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How venues can shift perspective for greater economic and social impact

Venues are most often considered in the sense of their size and capacity. However, they are also so much more than rooms and seats. The first ICCA Think Tank, hosted by the ICCA African Chapter, examined venues and their role in the social and economic development of cities. Taubie Motlhabane, CEO, Cape Town International Convention Centre and ICCA African Chapter Chair moderated the session. Taubie and the expert panelists illuminated the critical position of venues in communities - as economic drivers, job creators, social changemakers, and even model citizens. 

“We were headed into our best year yet”

Business was booming for venues heading into 2020 and their success had a tremendous impact on local economies. Lungelo Mbandazayo, City Manager, City of Cape Town, opened the Venue Think Tank by highlighting the positive economic impact that the Cape Town International Convention Center (CTICC) has made since opening its doors in 1999. For example, CTICC has contributed R5.5 billion to the Western Cape City GDP and created more than 11,861 local jobs during the 2019 financial year

The Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre (KLCC) welcomed 1.6 million visitors and delegates in 2019. Between 2005 and 2019, the centre delivered US $2.21 million in economic impact to Malaysia. Angeline van den Broecke, Director Global Business Development & Marketing, Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre and ICCA Board member, explained that before the pandemic hit, the convention centre was working to align their sustainability initiatives with the UN 2030 Agenda to make a bigger social and economic impact. They were optimising their industry supply chain to create a competitive advantage, building a sustainable talent pool, and exploring digital transformation. 

“We were also headed into our best year yet at the beginning of 2020,” said Kathleen Warden, Director of Conference Sales, Scottish Event Campus (SEC). Kathleen detailed how the SEC, and the city of Glasgow, benefit from 20 years experience as a conference destination. In recent years, the venue has been aligning with key academic, medical, scientific, research and development. This effort has substantially grown their business in the international market which is a huge economic boost. Before the pandemic, the SEC was generating around £450 million in annual economic benefit. 

Adapting to a pandemic reality 

When the COVID-19 pandemic sent the world into lockdown, venues didn’t simply close their doors and wait out the crisis. Rather, in many cases, they opened their doors even wider to their communities. The CTICC hosted the largest field hospital in Africa, caring for as many as 800 people during the height of the pandemic. It also provided space for a food distribution project that handed out 2.5 million meals to Cape Town’s most vulnerable residents. 

Craig Kesson, Executive Director: Corporate Services, City of Cape Town, outlined the ways in which the venue’s events organisers have adapted their operations to meet safety protocols and pandemic regulations. Craig and Lungelo are both optimistic that CTICC will play a pivotal role in transitioning the meetings economy to the ‘new normal’ and continuing Cape Town’s legacy as Africa’s top destination for festivals and events. 

Accor Hospitality Group was forced to close 70% of their 5,000 properties worldwide, due to local regulations and lack of business in 2020. However, during this time, a number of initiatives were launched by hotel staff to support their own communities. These initiatives included distributing food and offering hotel rooms for vulnerable populations and frontline workers. “Accor has many diverse offerings besides just rooms. We can diversify and focus on locals and their needs,” said Xavier Guillemin, ACCOR Executive Director Meetings & Events Global Sales.

New mindset for greater impact

Dr. Catherine Draper, Former President, International Society of Physical Activity and Health has been tasked with keeping the association’s momentum going without its biannual meeting. “Everyone is quite tired of being online, so we are thinking about solutions for meeting virtually when everyone is Zoomed out.”

Like most association leaders, she’s looking for a partnership with a venue that can help the association navigate the new normal. Kathleen confirmed that this is what the SEC has determined from a survey of their clients. She said that 93% of more than 100 of their events organisers are pivoting to hybrid events. However, the organisations also expect to return to pre-Covid numbers in two to three years and anticipate 50% of future attendees to join online. In this way, associations can achieve their goal of expanding their audience. 

“We need to understand our purpose. We are here to support our association clients in delivering education and, if hybridization is the way forward, then we need to realise as venues how we can best support that through technology and in understanding the value of the digital attendee to the organiser.”  

While restarting the meetings industry is occupying the spotlight at the moment, Kathleen said this perspective shift will shape the future of venues well beyond the pandemic recovery.“Venues have the unique opportunity to be role models to our citizens around our operating practices.”

Angeline agreed that now is the time for venues to change their mindset from being suppliers to being partners. “One thing that COVID has done is awaken the social consciousness of venues because now we really do see ourselves as an integral part of cities and communities. This is a big adaptation, but a vital and a progressive one.”

Venues comprise the largest sector of the ICCA community. ICCA CEO Senthil Gopinath emphasised the key role venues play on both the local and global stage. “This past year has proven that venues are essential, yet also ever-changing features on the social and economic landscape of cities. We’ve seen how quickly they can adapt to serve their local communities as testing and vaccination centres, hospitals, and places of refuge. 

Meanwhile, they’re also transforming into hybrid events studios - showcasing innovation and resilience to form stronger partnerships in the business events industry. They have not only risen to the current challenges but along the way have shared their knowledge and good practices for pandemic safe events.