Economy & Politics

“The digitization of business events will increase”

François Lafont, CEO of the Luxembourg Convention Bureau, anticipates important changes for the business tourism industry. If the organization of events is possible today, the big problem remains according to him “the restrictions imposed on travelers”.

François Lafont, CEO of the Luxembourg Convention Bureau, anticipates important changes for the business tourism industry. If the organization of events is possible today, the big problem remains according to him “the restrictions imposed on travelers”.

(JFC, with Mara Bilo) – Congresses canceled, trade fairs postponed, events reorganized in digital mode – business tourism has practically stalled since the start of the covid-19 pandemic. And even if Luxembourg will have the honor of hosting from November 1 to 3 the 59th Congress of the International Convention and Congress Association (Icca), all companies whose income depends on the holding of these business events are worried about their future.

Where is business tourism today? What are the prospects for the future? François Lafont (56 years old), CEO of Luxembourg Convention Bureau, whose aim is to promote Luxembourg as a business event destination, provides answers.

François Lafont, how do you assess the recovery in business tourism after the lockdown in the spring?

Francois Lafont – “The activity is currently almost zero. Business tourism came to a standstill in March, and the recovery is proving difficult. Nowadays, it is again possible to organize events, whether they are exhibitions, trade fairs, congresses or seminars. But demand remains very low for many reasons: it is always difficult to travel, people are afraid of contamination, and the companies and associations that organize these professional events are short of budget.

From July 24, professional events (trade fairs, conferences, team-building) will again be possible. In order for Luxembourg to regain its appeal to customers, and for professionals to resume their activity, the Ministry of Tourism is mobilizing the various partners.

This is why many events are postponed or canceled. It’s a shame, because business events are not necessarily gatherings of thousands of people. Most often, these are meetings focused on professional exchanges, for which around fifty people meet.

Under what conditions can these business events take place?

“The conditions linked to the organization of events are obviously very strict, particularly with regard to wearing a mask, disinfecting the hands and social distancing. For companies working in the professional events industry, there is a guide called “Safe to meet”, which provides for a number of points to be checked before an event is held. This involves in particular assessing the risk, organizing the spaces or even implementing sanitary measures.

In terms of catering, companies stick to the label “Safe to serve”, which had been developed by Horesca. The number of participants in a business event is in fact not limited, as long as the conditions are met. This is how fairs have already been held in complete health security. The big problem, however, remains the restrictions imposed on travelers. No company or association will organize an event if it is not sure that the participants will be able to attend. The current uncertainty does not allow principals to plan anything.

What will be the economic impact if professional events were to no longer take place?

“I see an impact on four levels. First, the fact that no one is traveling simply means that goods and services are not going to be consumed at the destination – such as the hotel room, lunch in a restaurant or the taxi ride. Then, there is an obvious impact at the level of all the companies which are active in the business events industry: event agencies, caterers, audiovisual companies, stand assemblers and designers, florists or even intermittents.

Afterwards, some associations that derive their income from holding professional events risk finding themselves in a difficult situation. I am thinking in particular of all the associations whose members pay a membership fee to benefit from all the services of this association, such as participation in conferences. Finally, in the long term, there is an impact on the creation of value, not only financial but also and above all intellectual, which takes place through professional exchanges. This is an underestimated impact.

The attention given to a virtual exchange is not the same

Can these professional exchanges that you mention not therefore take place by holding a virtual congress?

“Yes, but the intensity of the trade will not be the same. An example: a meeting I attended recently had 25 participants. Of these 25 people, six have spoken. This would not have been the case if this event had been organized face-to-face. It’s the asides that happen unexpectedly, the meetings by chance, that create added value. The way of expressing oneself is not the same, and neither is the attention given to a virtual exchange.

What long-term changes do you anticipate for the business event industry in Luxembourg?

“Our branch has been going through a digitalization phase for years – more and more events are offered in a hybrid way. This means that part of an event is organized “face-to-face”, another in digital mode. This is a trend that existed before the health crisis, but which will increase. But this is not necessarily negative, it will create a leverage effect: an event will be able to bring together more people who did not have the opportunity to attend. In June, around 25% of structures declared that they wanted to broaden their offer to offer the organization of events either totally virtual or hybrid in the future.

Wirtschaft, ACA Insurance Day, Kirchberg Convention Center. Photo: Guy Wolff / Luxemburger Wort

From November 1 to 3, the European Convention Center in Kirchberg will host the 59th Congress of the International Convention and Congress Association (Icca). The opportunity to further enhance the vein of business tourism in the country.

The stated objective of the Luxembourg Convention Bureau is to include the Grand Duchy in the Top 50 of business event destinations. Where we are?

“We are not yet in the Top 50, but we have progressed between 2018 and 2019. The pandemic has obviously stopped our efforts. We have clear objectives in terms of international outreach, a series of key sectors have been identified such as finance, logistics or medicine. The more we succeed in attracting events in a given sector, the more Luxembourg is perceived abroad as a center of excellence in this sector. It’s good for our economy: it attracts businesses and especially talent. ”


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