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IBTM World’s David Thompson on the relevance of culture for today’s events

IBTM World’s David Thompson on the relevance of culture for today’s events

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A large B2B event like IBTM World is more than just a meeting point or an opportunity for new business connections: it is also (and maybe above all) a gathering of a community with cultural dimensions, rituals, and collective emotion. In what is still the post-pandemic time, this dimension will taste better than ever. As IBTM World is approaching, this year’s theme (culture) perfectly fits into this dimension of events. David Thompson, IBTM World Event Director, tells us more. Eric Mottard

Culture is the central theme of the show this year. How do you define it, and why is it relevant to the IBTM World community?

There has been a loss of culture in the office, and other professional contacts, with many interactions becoming digital. People have gone partially back to the office, but there has been quite a bit of resistance, so interactions are still often digital. I love being together in person and bouncing ideas around as a team. I get that 2-3 days a week when I go to the office but, beyond the office, events provide that excitement and togetherness.

As event planners, we have a bigger responsibility today; events used to be a marketing and sales tool, a way to connect people, but now we are more than that, we are culture creators. As meeting planners, we bring communities together to get excited about the work they are doing, to celebrate what makes them passionate about what they do, and to find people with which to share and find support in these challenging times. Business events fill the gap that the pandemic created.

The other side is culture in a more traditional sense. Convention bureaus come to IBTM World to explain their destination and its culture. Events match this cultural offering with the tastes and needs of the attendees at the event. If you match this, you have a magical event. So, we also want to celebrate the culture of these destinations as a core component of IBTM World.

How will this concept of culture materialise in the event?

It will come from the exhibitors as each destination brings its own culture, but also be featured within our programmes. It will bring these communities together and give them a moment in which they can share their common challenges. The concept will also be a key part of the Knowledge Programme. The five educational tracks follow the idea that events that integrate culture create better business, better experiences, better careers, better connections, and better brands. The educational content will be structured along these five concepts.

Another evolution will be the format; while all educational sessions will provide an engaging and informative shared experience for delegates, some sessions will also be interactive, giving delegates the opportunity to participate directly.

These are troubled times (energy prices, geopolitics, health issues…). Are events managed now on shorter distances, maybe within a continent, to avoid cost and complexity?

It has been partly the case recently but we see international, including long-haul, events coming back strongly. We have convention bureaus coming from all over the world with over 100 countries represented from the Americas to Asia Pacific, as well as a push from Africa. We will see the whole world at the show and in 2023 and 2024 we will see even more cross-continent collaboration. Every event needs to reflect the context in which it is taking place and we are committed to bringing people back together from all over the world to learn, collaborate, and build lasting relationships.

What are the challenges in today’s context: inflation, economic uncertainty… any others? Covid?

Everyone is going through their own stages. The impact of Covid is still present in some countries across Asia, while some others have removed all Covid safety requirements. Today, the event market has seen a strong recovery. Sure, challenges abound as you say, but they make you a better event organiser because you have to look at things in more detail and think more creatively. It is a great moment to learn and improve.

How is the show coming up? Is IBTM World fully back?

We are almost back at the 2019 show size which welcomed over 2,600 exhibitors from over 150 countries, 2,700 Hosted Buyers, and hosted over 74,000 pre-scheduled business meetings. This year’s show will be about 85% of 2019, although overall visitor numbers expected to be the same at around 10,000. Next year we should be at the same level as 2019. There is now no doubt that business tourism is a primary function to driving an economy; convention bureaus recognise this and use IBTM World to create partnerships and drive more traffic to their events. This is a key driving force behind the recovery of the industry.

Digitalization has been the buzzword for the past 2-3 years. How do you integrate it?

We will focus more on technology, with great partners helping us develop this part of the educational programme. We want to support event planners to build events in this new era and integrate the technology that can help them do this.

Should we embrace hybrid as meeting professionals?

There is definitely a preference for face-to-face formats, which is a different, much richer and fuller experience. But hybrid is indeed something we have integrated at IBTM World. Firstly, I am organising IBTM World using a hybrid work organisation because, as a team, we are working in a hybrid environment. Secondly, we will provide the tools for our participants to run their hybrid events.

As a trade show organiser, we don’t see much potential to make the experience a virtual or hybrid one, besides streaming some educational sessions. The corporate event organiser has gone through the pandemic and is still seeing a lot of value in virtual formats but, on the association side and in trade shows, there is a drive to get people together again.

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