membership and we will continue work to bring ever more associations into the ICCA fold in the coming months and into next year.

As 2020 began to unfold and we saw the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, it became clear that ICCA would have to adapt its strategies in order to meet the demands of members for assistance and knowledge as we all came to terms with the effects on our industry. This resulted in ICCA creating a series of innovative webinars, all provided free-of-charge to members, to share experiences and advice across all sectors and every region of ICCA’s membership. Personally, as a member of the venue sector, I have found this knowledge exchange to be invaluable and it has been helpful to share detailed learning from across the ICCA network to help understand a pathway for our businesses as we come to terms with new ways of working.

In addition to these new online events, it has been important for ICCA to continue to provide the educational opportunities for members as part of its regular, annual events – namely the AMP Conference and Association Expert Seminars – all of which were held in digital format this year and all of which were sell-out events, including the first ever autumn/fall Association Expert Seminar which had been scheduled to take place during IMEX America in September but which was also held in a digital format.

One of ICCA’s important roles is to help support global advocacy for our industry and a further development from our work of 2019 has been the strengthening of the relationship of the G3 – that is ICCA, AIPC and UFI.

Members may recall my previous update on the memorandum of understanding signed by the G3 last year and I am delighted to report that this has delivered tangible results in the publication of a number of reports and guides this year including the Good Practice Guide: Addressing Covid-19 Requirements for Re-Opening Business Events. We value this relationship with AIPC and UFI and it will continue to bring benefits to members in our work to share knowledge and build advocacy for our industry as a key driver in the economic recovery that will follow the current pandemic.

Unfortunately, because of our need to support members with our core services during the pandemic, we have been unable to fully launch the Future Leaders’ Council. This is an initiative I proposed when I stood to be ICCA president and is something I feel very passionate about and I very much hope that this is something we will be able to deliver in the coming year.

When I spoke at last year’s congress in Houston, I reported on the work of the ICCA Board of Directors from the strategic meeting held in Tel Aviv in August 2019. That meeting was an opportunity to evaluate ICCA’s future plans and structures and to review our strategic 5-year plan which had been published in 2015.

The meeting also allowed us to measure the progress that had been made in protecting ICCA’s future, taking into account the independent, strategic organisational review that had been undertaken and reported to the previous CEO and Board of Directors in December 2016.

That review highlighted our great strengths of shared values and trust, but also raised concerns regarding ICCA’s cautious approach to change and highlighted a recommendation for greater efficiencies in order to remain competitive and relevant. To be able to reach the next generation of ICCA leaders and to be in a position to be responsive and flexible enough to change, we needed to resolve outdated work processes.

As I reported in July this year, the Board of Directors agreed to revise the five-year strategic plan and voted to evolve this to a three-year plan, in line with modern business practice. This would enable us to be more nimble in our approach to business planning and the delivery of increased member services.

As a result of the review, and a further period of evaluation, it was identified that a restructure of the Head Office operation would be necessary. This was an incredibly difficult decision particularly as the restructure would mean a reduction of 13 existing roles from the Head Office team and a loss of staff who had given long-term service to ICCA.

The decision was made in order to safeguard ICCA’s future and make it a stronger, more agile and adaptable organisation for the 21st century. I can honestly say that anyone party to all of the information that the CEO and the Board had at the time would have reached the same conclusion, however tough it was.

But it is incredibly important to highlight that these changes were in no way a matter of personal performance, but rather the need to restructure the functions required to protect ICCA in the future. I want to reassure members that this was a decision taken neither lightly, nor in haste.

Having explained the reasoning for the strategy, I appreciate that this does not fully convey the huge emotional aspect that was involved in the decision. To say goodbye and make difficult decisions when well-respected and long-serving members of the team are involved was incredibly tough for all involved.

However, as we navigate a new way of working together and through this difficult time, we do so with the best interests of our association at heart and I am thankful for the many direct messages I have already received from members since the announcement of this restructure. I would be very happy to answer any member’s questions regarding this matter and so please to not hesitate to contact me personally to discuss the details.

You will hear shortly from Senthil, our CEO, who will update us on the financial performance of the association, including our results for 2019, the forecast for the current year and our budget plans for 2020. Despite our extremely successful year in 2019, as you can imagine, 2020 has been a challenging year and 2021 will also remain challenging. Traditionally, ICCA raises its entry and membership fees each year in line with Dutch Inflation, however for 2021 I confirm that there will be no increase in fees at all. It is important that ICCA gives support in every way it possibly can and we trust that you agree that this is the right decision for the 2021 membership fees.

Finally, it should be noted that ICCA’s General Assembly has traditionally formed part of the programme of the main congress each year in our host destination. However, in order to allow for the maximum possible time for education and knowledge exchange within the congress programme, we have chosen to host the General Assembly today in order to conduct the main business matters of ICCA in accordance with our articles of association.

This year, in our unconventional but fantastic hybrid congress, our programme contains some of the best, world-leading speakers and educational content in ICCA congress history! I would like to thank everyone involved, in advance, for the work that has been brought together to create our first-ever hybrid congress, and to thank the many hundreds of delegates that will attend in Kaohsiung, our regional hubs and online for this record-breaking event. This will truly be an ICCA congress like no other!

The current pandemic is a huge challenge for all ICCA members and I would like to give personal thanks to our incredible Board of Directors, our CEO and the ICCA teams around the world for continuing to support ICCA’s development and to help guide our association and the global meetings industry safely through these current times and into the future.