Olivia Thomas, ICC Wales, on Embracing Resilience and Competing for Change

Olivia Thomas, Marketing Executive, ICC Wales, attended the ICCA UK & Ireland Chapter Conference for the first time this spring. With a focus on embracing resilience and competing for change, the event was the perfect opportunity for Olivia to meet with like-minded individuals, delve into conversations about inclusivity, and get an in-depth look into the challenges facing the industry and how industry leaders are looking to combat them.

As someone that’s new to the industry, how did you find the event in general?
Being new to the meetings and events, hospitality, and tourism industries, I was nervous I would feel overwhelmed and that I would add little value to the conference. But I was completely wrong.  I was immediately welcomed by everyone, and from the moment I stepped into the First Timers Session, I felt valued and encouraged to voice my opinions and share my experiences.

For me, the ICCA Chapter Conference really reminded me of the true value of in-person meetings and networking. I don’t want to be a solitary boat on the ocean in this industry; I want to go into the harbour and meet people. I found at the event that there were no power struggles, but instead bridges between characters, paving the way for truly collaborative conversations. There were individuals there with decades of experience, and as eager as I was to learn from them, they also wanted to hear my thoughts and opinions as I’m almost like a fresh pair of eyes to the sector.

Can you share more about the sessions you attended and your key findings?

From workshops discussing AI to Menopause, I got an in-depth look into the challenges facing the industry.

I thoroughly enjoyed the Assumptions Workshop, which focused on how we as a society naturally create assumptions on what different demographics experience through life. During this exercise, I joined the LGBTQ+ Community Table to discuss the challenges, privileges and assumed challenge of this demographic within the sector. Although the events, hospitality and tourism sectors are very open to the LGBTQ+ community, there’s a risk of it becoming a silenced norm and I think participation in these tough conversations is the true essence of promoting inclusion. What struck me most was that individuals within the events sector don’t just include inclusion as a tick box activity – they sincerely want inclusive and diverse teams, with a wealth of different opinions.

One discussion that gave me food for thought was sustainability. As a nation we continue to talk about it, how we plan on meeting carbon emission goals, and how we will be carbon emission-free by 2050. But it begs the question: I actually flew here via aeroplane, travelled in a taxi to the venue, and then I’m staying in a hotel, and as we all know, the hotel industry produces a crazy amount of carbon emissions. It made me think, well, I’m preaching all of this stuff in work, but actually, am I being that sustainable?

But the words of a particular student at the end of his debate in one of the sessions stood out to me: “Never doubt that a group of thoughtful people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” His sentiment was that yes, although we indulge in non-sustainable practices – none of us flew in a private jet, we all flew economy, and many of ICCA’s delegates used trains too. Sometimes, the results you get from meeting in person just cannot be reflected in virtual meetings. So as long as we’re all acting in the most sustainable way we can, we are changing the world.

What did you learn that you can carry into your role at ICC Wales?

One session, The Path to Sustainable Events, made me think about how we market our food offering at ICC Wales. During the session, Jo Austin from Levy UK&I, shared how changing their recipes to dairy-free or vegan without publicly advertising it results in no commotion or complaint. However, as soon as ‘vegan’ or ‘dairy-free’ is visible on the menu, people can react negatively. I think it’s about changing that perception of meat-free alternatives that are more environmentally friendly and making it the norm as opposed to launching a big campaign on social media, and incorporating standard practices into our offering to set the precedent for the future.

A session hosted by a group of students discussing their beliefs and experiences of social media from different backgrounds and ethnicities got me thinking about the diverse nature of the MICE industry. The industry just doesn’t evolve if we don’t introduce new talent, bringing with them new beliefs, experiences, and mindsets.

Another eye-opening discussion for me was around how people started their career in the events sector. Most people would believe that only those who studied Event Management or Event Marketing at university work within the sector but, a show of hands at the ICCA event revealed that most event professionals fell into the industry – myself included as I studied construction and engineering at university. While this was reassuring for me, it highlights that there’s a multi-million-pound industry, full of opportunities and potential where you can do anything, from catering and hospitality to marketing and production, which isn’t being promoted enough at educational level.

The industry is always on the hunt for new talent, and I think it’s vital that we depict roles within the events, hospitality, and tourism sectors as progressive and reputable careers. We need to change the perception that these roles are a stopgap for recent university graduates or college students, but a career full of growth and progressive opportunities. That’s how we, as a sector, can drive resilience and compete for change.