UFI reconnects the global exhibition industry face-to-face in Rotterdam

UFI’s 88th Global Congress in Rotterdam, 3-6 November, marked the return to face-to-face meetings for the association. The Congress drew 350 participants from around 40 countries and regions.

The main theme of the Congress, held at the Rotterdam Ahoy and co-hosted by Rotterdam Partners, was ‘Together again’. The Congress was also the first opportunity to bring the global industry community together, in a face-to-face setting, since Covid-19 lockdowns.

Offering unique content and keynote speakers from inside and outside the sector, the Congress looked at the future of the industry in the post-Covid world. Alongside networking opportunities, attendees had the chance to celebrate the recovery of the sector, exchange lessons learned, and gain new insights and ideas.

Kai Hattendorf, managing director and CEO at UFI, said: “Rarely in recent years has a Congress theme matched the sense and spirit of an UFI event this well as ‘Together Again’ did this year. We indeed came together again, we discussed together again – we laughed together again. We shared experiences and observations, learnings and strategies. We mourned the colleagues we have lost to the pandemic, and we celebrated those who showed leadership and innovation, winning the UFI Awards this year.”

To recovery – and beyond
With more than 60 speakers on stage, delegates could follow a multitude of sessions, covering industry recovery, global trends, diversity and inclusion, entrepreneurship, and best practices. They discussed possible paths forward as well as the more immediate needs, challenges and opportunities the industry faces as the world reopens: strategy, sustainability, the power of face-to-face, work force challenges and opportunities, and data ownership.

Keynote speaker and economist Noreena Hertz stated: “We are creatures of togetherness, our will to connect is actually in our DNA and physical interactions are qualitatively superior to virtual ones!”

Meanwhile, closing keynote speaker, Prince Constantijn Van Oranje commented: “All these things bring new peers together. There is a lot of opportunity that requires to rethink old ways.”
New UFI research presented
Delegates were the first to be updated on new UFI research findings. The Global Recovery Insights 2021 report, produced with UFI research partner Explori, focused on five key themes which build on the findings of previous Global Insights studies. The latest data reflects optimism in the industry as demand has recovered for live events from both exhibitors and visitors. Cick here
Building on discussions and panels around the evolution of digital event platforms and their providers at UFI events in recent months, a White Paper on Data Ownership was presented and discussed, the result of a cross-industry collaboration sharing the organiser’s perspective on data ownership. 
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Net Zero Carbon Events initiative 
Sustainability took centre stage at the Congress as well, with sessions connecting participants with the Global Climate Summit COP26, underway in Glasgow. Delegates learned about the Net Zero Carbon Events pledge – a joint events industry initiative, backed by UFI among others, and hosted by the Joint Meetings Industry Council with the support of the United Nations’ UNFCCC. Many UFI member companies have joined the initiative as supporters and initial signatories. On 10 November, representatives from across the Events Industry will take the stage at the Climate Summit to launch the initiative officially. UFI announced during the Congress that the association had signed up to the pledge itself. 
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Special moments

The 88th Global Congress included many networking opportunities and special moments including the president’s reception during which the UFI community met with Said Kasmi, Rotterdam vice-mayor for education, culture and tourism. The Congress Dinner on the ocean steamer SS Rotterdam was a great opportunity for delegates to mingle.
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Welcome to the 2021/22 UFI President 
During the General Assembly, Monica Lee-Müller, managing director of Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre (Management) Limited (HML), formally assumed office as the UFI president for the year to come.
She said: “I am following a long line of distinguished forebears. I am humble, but I am also proud of being the first Asian woman in this role. And I am looking forward immensely to new opportunities to serve the industry I love dearly.”

UFI also placed on record its thanks to  Mary Larkin (UFI president 2019/2020), and Anbu Varathan (president 2020/21) for serving the association and the industry. The association also welcomed Michael Duck as incoming president.
Still Together until 26 November
With many UFI members unable to travel to Rotterdam due to Covid-related reasons, the association has organised  ‘UFI Global Congress - Extended’, a digital programme scheduled to run until 26 November. This programme will focus on regionally specific content for Asia-Pacific and the Americas. For more information: www.uficongress.org

The UFI Congress was previously hosted in person in 2019, in Bangkok, Thailand. In 2020, the Congress went digital, with programming from Hong Kong, Dubai, London, and Bogota. In 2022, the event will be hosted in Muscat, Oman. Las Vegas, USA, has been selected as the 2023 Congress host.