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In-person event: delegates pictured at the Bermuda Risk Summit

Business travellers are on the move again

by Annabel Cooper

In March 2022 something exciting began to happen. International business travellers returned to Bermuda en masse for the sold-out Bermuda Risk Summit. The following month, Bermuda sent a high-profile delegation to Riskworld, the Risk and Insurance Management Society’s (RIMS) annual conference, in San Francisco. 

Also lined up for 2022 is the Bermuda Climate Summit, Bermuda Captive Conference and ILS Bermuda’s Convergence event. How do these conferences compare to their pre-pandemic counterparts? Will enough people attend? And are in-person conferences back and here to stay?

“I certainly hope so,” said Gemma Godfrey, Chief Operating Officer for the Whitfield Group, which organises a number of conferences and events, most notably the Captive Conference and ILS Convergence event. “In a conference setting, when folks fly in and make time for a three-day event and book business around that event, they are present for it. They attend the networking sessions, they have the time put aside to invest in that event.”

Gemma Godfrey

In the case of the Risk Summit, the Bermuda Business Development Agency estimates that delegates invested over $1 million in terms of lodging, transportation, food and beverage, retail and recreation alone, as well as supporting around 200 jobs.

Ms Godfrey said she was also encouraged by attendees’ enthusiasm. “Everyone was so excited to be back in Bermuda. People were high fiving in the lobby. It was Bermuda’s first in-person event and it was a sell-out. I think a huge part of that is the ability to be able to come back, conduct meetings, make connections face-to-face after having to do it through screens for two years.” 

Even though in-person conferences couldn’t happen over the last two years, the conference industry managed to keep itself busy by moving as many as possible online. This, Ms Godfrey added, simply sped up a process already beginning to happen — providing options for those who can’t always attend in person.

“Even pre-pandemic, there were question marks about event accessibility, particularly for people who can’t travel all the time, don’t want to travel all the time, people who are mindful of their carbon footprint, or potentially have budgets that they’re working to so can’t attend all these events,” she said.

“Technology companies were gearing up to provide solutions in this space before Covid came along.” 

While online and in-person events are incomparable, Ms Godfrey believes that for certain conferences, a hybrid model offering a virtual as well as in-person platform, may be an interesting concept. That is what is being offered for the Bermuda Captive Conference in September.

Whether or not hybrid is here to stay, she couldn’t answer, but she did point out that an online offering can reach further.

“I hope that hybrid elements do stay,” she said, “not least because it does the jurisdiction good to promote our ideas beyond the people that just come to visit. 

“We found during the pandemic, our attendee numbers surged for virtual because the associated costs with getting to Bermuda are not insignificant. In some cases, the number of countries we were touching in terms of attendee demographics was almost double what we would see for an in-person event.”

She did add, however, that, not surprisingly, when people attend a conference virtually, they are not as present as they are in person. She said the first session was always well attended, but then they would see “numbers creep downwards” as people were distracted by the events of daily life.

In contrast, the ILS Bermuda Convergence event will be in-person only and coincides with this year’s World Rugby Classic in October. “I think we’re going to be putting on a wrap party at the rugby,” she said. “That’s creating a lot of buzz and excitement.”

What the future holds, no one can say, but for now, conferences and events are back on and business travel is bouncing back faster than anyone expected.

“There’s always that question mark, after going without it for so long: do you need it?” Ms Godfrey said. “In the case of the Risk Summit and the interest we’re seeing in the ones we’re starting to plan for, I would say there’s more interest than ever before.”

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