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What I learned from IBTM in Spain


By Nicole Walker, Managing Director, Arinex

Making the long haul flight from Sydney, Australia to Barcelona in Spain for IBTM at the end of 2021 proved to be exciting and thought provoking. It was a trip and event that stirred a number of emotions from both a personal and business perspective.

The airport was deserted, with the majority of shops closed, and the nervous excitement that you normally feel at the international gate when boarding a flight felt less excitement and more anxiousness. From a business perspective I wanted to showcase to the world that Australia is worth the flight, that we are open and ready to welcome people from all around the world, and to showcase bravery, providing more certainty that life is nearly back to normal. However it’s not to say that thoughts of COVID safety, quarantining on return to Australia and personal risk were not considered. I just forced them to the back of my mind.

It was incredible to witness and be part of 1,400 buyers from as many as 72 countries across the globe with excess of 7,000 attendees. These were from agencies, corporations and associations including HelmsBriscoe, HPN Global, First Incentive Travel, HPN Global – World, Follow red Branding Experiences, Knauf, Pfizer and the European Society of Cardiology.

It has taken many years of positive engagement to position Australia ahead of competing countries in the business events and incentive markets and the value of being present with Tourism Australia was evident if we want to maintain this position globally.

International attendees were astounded that we had come from Australia. They were keen to hear about new direct flights from London to Darwin, pricing and regularity. They only know what they see on television, so it was important to inform and educate the business events and incentive markets about Australia’s safety standards, high vaccination rates, our incredible new products and experiences, sustainability activity, visa and insurance requirements and highlight that while the world was hibernating over the last two years, Australia’s natural environment got even more natural and glorious.

Sentiment about Australia was positive. Australia was known as having experienced the hard lockdowns but many countries were envious about Australia’s management of the pandemic. Our strong medical facilities have been globally highlighted and these are more highly regarded than ever before.

It became evident that Associations will continue to plan for Hybrid events in 2022 and beyond as the market reach is greater and it has become more of an expectation. Sustainability is a focus but it hasn’t transposed through the whole value chain yet. However for big incentive groups there was discussion around returning to nature and managing risk by splitting into smaller groups.

I was one of many thousands who met face to face at this extraordinary event and where IBTM’s world map app was downloaded 3,600 times, celebrating the highest engagement ever.

Australia was on show for the world to see and it was great to play my small part.

Some interesting statistics about my trip to IBTM World 2021 in Spain:

  • 153 hours total trip duration

  • 66 hours travel time

  • 34,340 km’s travelled

  • 23 hours of show time

  • 40 scheduled meetings

  • 1 facebook live interview

  • 3 networking dinners and 1 lunch (Tourism Australia, IAPCO, INCON and The DMC Group)

  • 4 COVID tests

  • 3 days home quarantine

Trevor Connell from Australasian Special Events spoke candidly with Nicole about IBTM and featured the following article on January 28, 2022

Consumer confidence is the real question our industry is seeking answers to. At the end of the day the best way to increase this confidence is to lead by example and demonstrate that business events can proceed in a safe way. If the tennis and cricket can still run safely then why can’t Business Events?

Industry events such as Get Local in mid-February in Sydney and AIME in mid-March in Melbourne proceeding as planned rebuilds this confidence. There is still an overwhelming desire to meet face to face and whilst we have seen a number of postponements in recent weeks it is reassuring to see them only shift several months rather than a full year again. Now we need to focus on the safe delivery of the events rather than postponements and or cancellations.

I learnt so much in Barcelona last November exhibiting at IBTM World on the Tourism Australia stand. This was proof that large scale exhibitions can proceed in a COVID safe way. I am also excited to be attending the IAPCO Annual Meeting and General Assembly from 10 – 13 February in Rome, Italy. This will be the first opportunity for our international partners to come together since our last Annual Meeting in Vancouver in February 2020! The knowledge sharing and networks gained at a face to face business event is certainly a drawcard.

When will international borders open? There has been very little communication on this topic over the past few weeks. Omicron has distracted the government and the rest of us from the timelines and guidelines required in this area, however we work with long lead times and our industry needs time to plan. In order to do this effectively we need direction and certainty.

At Arinex we currently have nine International events scheduled from 1 July – 31 December 2022. Whilst some have already made the decision to go completely virtual, the longer we leave borders closed the greater the economic impact and the longer our industry will take to recover. We cannot wait until after the election to receive a roadmap for this integral decision.

The industry has been grateful to recent funding coming from a number of states to provide some confidence to event planners however is this enough to push through the challenges and deliver?