Despite dengue fever ‘epidemic’ warnings in Puerto Rico on major news networks only 10 days before the ICCA conference, delegates arrived in higher than expected numbers for the International Congress and Convention Association's 51st annual assembly. The target of 700 delegates was beaten, with 715 registered delegates attending from 64 countries, 185 taking part for the first time.
Only two delegates cancelled because of dengue fever warnings, according to ICCA's chief executive Martin Sirk, a 'pleasing result' against the backdrop of last-minute news of the outbreak in which six people died and more than 300 people were infected.
ICCA head office recognised that the organisation’s response not only had to be responsible and transparent with neutral advice provided to delegates, but that it “needed to be an example of best practice”, said Sirk.
He added: “Since all members could face a situation like this with their meetings or in their venues, we had to demonstrate best practice in terms of risk analysis and crisis management. Mathijs Vleeming, our marketing and PR manager, has logged detail of how we handled it so that a case study can be produced to advise how to deal with the communications process and what practical steps must be taken to provide expert and neutral commentary that bypasses the headlines. The emotive meaning of the word ‘epidemic’ is a problem in itself, so we used the word ‘outbreak’ to describe the context of the situation in a more measured way.”
ICCA's head office and the Puerto Rico Convention Bureau communicated with all delegates in the run-up to the conference to ensure they were kept informed with scientific and medical advice, and the bureau also created a specific web site to provide additional information to delegates and distributed mosquito repellent in delegate packs.
Sirk concluded: “I think the response from delegates demonstrates that the handling of the news was well-managed but also that our members really wanted to be here.”