November 15, 2021 | By Joyce DiMascio

For associations the world over the past 20 months have been difficult for getting their members together face to face.

In recent days, the Global Association of the Exhibition Industry (UFI) held its 88th Global Congress in the Dutch city of Rotterdam. For those in attendance it was exhilarating to be back together with colleagues from 40 countries. It provided much needed hope that the events industry and its peak bodies are finding their way back to their much-loved events.

Three hundred and fifty people took part when the community gathered from November 3-6. The theme was “Together Again”. Unfortunately, travel restrictions meant Team Australia was not present.

Kai Hattendorf, Managing Director and CEO of UFI, said that rarely in recent years had a Congress theme matched the sense and spirit of an UFI event as 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.”

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

Sixty speakers addressed a wide range of issues, in particular the paths forward for the industry as it recovers from COVID-19 lockdowns and the world reopens.

Sustainability hasn’t lost its place on the UFI agenda and it continued to be a key theme especially as the UFI Congress coincided with global climate summit COP26.

Delegates were briefed 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 Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

UFI said that some of its member companies had already joined the initiative as supporters and initial signatories. On November 10, representatives from across the events industry launched the initiative officially at COP26. UFI announced during the Congress that the association signed up to the pledge along with other associations and companies.

At the UFI Congress, Monica Lee-Müller, Managing Director of the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre became UFI’s President for 2022. She said she was proud to be the first Asian woman in the role.

“I am looking forward immensely to new opportunities to serve the industry I love dearly.”

UFI acknowledged Mary Larkin (UFI President 2019/2020), and Anbu Varathan (President 2020/21) for serving the association and the industry. The association also warmly welcomed Michael Duck as Incoming President.