FEATUREWhen a crane fell to the floorduring the build-up of theEuropean Wind EnergyConference and Exhibition (EWEC) atWembley Conference and Exhibition Centrein 2004, organisers thought it was a spot ofbad luck. However, the incident wasn't to bethe last affecting the show. EWEC, organised by the European WindEnergy Association (EWEA), has beenrunning for 20 years. It began as a smallconference, mainly run by a scientificcommunity. Today it has grown into anevent that annually gathers over 7,000people at various locations across the world.It is attended by anyone who has an interestin wind energy development such asscientists, researchers, manufacturers,utilities, policy makers, financiers, insurersetc. In 2009, when the event was held atMarseille's Convention and Exhibition Centrein France, a public transport strike on its lastday meant delegates were unable to leavethe city. However, it was 2010 thatpresented the biggest challenge to theevent's organisers. One week before the 2010 edition atEXPO XXI Warsaw InternationalExpocentre, Poland's president LechKaczynski and scores of other senior Polishfigures were killed in a plane crash inRussia. National mourning was announcedand until a couple of days before theIs this the most unlucky conference in the history of the industry? Vikki Carleychats to EWEA's showdirector Malgosia Bartosik about plane crashes, ash clouds and falling cranes.scheduled start of the show, it was unknownwhether it would be allowed to take place asscheduled. If that wasn't bad enough, a fewdays later the Eyjafjallajokul volcano inIceland erupted, causing a sheet of ash tospread over Europe affecting the wholeflight network."When you organise an event, you alwayshave to be prepared for somethingunforeseen that might happen. Myexperience shows that timely reaction andclear communication are key to solvingproblems," says show director, MalgosiaBartosik. "Most of the funerals of the Polishpresidential figures took place during theweekend and the conference started on theTuesday, and organisers thought they werequite unlucky with holding our conferencethat very week, but nothing could prepareus for what happened with the ash cloud,"she says.Bartosik recalls how, following theeruption, the airports started to close fivedays before the event. Most of theorganising team had got to Warsaw by carto be available at build-up. "We still thoughtthe ash cloud problem would be gone overthe weekend and people would be able toget 80 per cent of the education sessions went ahead as plannedto Warsaw ready for the start of theOnly 20 exhibitors were unable to attendSeptember 2010 Conference+Meetings World www.c-mw.net 31????Black cat ofconferences"When you organisean event, you alwayshave to be preparedfor somethingunforseen that mighthappen."
FEATUREphotos from the set up to show dynamicpreparations and to make people feel thateverything was going according to theschedule. Bartosik negotiated numbers withthe event catering company, as well as withhotels, to be more flexible on their bookingpolicies in case people could not arrive. It was then decided to put 20 hours ofwebcasting together to make the sessionsavailable online to those that couldn't makethe event, but also to give the opportunity tospeakers to present online in case theycould not get to Warsaw. The teamcontacted over 200 chairs and presentersover the weekend and, at the end, 80 percent of the programme went ahead. "Wehad speakers joining us online, including aspeaker from California that was doing herpresentation from bed at 4am," saysBartosik. The team had over 800 peoplefollowing the online conference for most ofthe sessions. Bartosik adds: "It might sound strange butthe atmosphere onsite was amazing! I wouldeven dare to say that it was one of the bestevents I have ever been involved in. It wasso heartwarming, seeing people that madea huge special effort to be there with us. "We had over 3,500 people spending longevent on the Tuesday morning. But,unfortunately it was not the case," saysBartosik."Every hour there was different news onTV, the airports were opening to be closedan hour later. Therefore, it was impossible totell when the problem would be over andwhether people would be able to arrive ornot. But, we knew we needed to take someaction and not keep waiting."Bartosik and her team's first decision wasthat the event should go ahead. Most of theexhibitors had managed to arrive in Warsawon time and set up was going smoothly, withonly 20 exhibitors missing out of 260 and allmain suppliers travelling by road to thevenue. "As the news was constantlychanging and we did not know when thesituation would stabilise, we took thedecision to go ahead, hoping the ash cloudwould be gone before the event started.When we knew that it would take even aweek to open up the airports again, it wasimpossible to reverse the decision," saysBartosik. There was a dedicated team set up in theorganising office in Brussels, regularlyupdating the website with latest news and toreply to any queries. The team posted32September 2010 Conference+Meetings World www.c-mw.net800 people followed the conference onlineOne delegate travelled for 30 hours in a car to get to the eventhours in trains, cars and buses in order to bethere with us. We asked people to submittheir travel story and we announced thewinners during the gala dinner. There was aperson that came from Washington DC(flying to Nice, renting a car, and thenspending over 30 hours driving), a Koreangirl that flew to Moscow, took several trainsand buses to get to Warsaw. There was onespeaker travelling by car from Malaga,literally arriving on the stage five minutesbefore his presentation directly from theroad! Plenty of stories, that just proved thatit is an important annual meeting for theindustry. Seeing dedication and support ofparticipants was very motivational for us,"says Bartosik.Despite the mishaps, 3,500 people, out of7,000 expected, attended the event.Thousands more took part online."The event got a theme 'quality overquantity'," says Bartosik. "Those that werethere were really those that wanted to dobusiness. It was very much appreciated byour exhibitors that instead of a huge crowd,they had 'the right' people visiting theirstands. In general, we got very positivefeedback. Both those that came and thosethat could not make it, appreciated ourextra efforts to help them get the most ofthe event.," she adds.And what did the European and WindEnergy Association learn from the event? "Teamwork is crucial when you face acrisis situation," says Bartosik. "Our longterm working relations with main suppliersalso paid back. They knew what we neededand could take action/decisions faster. Weall learnt that communication is key in thiskind of situation. We had three peopleconstantly replying to queries; we weresending communications to inform peopleabout the status of the event and I thinkthey felt like they were taken care of." Folklore says bad luck comes in threes,and if this is the case, next year's event inBrussels, should hopefully run a little moresmoothly.The event still attracted 3,500 people out of the 7,000 expected