For all the virtues of meeting virtually over the past year, there are also limits – and most of us have a strong desire to meet people face to face again, says FIDI Secretary General Jesse van Sas
hen we announced on 21 January that we were planning to hold an in-person conference in Vienna at the end of August/beginning of September, we had no idea of what kind of reaction to expect from our Affiliates. Scepticism, surely; perhaps critique or even disbelief. But we also expected some enthusiasm, from at least part of our membership.
In fact, the support and sheer joy we received from many demonstrated that perhaps planning for a ‘normal’ conference is a good thing. At the same time, there are still many uncertainties in the world, in respect of the pandemic, the vaccine distribution, and economic recovery – are we being too optimistic? Perhaps we are, but we feel it is important for an association such as FIDI to offer perspective to its Affiliates, when there is clearly a high need.
The FIDI Board has carefully pondered the question of hosting an in-person conference this year. Yes, of course there is the virtual alternative, and that is a good option when on-site meetings are impossible.
However, the Board also believes that a conference should always be on site. You can organise virtual sessions and, perhaps, virtual events, but these never replace a conference. Particularly in an industry such as ours, which thrives on close personal contact by the very nature of what we are dealing in: personal effects.
We were all curious to do video meetings, virtual business sessions and online happy hours. It has shown us the technology available these days, and the ease of meeting online. This will probably never go away again, and that is surely a good thing. But the many virtues of virtual meetings have their limits, and now, a year since most travelling was banned and many of us locked down in front of our screens in the home office, there is a craving to meet people again.
To accommodate that need, FIDI has begun planning this conference, in the assumption that travel restrictions will be largely lifted by the time we meet and that we will be able to create a safe meeting space. To this end, the FIDI Board had four very clear demands for the conference in 2021:
- To be easily accessible for as many Affiliates as possible
- To take place in a safe environment
- To be cost-effective for both the attendees and FIDI
- For there to be minimal financial risk for everyone involved
With this in mind, Europe– and particularly the eastern part of Europe – got our attention. The FIDI office did a quick RFP with five locations, of which Vienna came out as top. A very safe place, a hotel that can accommodate the guests as well as the conference, a vibrant city offering many first-class venues.
On top of that, and a compelling element in the choice, is the protective financial shield from the city of Vienna. They are covering our conference expenses, in case the situation forces us to cancel at the last minute. We have also been able to negotiate with the hotel for a contract that allows us to cancel the conference, with 100 per cent reimbursement of meeting fees, up to two months before the conference date.
It is good and easy to plan ahead when we have such protection and, therefore, we are looking forward to seeing everyone in the city of Vienna on 29 August, for a long-awaited moment to celebrate a return to a more normal life, together.
Details about registration and hotel booking will be announced end of April 2021.