Despite Dengue Fever ‘epidemic’ warnings in Puerto Rico on major news networks only 10 days before the conference, ICCA delegates arrived in higher than expected numbers for the 51st annual assembly in Puerto Rico. The target of 700 delegates was beaten yesterday morning when 715 registered for the conference from 64 countries with 185 first-time delegates.
Only two delegates cancelled because of Dengue Fever warnings, according to CEO Martin Sirk, a pleasing result against the backdrop of the 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 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 in detail 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 HQ and 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 as well as distributing 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.”