Did the Tsunami in Japan destroy the Convention Industry?
Profile: The International Union of Architects Congress
On March 11, 2010, an earthquake and tsunami struck Northeastern Japan, triggering a nuclear disaster and resulting in tremendous human tragedy. In addition, it dealt a huge blow to the tourism and convention sectors. Dozens of meetings were cancelled during the weeks following the disaster. According to the Japanese Office of Tourism, the number of foreign visitors dropped by 73% after March 11, 2011 compared to March 2010, then by 62% in April and by 50% in May, with levels not returning to normal until June. The large convention centers in Tokyo, Chiba and Yokohama posted long lists of cancelled or postponed conferences on their websites, and an article in Sankei on May 21, 2011 stated that the large interpretation companies experienced a 90% drop in business in March and April and an 80% drop in May. A query to Calliope’s usual partners in Asia confirmed that their schedules were cleared for the three months after the disaster, but that conferences seemed to pick back up in June and the fall schedule promised to be busier than usual.
In this uncertain context, the International Union of Architects, whose Congress generally draws more than 10,000 professionals, was hesitant to confirm that its General Assembly to be held in Tokyo at the end of September would go on as planned. The UIA had once again allocated the contract for provision of interpreters to Calliope, which had put together a team primarily recruited in Asia. By March, everyone was aware of the uncertainty surrounding the Congress. However, at their meeting in Singapore in early June, the UIA Council members, reassured by the ongoing decrease in radiation levels and the country’s return to business as usual, decided to confirm the Congress location and use it as a symbol of solidarity with their Japanese colleagues, selecting the slogan “Beyond Disasters, Through Solidarity, Towards Sustainability” as a sub-theme. In the end, the Congress would draw more than 5,000 people (of which nearly half were from 110 different countries), who were able to hear presentations by renowned experts such as Christo, Fumuhiko Maki and Tadao Ando, and also participate in sessions with titles such as “How to Regenerate the Hope of Living after Disasters”, “Resilience in Architectural Technologies”, and “The Image and New Professional Roles of Architects in the Age of Social Networking”.
Through the numerous committee meetings and work programs, multiple international competitions and more than 130 events associated with the Congress (including a tea ceremony for more than one thousand people!), Tokyo was finally able to put the tragedy out of its mind for a few days and recognize the massive presence of architects from around the world ready to demonstrate their respect, solidarity and confidence. Calliope was honored to have been granted the opportunity, for the fifth time, to organize this challenging, yet extremely rewarding Congress.