Talents, where are you?

Events industry optimistic about 2022 recovery but talent shortage remains a challenge, according to sentiments at UFI Connects.

UFI's Kai Hattendorf and Monica Lee-Müller discussed industry findings at UFI Connects, together with AIPC and ICCA.
UFI's Kai Hattendorf and Monica Lee-Müller discussed industry findings at UFI Connects, together with AIPC and ICCA. Photo Credit: UFI

The events industry is set to bounce back this year, with delegates keen to meet face-to-face once again, but the industry is facing a staffing crisis that could impact the quality of events.

These findings were highlighted during the UFI Connects session hosted on 16 February, where UFI, AIPC and ICCA discussed the event industry’s path to recovery and highlighted what to expect for "2022 normal".

Kai Hattendorf, CEO at UFI, the Global Association of the Exhibition Industry, said the industry is getting back to business, with expected levels of exhibitions to be around 71% of figures seen in 2019, pre-pandemic.

Hattendorf highlighted how the pandemic had helped shift perceptions of the event industry, to the point that it is now seen as an important contributor to the economy.

He said, “The fact that we are able to break through to policymakers and have them understand that business events are not a subsection of tourism, but important in their own right, is a big game-changer.”

Sven Bossu, chief executive officer at AIPC, the International Association of Convention Centres, echoed these sentiments. “We are seeing some countries like China and Japan with continued restrictions, but that will change at a given moment,” he said. “The value of our industry is not only understood by organisers and participants, but also by local authorities and governments.”

Attendees at the session had the chance to participate in three polls, to highlight what issues they felt will stay the same, what will change and which areas remain uncertain.

Hybrid meetings, enhanced safety measures, reduced attendance and flexible working are expected to remain in place. Talent emerged as one area that is experiencing change, alongside a greater focus on strategic partnerships, digital integration with live events and an emphasis on enhanced content.

There was uncertainty over the ability to attract and retain staff, alongside expected concerns over potential new Covid-19 variants. Monica Lee-Müller, UFI president for 2021/2022 and managing director of Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre (Management) Limited (HML) said the industry has to make efforts to build its own narrative and attract talent.

“Many younger people have left and switched to careers in digital marketing or the medical field,” she said. “They had been patient during the pandemic but understandably were fed up of waiting for the return of events.

"We may very well have staffing gaps as events return and have difficulties dealing with demand. Even though strict restrictions remain in place [in Hong Kong], we are hiring and carrying out training, because it takes time and knowledge to deliver quality events.”

Lee-Müller said collaboration was key to help the industry recover and share best practices.

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