In recent weeks the U.S. meetings and events marketplace has been focused on defending the corporate events industry and its impact throughout communities in the USA. ICCA CEO Martin Sirk released a letter that outlines the issue from a global perspective. — Rob Hard

Protectionism in the International Meetings Industry Is Simply Not an Option

There have been some powerful PR efforts by our industry, mainly originating in the USA, to fight against negative media reports about “frivolous” or “excessive” meetings and events, which had threatened to paint our industry as a wasteful item of expenditure rather than what we all know it to be: the most cost-effective and impactful communication tool that is available to any company or association.

What has been lacking in the debate so far is a defence of the international nature of our industry. It is unfortunately all too easy to make a simplistic case for “local jobs”, to discourage companies from sending delegates to overseas conferences, or to stipulate that they should only hold their own meetings within national borders. But this has just as many dangers as lobbying against the principles of free trade, or telling banks to pull out of all their international investments in order to have more money available for local mortgages and small businesses. Political expediency can have damaging consequences in a world that is no less interconnected than it was before the current crisis.

Our business is unashamedly international, and we should be proud of this. We are concerned with making valuable new connections across cultures and beyond borders, bringing together doctors, lawyers, scientists, investors, academics, government officials, business leaders and others who would otherwise not have a chance to work together, to share knowledge and know-how to find solutions to challenges which themselves are blind to national bounderies. We want to see Americans and Indians attending meetings in Singapore that result in new capital investment in the USA, Chinese engineers coming to Germany to share cutting-edge technical research, Brazilians meeting in Russia to discuss environmental solutions with Scandinavians, South Africans arranging business deals with Egyptians and Koreans in London: this is when the true value of our industry is unlocked.

ICCA will be advocating strongly in favour of this viewpoint, and will be challenging any nationalistic, negative interpretation of what our industry exists for and why it is valuable. Hopefully ICCA members around the world, understanding as they do the value of the key international association meetings sector, will stand up for the same principles. Competition between countries and cities is healthy, but protectionism is a real danger: let’s make sure we don’t let it take root in our industry.

Martin Sirk