Houston, do we have a problem? Image 1

ICCA 2019

Houston, do we have a problem?

The International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) after 36 years touched down again in North America, in Houston/TX to be exact. Following a slow start, astronaut Scott Parazynski gave the 58th annual congress in Space City just the thrust it needed.

oll it! 10 – 9 – 8… the countdown for the 58th annual congress of the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) in Houston was on: after the rocket was launched, images of Space City and John F. Kennedy were on display. When the US president in 1961 proclaimed the country's ambition to send a man to the moon, NASA needed a space center and found it in Houston. “Welcome to Houston, the home of innovation and technology, the theme of our conference – especially in a time in transition as ICCA is in,” is how James Rees, ICCA president and executive director of the ExCel London, greeted the 983 delegates from 75 countries who had traveled to Texas from November 27 thru 30 of this year. This was the largest ICCA congress staged in Northern America. Daniel Palomo, Director of Global Sales at Visit Houston, joined in: “Welcome to Houston, welcome to a city of immigrants, a city of tolerance.” His words were augmented by a second film presenting children in Houston originating from countries across the globe. The USA's fourth-largest city is noted for both new technologies and diversity.

The lights came on at the annual congress 2019 after what must have been one of the shortest ever opening ceremony in ICCA history. This was the more surprising as the city of Houston had applied a total of three times for putting on this congress; Palomo as the event's host stated that “the ICCA Congress has been long awaited in Houston. It will be a great platform to help position our destination even further among the leaders in the international association meeting market, especially in the US.” This past year, Dubai had made excellent use of this platform with 1,156 attendees and had accordingly set high standards.

Participants at the Destination Marketing sector meeting couldn't help but wonder. On one side because the contents of this session consisted of the presentations of three new members, the convention bureaus of Rwanda, Lodz and Bordeaux, on the other side because none of the three videos actually played. Even if there was no telling if the fault was with the organizers, the presenting parties, the venue or the AV provider: the monitoring panel in Texas Hall D – H is well equipped with monitors and operators; the Marriott Marquis Houston is a new conference hotel with 1,000 rooms and almost 50,000 sqms of function space with a ballroom and diverse variable meeting facilities. Located in the Convention District, the Marriott Marquis Houston is linked by skywalk to the George R. Brown Convention Center.

The ICCA Central European Chapter (CEC) brought to light another, more structural problem: lack of cooperation of members. Unlike others of the altogether eleven chapters. e.g. the France-Benelux Chapter, the Scandinavian Chapter or Middle East Chapter, its expansive territory encompasses 18 countries and 181 members, ranging from Germany all the way into the Ukraine. Chairperson Karina Gruetzner of the Stuttgart Convention Bureau and her deputy Igor Kovacevic of the Serbia Convention Bureau's, confronted their passive peers with questions such as 'How can we involve more members to contribute to education topics and chapter development?' or 'What does the ICCA CEC mean to you?' Quite a few members took their thoughts to a new level: do we still need this chapter? If we do, should it be split up into Central and Eastern Europe?
Houston, do we have a problem? Image 2
983 delegates from 75 countries traveled to Texas. This was the largest ICCA congress staged in North America.


At the closing ceremony of the ICCA 2019 the Global Destination Sustainability Index (GDSIndex) released its 2019 ranking of the sustainability performance of 50 global business tourism and events destinations. The GDS-Index benchmarks performance across four key areas: city’s environmental strategy and infrastructure; city’s social sustainability performance; industry supplier support; and the destination management organisation’s strategy and initiatives. Gothenburg came top of the list of cities in the GDS-Index for the fourth year running. With a score of 89.64 out of a possible 100 points, and with a 7% improvement from 2018. Joint second place projects presented by Wonderful Copenhagen and Ljubljana Tourism. James Rees, president of ICCA commented “As the effects of climate change become evident and social pressure for action increases, the meetings and events industry must continue to create positive economic impact for destinations, but also help influence the social and environmental policies that are affected by our business. Destination Management Organisations are a key catalyst and enabler of a sustainable visitor economy, and I am delighted to see the GDS-Index evolving and playing a vital role in accelerating the creation of sustainable destinations.” www.gds-index.com

The issue of contemporary and efficient structures isn't new at all. It applies to all associations including ICCA, its 1,100 members in 100 countries, the executive board, the new CEO Senthil Gopinath and president James Rees. “To stay relevant for our members, evolve with the times and be true to our mission, ICCA has developed a series of initiatives in recent years to develop closer engagement with associations,” is how Rees at the general assembly presented the new 'ICCA Association Community'. From January 2020, international associations have access to this new platform for education, expertise and invitations to ICCA programs and events. “With associations integrated into our community, ICCA will have direct input from an important voice in the world of association meetings, something which is currently missing from the ICCA community,” said Rees. “Embracing associations provides us with a greater understanding of associations and their needs now and in the future.”

Houston was just that kind of opportunity. Roughly 50 represented associations provided their input to sessions such as 'Every bid has a story'. Tracy Bury, Deputy Chief Executive Officer, World Confederation for Physical Therapy (WCPT), had this advice: “Get under the skin of the association. Each association has something they are going for.” The WCPT World Congress with up to 5,000 delegates is a source of income, and this also applies to other associations. Destinations that guarantee many delegates, destinations that are welcoming to all delegates are at an advantage. “We have to make sure that we have the right destination to fulfill our goals: you have to stand out,” said Bury, and she warned: “Forget about sales, it is about building a relationship.” Her advice: “Get personal, let us share our ideas and own together the results of the conference. You can be the catalyst of change! You can bring the relevant people of your city to the table!”

