Meeting in a state of emergency

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Meeting in a state of emergency

If the deadly Paris attacks of 13 November 2015 showed us one thing, other than the despicable depths to which a person will sink in adherence to their own misguided ideology, it was that the future war against terrorism could well be fought around soft targets.

As an industry dedicated to the creation and delivery of soft targets – large groups gathered in vulnerable, undefended city locations – there was huge cause for alarm. As many in the media were quick to postulate, the attacks in the French capital displayed a new chapter in the jihadists’ approach to manufacturing terror and global attention – carefully orchestrated assaults on unexpected groups.

Paris, as one of Europe’s leading destinations for international events, is also a victim of the horror that unfolded. The city has a well established meetings industry, there are few weeks in the year when its conference rooms are not filled with delegates and visitors from far and wide.

As I write, however, a state of emergency has been declared in France, conferring extended policing powers in order to ensure civilian safety, and that of the many tourists the city is host to. Initially valid for 12 days, the decree was extended for three months and will see more than 5,000 military and police personnel take to its streets in an effort to regain the confidence and security of its inhabitants.

But the cost is mounting. Two days before the opening of the annual Congrès et le Salon des Maires (mayors), held 17-19 November 2015 and organised by AMF (Association Des Maires de France, et des Presidentes D’Intercommunalite), association chairman François Baroin and his first executive vice-president André Laignel met with French PM Manuel Valls to raise concerns about security surrounding the event, which for three days hosts 60,000 people.

“At the request of the state and in agreement with it, the executive office of the AMF decided to postpone the Congress until next spring (31 May to 2 June 2016),” explained a spokesman.

It was followed by the cancellation of the 17th edition of the European Education Fair and the European exhibition of programmed education, Educatec, rescheduled to take place in March 2016. The impact of the attacks on the industry was almost immediate.

A spokesman for Viparis, which manages the 10 main conference centres and event venues in the Paris-Ile-de-France region, 150 congresses, 620 corporate events and 330 exhibitions, told CMW that it was implementing all safety measures, in permanent contact with the police authority, in order to maintain congress schedules.

According to the president of French meetings industry council Unimev, Thierry Hesse: “The security of events and safety of attendees has always been a key concern for the players in our industry. Today, event and meeting professionals have decided to step up their efforts to ensure heightened security for all attendees.

“Against this backdrop, we are immensely proud to be working for an industry that promotes human relations and social, economic and cultural cohesion, and which contributes to France’s international reputation,” continued Hesse. He described as “fundamental” the need for events and meetings to continue in the French capital and elsewhere, adding that “the vast majority of organisers have decided to forge ahead, opening these forums for exchanges, sharing and encounters”.

In the months to come, it will be interesting to see how the market reacts.

Some are more vigilant and resilient. Reed Expositions France held five events at Paris Expo Porte de Versailles, Paris Nord Villepinte, and Marseille in the week immediately following the attack, and confirmed all of its upcoming events will be held as scheduled in the months December-February, albeit with reinforced security measures.

Four business and consumer events are to be organised by Reed in December 2015 and January 2016. These include Galerie by WE, which takes place during COP21, the United Nations Climate Conference held on 2-10 December at Le Bourget, and others such as the international Paris boat show Nautic, fashion show Bijorhca and lifestyle, decoration and design show Maison&Objet.

In the reinforced Vigipirate framework (France’s national security alert system), in coordination with events venues, the organiser will continue to implement what it calls ‘exceptional security measures’, mobilising teams and liaising with authorities to ensure the safety of visitors, in one Reed spokeswoman’s words, “with the utmost watchfulness”.