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Not many days go by where I do not receive an invitation to register for an aircraft finance or leasing conference somewhere in the world. I suspect that it’s almost certainly the same for everyone at the sharp end in our industry. Perhaps driven by that thought and it being the start of a new year, I was thinking recently about developments in conferences; their relevance today to the industry sector and where the future lies for them.
Twenty five years ago, there were two “must go” conferences, defined really by location. There was Geneva in February and New York in April. There were a few other conferences, including ISTAT, but these two were the giants of their time with a few hundred delegates each. Of course, twenty five years ago, we communicated by letters, made international calls from phone booths via the operator, airlines sold aircraft to other airlines and flights, to and from anywhere but the major cities, were weekly rather than hourly!
Most things evolve; letters and phone booths have virtually disappeared from our lives, airlines sell aircraft to lessors, flights to and from everywhere are hourly and the Geneva and New York conferences no longer exist. In their place are Dublin, ISTAT and Hong Kong. Where to next, I ask?
Firstly, I should make clear that I consider conferences to be very relevant to the aircraft finance and leasing industry in the twenty first century. They bring the principle participants together, airlines, banks, investors, lessors, OEMs and many of the service providers to those participants. However automated our business world becomes; when it comes to buying aircraft or related services, knowing your counterparties, understanding them and trusting them will continue to be important factors. It’s no different to shopping in the souk and conferences can facilitate this. Certainly, the crowds, the meeting and greeting and the overall buzz in the Shelbourne Hotel, in Dublin, last January was as close to the atmosphere of a souk as you are likely to get wearing a suit.
Talking of Dublin, the most significant recent conference development which stands out to me stems from the rivalry between Euromoney and Airline Economics in Dublin. Originally fought out quite viciously, this clash of conferences has morphed into a mutually beneficial situation for both entities with them hosting Conference Pairs; back to back conferences where delegate numbers have risen at both. Effectively, the aircraft finance and leasing industry now decamps to Dublin for a week in January each year. The “Dublin Week” is a whirl of business meetings, informal meetings, social events and industry affirmation set against the backdrop of the two conferences. There are more than 2,000 delegates in town but the extended period of the "Dublin Week" creates an opportunity to meet more of those 2,000 than would be possible in two days. Many delegates barely see the inside of the conference hall itself but that it not their main purpose for being there.
One of the oft quoted complaints from some conference delegates is that “the conference is too big, there are too many people”. No, that’s wrong; the conferences are not too big and there are not too many people but there might be too few days to meet everyone you would like to. Basically, 2,000 delegates, even if you just want to meet a fraction of them, do not fit into two days. Conference Pairs or extended conferences are the answer.
The rivalry that led to the creation of Dublin Week is also being played out in Dubai (October) and Hong Kong (November). The number of attendees may not be the same yet as in Dublin, but I believe there is a very strong probability that “Dubai Week” and “Hong Kong Week” have already been created and the number of delegates will rise.
From the delegate cost perspective, extending a traditional two/three day conference trip to five days does increase costs but not pro rata, especially if the delegate is travelling trans-continental to attend the conference. Airfare costs between North America, Europe, the Middle East and Asia are basically the same whether the trip is three or five days. Hotel accommodation and subsistence costs increase but, on balance, the cost of the additional two/three days can be more than compensated for by the opportunity to meet more clients, potential clients, suppliers and business partners during the extra days.
I think that for the foreseeable future, the trend will be for more Conference Pairs to develop or, in certain cases (ISTAT comes to mind) conferences will be extended from two days to three or four.
First up, in this new year, is Dublin Week. See you there!