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James Rees elected new ICCA President

by Paul Colston

ExCeL London’s executive director James Rees was elected the new president of the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) at the General Assembly during the association’s 57th Congress in Dubai, 11 November.

He was first elected to the ICCA Board in 2012 and became vice-president in 2017. In a powerful speech to delegates, Rees said: “I will use ICCA’s strengths to drive innovation and creativity.”

Rees succeeds Nina Freysen-Pretorius and he beat off challenges from Eric Bakermans and Juan Jose Garcia with a powerful speech appealing to delegates. He also promised to be a true advocate for the business events business, “a champion of our sector [who will] ensure that ICCA’s voice is heard by government, in a language they understand”.

Freysen-Pretorius used the best part of her outgoing speech to Congress to justify the ousting of former CEO Martin Sirk. While paying formal tribute to Sirk’s long service leading the association, Freysen-Pretorius said a different skillset had been needed to lead ICCA in changing times.

“Our business model had to be re-evaluated,” she said, noting that “the skillset of a CEO of an organisation of this size requires strong understanding of financial controls”. She also said that the search for a new CEO was continuing and that any new leader would not be employed on a permanent basis, but on a term contract, and she made clear the financial obligations due to the association in terminating Sirk’s contract had been significant.

The outgoing president also spoke about the urgency to renew outdated systems and said the cost of a new CRM system had increased way beyond what had been originally agreed. The task now, she said, is to balance the finances.

Dennis Speet was praised for stepping into the breach as Interim CEO and delivered the main financial report to the General Assembly, with membership and entry fees rising 1.7%, in line with Dutch inflation. A deficit for the year of over 138,000 euros was posted and extra costs were anticipated in 2019, Speet said.

Membership numbers were slightly up on balance, with 100 new members outweighing the attrition levels to make for 1,070 ICCA members in total.

Speet welcomed Fiexpo as ICCA’s Spanish language champion and said the association hoped to extend the initiative to other languages also.

In another vote at the General Assembly, Cartagena de Indias in Colombia was chosen as the destination for the 2021 ICCA Congress.

The Congress continues at Dubai’s World Trade Centre until 14 November, with over a 1,100 delegates in attendance, making it the biggest ICCA Congress to be held outside of Europe.

Helal Saeed Almarri, Director General of Dubai Tourism, had earlier welcomed delegates to the Congress, and said business events are a crucial part of his country’s tourism strategy and wider economic development. “We understand and use the power of meetings and conferences to facilitate the rapid transition to a knowledge economy, and to grow scientific advancement and key industry sectors in Dubai and the UAE,” he said.

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