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23 Nov, 2009

Congress Organisers Say Less Business Travel Won’t Help Cut Global Warming

The meetings and conventions industry is calling upon environmental regulatory authorities to think long and hard before pushing for curbs on travel for business and MICE purposes as part of efforts to reduce global warming.

In a statement last week, the International Association of Professional Congress Organisers (IAPCO) said that while limiting such forms of travel may seem to be an “obvious solution” and may solve the problem at the outset, it could “create considerable difficulties further down the line.”

IAPCO is the worldwide association representing over 100 professional congress organisers who claim to organise more 5000 meetings annually, representing more than 1.9 million delegates, and creating an economic impact of some 3.1 billion euros.

The statement was issued in response to a reported European Union push for limits on business trips, on the grounds that a 20% cut could easily be achieved by replacing them with telecommunication and web-based alternatives.

While commending the EU for its efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions, the IAPCO statement said it is “essential that a balanced and objective approach is taken.”

For example, the statement said, “there is a much publicised move to use local produce in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This could be applauded; however, by limiting the import of produce from certain developing nations, the local economy in those countries suffers dramatically, leading to increased poverty, starvation and ultimately dependence upon those countries who helped inflict the problem upon them.”

Reducing Business trips, which include attending meetings, conferences and events, could lead to similar such “serious consequences further down the line,” the statement said. It went on to offer a number of other examples of the “serious consequences” that would arise.

As many countries do not have the technical infrastructure to participate in such meetings, limiting the attendance of representatives from European countries would impact on the “learning and peer review environment” created by such meetings. Technology security problems would emerge as sensitive data is often discussed and presented during such meetings.

Moreover, the statement said, “technology cannot replace human interface. Governments must never lose sight of the fact that human beings communicate on a face-to-face basis; no technology can replace the benefit and added value of body language, networking and personal contact.”

The same applies to educational meetings and conferences, especially in specialist areas like Continuing Medical Education (CME) and Continuing Professional Development (CPD) which “require annual further education and cannot be achieved without human contact.” It said that just as children cannot be educated purely via books and the internet but need teachers, so too are conferences and meetings the adult’s equivalent forum for serious learning.

Another human element of conferences and meetings is the inspiration that comes from hearing good speakers. “However good may the technology be, it can never be as inspiring or thought provoking as actually being there. You need to be a part of the ambiance, soak up the atmosphere, feel the mood, absorb the surroundings. Only then will you truly be able to take away the full power of the information being presented to you,” said the statement.

Then, there is the economic impact.

“If attendance at meetings is restricted, or indeed reduced by the proposed 20%, local economies will suffer dramatically. Contributions from delegates equate to approximately €1620 per person [2007 average spend]. Can local governments survive with such a dramatic loss of revenue to their local businesses?

“The activities of IAPCO members alone represent a global economic impact in excess of 3 B. Euros worldwide. Add to that all the business activities that are not controlled by IAPCO members and you would be, of course, multiplying these figures by probably at least a hundred! Cutting this will have a devastating impact on the economy.”

On the environmental front, the statement said, that air traffic only contributes to a 5% maximum of the gas emissions worldwide and, in any case, all airlines “are proposing carbon offset programmes to their passengers.”

“IAPCO, with its members, has long ago already created its own task force and guidelines (on environmental issues),” the statement said. “We strongly believe that face-to-face meetings, conventions, seminars and events are an essential part of daily life and the economy. Reducing this will have no impact on the world gas emissions but will have a strong negative effect on the world economy and therefore the wellbeing of humanity.”

The industry is keen to defend its turf because attendance at congresses and conventions has fallen worldwide this year, and many companies have cut back on business travel for cost reasons.

A survey by another industry body, the International Congress and Convention Association, also released last week showed that 65% of respondents said the recent economic downturn has had an impacted on the individual associations, which were feeling the pinch of the business downturns in their respective industries and geographical regions.

Not only are associations losing members, but attendance is down from poor countries, average length of stay has fallen, sponsors have cut back, and some events have had to be cancelled entirely.

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