Marta Gomes: Positive evolution

ICCA has grown from strength to strength, and so has its annual congress. However, this year's event will take on a new approach that reflects the needs of members now and into the future. Marta Gomes, president of the ICCA Board, details the transformation

You have just crossed your first year in this role. How would you describe ICCA’s progress in the past year, and what are you most proud of?
ICCA comes into our annual congress stronger than ever. The ICCA team, at all levels, has worked incredibly hard this year delivering more value to our members, listening to and actioning the evolving needs of our associations, and promoting an advocacy agenda of betterment for all at a social and political level.

I am proud to represent such a positive and diverse collection of outstanding professionals who genuinely believe they make a difference through their work. The sense of pride in what we offer our members, our associations and the industry creates a wonderfully proactive environment to work in. The successes are celebrated, the challenges are relished, and I am privileged to be part of it.

The congress (in November) was the culmination of an extraordinary year.

When your presidency was first announced, you spoke of blue skies ahead for the meetings and events industry. How blue are the skies now?
They are still blue! Think back to the very recent past when we were all sitting in front of our screens dreaming of the day we could be together again in person.

Well, we are now. That is why it is so important to welcome back our colleagues from across the world who were unable to travel to the congress last year. Our business is a people business and the opportunity to meet, talk, laugh and share is how these life-changing, significantly important professional and personal connections are made and maintained. We all knew what we were being denied, and we all knew what we had to draw from ourselves to overcome a period of such extraordinary uncertainty.

I can smile now because our industry is proof that the human spirit is indomitable, and we can overcome any challenge. Being together brings us hope that the clouds – however dark – that skit across the skies can be blown away.

But with so much uncertainty in the world, is growth potential precarious for the meetings and events industry?
ICCA is a non-political member organisation. We have members with contrasting views on very serious and divisive issues. We mourn all loss of life, and we hope peace, hope and humanity win. I believe an industry like ours represents how the spirit of collaboration, conversation and togetherness can reach across borders and international divides to build a better future.

What leadership skills are necessary for the meetings and events industry in times like this?
Being confident in who we are. Being proud of the work we are doing, and showing how we can make the world feel smaller by making our presence bigger.

ICCA has the heritage, the reach, and the intent to talk to industry, politicians, and communities. We wear the mantle of an industry leader, and it fits us well.

I believe our greatest strength is our ability to give our industry a proper context in the widest global picture and promote the countless benefits that international business meetings and events can create for all.

You also said you want to build a legacy of tangible and effective engagement with members, particularly using improved digital tools. Will you elaborate on this vision?
We started 2023 with a Members Survey allowing us to drill deep down into our members’ hopes, dreams, and aspirations. Much of what we learned helped shape the feeling and scope of the 62nd ICCA Congress. It was exhilarating to do something different, to make everyone feel like a congress first-timer, and to give everyone an opportunity to own their own congress experience.

Congress ongoings would shape how ICCA thinks and works in the next few years. And in doing so, shape our industry. So, the 62nd ICCA Congress was a big project, perhaps our biggest.

In 2023 we have also undergone a huge digital transformation of our website, and our Business Intelligence database including the addition of Governmental Meetings.

There is much planned for 2024 around new groundbreaking initiatives that I cannot wait to share with you.

What are your members’ main concerns and what do they want ICCA to do for them?
Well, identifying these concerns formed a major part of the congress content, not just in the excellent keynote speeches but in the subjects covered and raised in the daily Sharing Hubs. Those 90-minute sessions were the heartbeat of the congress, where we debated and discussed topics such as People, Talent and Resources; Communication and Success; Sustainability and Legacy; Business Relations and Negotiation; Partnerships and Commerce; Event Experience and of course, Technology.

The questions raised under these specific topics inspired us to reshape and relaunch what we do. They would be the catalyst for working groups, white papers, conference and events, SOPs, lobbying, and anything that makes what we do more effective for the long term and future-proof.

This congress offered a completely open sharing experience where the floor was free for opinions, suggestions, and ideas because we all, as individuals, have so much to offer. We wanted participants to be emotionally and intellectually invested in the outcomes we reached.

There was a lot of excitement about the congress rotating to Asia-Pacific this year. With this region’s economic growth now and projected robustness in the years ahead, with a likely 50 per cent share of global GDP by 2030, will ICCA establish more member events that will lead to increased global association meetings in Asia-Pacific?
Yes. I believe we will. We want to see all our regions grow and thrive. It is important that ICCA – as a global organisation – is in tune with what our regions need.

Our Regional Directors are fantastic ambassadors for ICCA, but more importantly, they are superb advocates for their region with the rest of the ICCA world.

Asia-Pacific is a rich, diverse, and dynamic destination for international events. Our associations are always looking for something different to set their meetings apart. Why wouldn’t Asia-Pacific, with all that it offers and represents in terms of delivering spectacle, not be a place they would choose for their events?