written by Alistair Turner

The subject of security is one that dominated this report last year and will continue to do so for years to come. However, it also looked to breakdown the far-reaching breadth of the subject and to understand the different threats event organisers need to consider when creating meeting programmes.

These areas were:

  • Physical safety: the need to keep delegations safe from physical harm, be it crime, terrorism, or other kinds of personal attack
  • Information / Data Security: the need to protect the data of both individuals and organisations
  • Environmental: the continued threat of environmental disruption, from natural disasters to those affecting travel
  • Disease: How disease now can affect global commerce and cause instant disruption of events

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Meetings Professionals International (MPI) has been one of the primary voices around security and Jessie States, Vice President of the MPI Academy, is once again delving deeper into the subject and looking at the psychological state of our event delegates as well. She commented, “We are expanding our view of safety outside past norms of physiological safety to consider the impact of events on psychological safety, and whether this can and should be part of our safety planning processes.”

To look at the planet over the last 12 months, each of the above has been compromised; from forest fires in Australia and the West coast of the US, to hurricanes in the US and Asia, the continued threat of coronavirus and even the recent withdrawal of NATO forces from Afghanistan. Businesses are increasingly aware of security and risk, and the pressure it puts on the people around them. Equally, risk is not a new subject to those within the meetings industry. For a long time, the simple ‘risk assessment’ has been a consistent part of running events. However, there continues to be increasing pressure over risk and where liabilities should lie in the future.

Last year the industry suffered catastrophic cancellations across all events and, in an effort to inject confidence back into the industry, the balance and sharing of risk was beginning to be distributed across the supply chain. Who carries the risk, and the liability, for a cancelled event is a question being asked by many corporate lawyers and financial directors whose previous involvement in the events programme has been more minimal.

Equally, there is also the question of cost, and who pays for the additional liability. According to MPI’s Meetings Outlook report, 35.5 per cent of meeting professionals say that they are seeing event security-related cost increases. However, the costs are not increasing at the rate of some other expenses, like audio visual, accommodation or even rental cars.

The approach to risk now has to encompass the risk to the delegate, and the commercial risk to the company running the event. There is fear that the increased risk to the organiser is suppressing creativity and the will to hold future events. Many industry associations are calling upon government backing to help mitigate this risk and create a better balance of incentive for those involved in the conception and creation of events.

This is a view shared by the Joint Meetings Industry Council’s James Rees, who comments, “As a result of the pandemic, the whole issue of risk-sharing is already being re-addressed, particularly in the interface between organizers and suppliers. The best outcomes will be achieved by supporting and encouraging that discussion to produce new forms of agreements that reflect logistical and economic realities.

“It has to work both ways. Suppliers by acknowledging the significant risks of uncertain attendance, the incremental costs of multiple formats, and the added health & safety measures. While organisers need to accept that service providers need to be economic in order to be there in the first place.”

However these conversations play out, it is safe to assume that risk will continue to be a big word for the whole of 2022, and potentially much beyond. For events to happen there needs to be a balance of risk vs reward. How we manage the threat of security, on both a physiological and psychological level, will be a defining factor to a successful industry as we look forward to 2022 and beyond.