Kongres Magazine talked to Hugo Slimbrouck, Director of Event Confederation, who shared his outlook on the war in Ukraine, and how the meetings industry might be affected.
Q: Communication is an integral part of this war, and social media is its weapon. What is your comment on the war taking place in Ukraine?
First of all, I am devastated that this type of war is still possible in Europe in this day and age. It takes a madman supported by his vassals to do this. It is proof that it is all about wealth and money. What changes from history is that we almost experience it ‘live’ through different social media channels. The trouble, of course, is often how to separate the real from the unreal. Hence, it is a weapon that can cut both ways, which is dangerous, of course. On the other hand, we have seen swift reactions from the public and political leaders, which would not have happened as fast through traditional media. Furthermore, it is a dirty war with attacks on civilians, which spells ‘war crime’ in my dictionary.
Q: What does the war in Ukraine signify for the global economy and the meetings industry?
We were expecting to come out of the pandemic and retrieve our ‘freedom’. However, we find ourselves in a horrible situation that is not only affecting the people in Ukraine but the global economy as well. Every sanction we pose on the Russian state will also be felt in our business. That will not just end with higher energy costs for all – it will affect everything we do. If the problem does not escalate beyond the warzone, I believe that local and regional businesses in the events industry in Western Europe will not be affected too much. The long haul into Europe will suffer.
Q: Why is it important that the meetings industry reacts to the situation? What response is suitable in your opinion?
First and foremost, we must extend our help to the people of Ukraine. That is our moral duty. Support with money and goods. Many relief operations are active already, and we should all do the same in Europe. On social media, we should express our support for the people in Ukraine and, most importantly, those working in our industry. With a shortage of labour in our industry in Western Europe (as we lost a lot of talents in our industry due to Covid shutting down our business) we can help people from the Ukrainian events industry in Europe by getting them a (hopefully) temporary job in our organisations or as freelancers. We employ many of them in the live events industry for festivals, conventions and trade shows. The Belgian government, like many others, has allowed smooth immigration procedures and offers support for inclusion in our workforce. Those who talk English will definitely have no trouble integrating into our multi-cultural, multilingual society.
Q: How can we aid our colleagues in Ukraine? What is your call to action to all of our colleagues and readers?
As specialists in logistics and crowd controls, we can add value to what our governments are doing to welcome and accommodate the refugees. In Belgium, we have taken a joint approach with our interior minister in the past week. We did the same when our industry, due to Covid 19, needed security measures put into place. We helped with creating, building and managing multiple vaccination centres. We also helped the victims of the terrible floods in the East of Belgium by providing 8000 hot meals every day for three months to the victims of the floods through our food truck relief programme with the Red Cross. Our events industry in Belgium did not only demand support from our government; it also offered help when our know-how and workforce was needed.
That is why we are ready again now, and we have just launched an appeal to the entire events industry to supply logistical help where need be and opportunities exist. For the welcoming villages, we will be supplying tents, container structures, food supplies, energy, screens, and other support, because we are a hands-on community that often acts faster than we think. We have this in our DNA as we are last-minute problem solvers. What is required is not much different from building venues for festivals or trade shows. I believe our event sector should do that in every country. See my social media for constant updates on this (LinkedIn).