Have Zoom, will not travel

Have Zoom, will not travel

Editor's Write

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

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WE are living in extraordinary times, speeding down the information highway at the speed of 5G, heading to destinations both familiar and unknown. Much like a Star Trek mission, we venture to discover new ways of living and interacting with people of our nations and those we reach along the way.

This change in our lives is particularly evident in the significant switch to online communications. One instance of the impact is in the immediate embrace of meetings. For a long time, we considered online meetings not as useful as face to face for conferences at home and abroad. This demand for physically gathering in the same space meant that schedules and agendas were set well in advance for international meetings to confirm the logistics of travel, accommodations, meeting reports and more.

High-level meetings of countries under the United Nations umbrella, the IMF, World Bank and multilateral agencies were all arranged to allow for delegates to meet face to face to share knowledge, experiences and the camaraderie of human fellowship.

All that has changed with the COVID-19 pandemic, forcing a whole reworking of meetings and tossing everything online. The fear of the spread of the disease and the constriction of travel caused these changes and outlook. Business travel may never return to past levels. The thousands of virtual meetings around the world means that no Government or business will easily consider bringing people together without significant concern for their health and safety.

The governments of Caricom held their annual summit and business meetings online and issued the regular communiqué without their regional audience seeing any difference in the output. The annual meetings of the IMF and World Bank and sessions of the UN General Assembly have all been virtual events, with contributions from world leaders pre-recorded for the opening round of speeches.

Just last week the Inter American Press Association managed their assembly, carded this year for Madrid with the participation of delegates from around the hemisphere, with only a few members in the headquarters in Miami.

Mark Brantley, minister of foreign affairs in St Kitts and Nevis, used virtual technology to discuss global relationships with ambassadors of several countries and dealt with a range of mutual issues. Our Prime Minister Andrew Holness and his Canadian counterpart, Justin Trudeau, chaired hemispheric meetings earlier this year, all online.

These developments represent a sea change in the conference world which is bound to have an impact in many areas. For governments, it means a significant reduction in travel expenses for ministers and officials attending various meetings around the world.

There is not likely to be a change in this situation based on the strictures which COVID-19 has triggered. In the private sector, there is a similar pattern of an embrace of technology for meetings.

However, we must consider what impact all of this will have on critical areas of our national life and work. Our primary concern is for those enterprises which rely on the conference and meeting trade. While we worry about the drip, drip of holidaying visitors to our shores, spare a thought for those who depend on convention business. For some time many of our countries conducted market drives in North America and Europe, enticing companies, associations and governments to take advantage of specially built facilities.

The Jamaica Conference Centre promotes itself as “...the Caribbean's most sophisticated meeting place...offering comprehensive facilities and services to meet the most stringent requirements of conference planners”. The centre boasts the latest technology to facilitate meetings in several languages, with an extensive conference floor plus breakout rooms. Today, it serves as the temporary home of our Parliament. However, there are several facilities which are underutilised because of the lack of business, a situation which is not likely to change in the foreseeable future.

Could the stepped-up use of online collaboration tools become the norm and sound the death knell for our conference facilities? It is a serious concern which deserves critical study in light of the comments of one businessman who remarked recently, “I am not anxious to travel, and I don't see that changing in a while. My new motto is, 'Have Zoom, will not travel.' “






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