Leslie Zeck, Director of Meetings, International Association for Dental Research (IADR), was also looking to establish partnerships at the campfire session 'The Importance of Local Partnerships in Leaving an Impact'. She narrated how in preparation for the IADR 100th anniversary, it was decided that all future meetings of the International Association for Dental Research will have an impact. As a consequence, the IADR in a first step banned sugar, sweetened beverages and dessert items in favor of healthier options.
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New leadership at ICCA: CEO Senthil Gopinath (left) and president James Rees.

The IMEX Group also set an example for environmentally- compatible policies in sponsoring lunch: “Houston and Texas are meat loving destination – and we are offering you a meat-free lunch,” said Nalan Emre, COO IMEX Group,with a twinkle in her eye, thus providing the setting for table talks: risotto instead of steak? Really?

“This way we will save 1,024,200 liters of water which equals the daily water for 512,000 people and 1,890 kg of CO2 which is the carbon captured by 31 trees grown for ten years,” is Emre's calculation, and she appealed to delegates: “Imagine what we could save at all our events!” The IMEX Group thus made reference to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations, in particular goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production. And because the Britons are taking this seriously, they announced 'Nature' as ‚Talking Point‘ for their next trade shows in 2020 and 2021 in Frankfurt and Las Vegas.

While delegates were still savoring dessert, James Rees sat down on the stage for his 'President's Choice' session. The transition worked well, because who could be better qualified to talk about planet earth than a former NASA astronaut who looks back to five Space Shuttle flights and seven space walks and who climbed Mount Everest? By way of narrating his feats, Dr. Scott Parazynski emphasized “the value of multidisciplinary teams who can come at challenges from very different perspectives” when things do not go as planned. For example on his final mission to the International Space Station 2007, when he made a dramatic, unplanned spacewalk to repair a live solar array that had been damaged and was a threat to the space station’s survival. “Team work is crucial at NASA,” Parazynski emphasized, with everybody bringing in their particular skills. He's flown with pilots from all over the world, and this type of cooperation is what will shape the future. His audience agreed, and this is why many of his listeners will travel to Kaohsiung, Chinese Taipei to attend the 59th ICCA Congress from November 1 to 4, 2020.

ICCA Congress 2019 | Self Sustainability Checklist

My daily pledge to be sustainable:

[ ] I used the complimentary airport shuttle bus upon arrival/ departure | SDG13 [ ] I walked to the Congress Venue (Marriott Marquis Houston) today | SDG13 [ ] I used low carbon transportation like bicycles or the light rail / buses when exploring the city today | SDG13 [ ] I used a car-sharing service like Uber/ Lyft or a city Taxi to get around the city today | SDG13 [ ] I carpooled with other delegates to get around the city today | SDG13 [ ] I neutralised my flight to and from Houston via a carbon-offset project | SDG13

[ ] I opted in the linen and towel reuse programme at my hotel and reused my towel | SDG15 [ ] I turned off the water when brushing my teeth today | SDG6 [ ] I made a conscious choice to take a shorter shower or no shower today | SDG6 [ ] I turned off all lights and electronics when I left my hotel room | SDG7 [ ] I chose sustainable, local or organic food whenever possible when dining out today | SDG2

[ ] I responsibly ate from the lunch buffets today, only taking food items and portions that would be eaten. | SDG12 [ ] I did not open the bottled water at my hotel room today (if provided) | SDG14 [ ] I collected my reusable water bottle from MiCo Milano Convention Centre and used it today | SDG6 [ ] I brought my reusable coffee mug, and used it today | SDG15 [ ] I brought my reusable bag with me, and used it today | SDG15 [ ] I responsibly disposed of waste materials today by recycling at my hotel, in the event space and around the city | SDG15 [ ] I opted for a digital photo instead of a printed one at the Alianza Punta Cancun Photobooth today | SDG15 [ ] I opted for a digital photo instead of a printed one at the Italia Convention Bureau Photobooth | SDG15 [ ] I used the mobile app today instead of picking up a printed programme | SDG15 [ ] I donated an item to the Star of Hope charity | SDG1 [ ] I only took one (1) hotel key card or the necessary amount when checking in at my hotel (Once) | SDG12

[ ] I attended the “Evolution or Revolution? Transforming tomorrow from climate emergency to shared prosperity” session today (Tuesday) | SDG4 [ ] I attended one of the Technical Tours today (Monday and Tuesday only) | SDG9 [ ] I visited the “Incredible Impact” display today and learned a lot! Thank you Best Cities Alliance | SDG8 [ ] I had a discussion with colleagues on how the industry can help reduce inequality today | SDG10

[ ] I participated in the Monday 5K Fun Run (Monday Only) | SDG3 [ ] I enjoyed the Monday Meatless Lunch. Thank you IMEX Group (Monday Only) | SDG3 [ ] I attended a morning Yoga class with Annemarie Lombard Puntschart in the Mindfulness Lounge today (Monday & Tuesday Only) | SDG3 [ ] I have spent some time in the Mindfulness Lounge today | SDG3 [ ] I walked more than 10,000 steps today | SDG3 [ ] I attended a “Moving Conversations” session today | SDG3

[ ] I shared a social media post, using #ICCAWorld and #greenevents today | SDG15

In its first “ICCA Congress 2019 – Self Sustainability Checklist” the International Congress and Convention Association asked the delegates about their behaviour. The result? 87% of them contributed to “Affordable and Clean Energy” SDG7, 59% to “Clean Water and Sanitation” SDG6. The initiative was supported by Dubai Business Events.
“What does the ICCA CEC mean to you?”
Karina Gruetzner, Stuttgart Convention Bureau, and Igor Kovacevic, Serbia Convention Bureau