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by Padraic Gilligan, Vice President, Ovation Global DMC and Vice President, Industry Relations, MCI

Distant Love

For over 20 years I’ve had an arms length relationship with her.

From afar, like a courtly lover, I could appreciate her unique appeal –  petite and svelte, friendly and smart – but I couldn’t quite find the time, with other commitments, to give her the attention she deserved.

Until this year, that is, when she went to Shanghai.

I joined her in Shanghai Saturday last and approached her tentatively with the bashful timidity of a 15 year old at his first disco.

She looked beautiful.




A bright mess of colour and class.

Admittedly she was 50 but she wore her years gracefully, with elegance, a bit like a middle aged female French politician.

It didn’t take long for me to see that her refined sophistication were only part of the picture. In the evening time, once daylight waned and cocktail hour beckoned, she underwent a curious metamorphosis, throwing caution, and control, to the wind.

Christine Lagarde became Tina Turner, raucous and raw, short skirt and high heels, strutting her stuff and feeling no pain.

This lovely lady was also a very fun party girl.

The Meetings Industry has more professional associations than Southern Spain has sunny days. Limited time and money makes it impossible to be part of them all so for 20 years I missed out on ICCA. The guts of a week in Shanghai at the 52th ICCA General Assembly convinced me, however,  that this definitely is a lady worth waiting for.

ICCA is an association definitely worth belonging to for its thought leadership, its education and its extraordinary community network.

ICCA Opening

Thought Leadership

ICCA’s thought leadership is well known outside of the immediate confines of its membership. It’s the global go-to source of empirical data around congress and convention activity and is used by public sector organisations in their case building with governments and not-for-profit bodies for funding and support. Its annual ranking of destinations based on event and delegate numbers is eagerly awaited each year and is the key measure around which many destinations gauge the success of their destination marketing. Companies like PwC, Accenture and Deloitte use ICCA data when called upon to consult around the feasibility of the public funding or part funding of large infrastructural projects like convention centres.

In its 50 years ICCA has justifiably acquired an unshakable reputation for quality information around the economic impact and value of meetings and events and, in this capacity, serves the entire meetings industry and enhances all of our reputations.


The education at ICCA Shanghai was wide and varied, at times predictable, occasionally experimental, often challenging and generally thought provoking. It’s probably fair to say it wasn’t universally successful – I did hear the odd grumpy comment – but what impressed me regardless was Kaiser KuoICCA’s resolute willingness to be audacious and different, to try out content beyond the horizons of the average meetings industry delegate. A case in point is the session co-ordinated by the excellent Peter de Merlier of C-IN, Prague on sources of new congress creation which included full blown academics, Prof Vaclav Paces of the Institute of Molecular Genetics and Lenka Mikova, CEO of Mikova, a scientific consultancy based in Lucerne. They both presented content over most of our heads yet pointed us towards a future that they can clearly see and one which we must try to imagine.

Bravo Peter, and Bravo Martin Sirk for your vision in bringing such challenging content to us.

On the opposite end of the spectrum we had “ICCA’s got talent”, curated by our own Ant and Dec, meeting design experts Mike van der Vijver and Eric de Groot of MindMeeting BV. Tapping into the talents hidden within our own organisations, Mike and Eric produced a compelling, engaging and thoroughly entertaining 90 minute show that showcased how our hobbies in the musical, theatrical and artistic fields can be leveraged for business purposes.


Disclaimer: My positive endorsement of this particular educational option may stem from the fact that I was one of the participants that showcased a talent.

Extraordinary Network and Community

Other meetings industry associations may model good thought leadership and offer excellent education but ICCA PADE & OBdoes community and networking like no other. This year’s event in Shanghai attracted almost as many delegates are there are members of the association and created an on-site community with representation from all continents and from over 60 distinct nations. Equally the age demographic ranged across all decades, including many founder members of the association who are still active and engaged in the organisation. Experienced C-suite executives mixed easily with GenY interns and attendees came from all sectors of the convention and congress marketplace including CVBs, NTOs, DMCs, PCOs and many other sectors that, unhappily, are not categorised by a convenient TLA [TLA? Three Letter Acronym!]

“CAT Night”, the dinner event which traditionally takes place on the second evening of the annual conference, probably best expresses what is unique and special about this Association. Martin Lewis of CAT Publications, sometimes with a co-sponsor – this year, the Beijing Tourist Authority – buys dinner and drinks at a cool off site venue for the entire conference and pits ICCA chapters and regions against each other in series of team based challenges. This year, at the humongous, versatile Shanghai Exhibition Centre, delegates feasted on Peking Duck  (catered deliciously by Ritz Carlton) and engaged in Jeux sans Frontiers featuring whacky versions of Ping Pong and Rick Saw racing (dreamed up by Steve Lewis and arranged by Ali Wrighton). The Scandinavian chapter eventually prevailed in the final against North America having pipped the UKI Chapter in controversial circumstances in the first semi-final. Savage international competition then yielded to benign multi-cultural intercourse as just south of 1000 delegates from Beijing to Buenos Aires bopped ’til they dropped to a live band.


CAT Night was a triumphal expression of ICCA’s openness, collegiality and old fashioned friendliness but it’s not the only one. Throughout the event this ICCA virgin made business connections easily and ignited the spark of real friendships that, he’s sure, will still be ablaze when ICCA goes to Antalya, Buenos Aires, Kuching …

Padraic Gilligan works for MCI and, with his business partner Patrick Delaney, runs Ovation Global DMC, MCI’s destination services division. A meetings industry veteran, this, amazingly, was his first time to ICCA. He’d like to pay particular tribute to Martin Sirk, Executive Director at ICCA, whom, he suspects, plays no small role in maintaining the collegial ethos that’s at the heart of this Association.


3 thoughts on “An ICCA Virgin in Shanghai

  1. Martin Sirk says:

    Thanks for the great blog and for being such a generous contributor towards the success of ICCA in Shanghai, Padraig! Thought I’d better mention that, sadly, none of the original six founders from 1963 are still with us, but with many of ICCA’s old timers looking like we’ve been round more than a few blocks (too many CAT Nights, perhaps?), it’s an easy mistake to make!

  2. Petra Kandertova says:

    Great blog, Padraig! I really enjoyed reading it 🙂 Looking forward to hearing from you again 🙂

    1. padraicino says:

      Hi Petra – you also enjoy this posting from a while ago on your own beautiful city;

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