Being responsible of one of the most important exhibition centers in the world, as well as having a long history as a member and as a leader in several positions in ICCA, were factors to consider the Englishman James Rees as the new President of this association.

To continue the consolidation of ICCA as a leading association in the Meetings Industry, James Rees will follow several strategies during his presidency. His biggest challenge in the coming months will be to determine the new CEO, but also to make ICCA to meet the needs of each region it represent around the world, as well as to raise awareness of the importance of our sector in governments and global economies.

James Rees, ICCA President (Image courtesy of Excel London)

Factor Meetings had the opportunity to interview him, so he could share us his vision about ICCA now he’s the new President, and also in this Q&A session, he mentions what is coming for ExCel London, the venue he has been leading for more than 15 years. 

How did you start your career in the meetings industry?

Like many people in the industry, I discovered that there was such a career as meetings and events by accident. Freshly out of education, I was working part-time in a marketing department for a company in the UK Water Industry and was asked if I wanted to join the conference organising team. I did that and have been in the industry ever since.

What means to you to become the President of ICCA?

I am very thankful to have been elected as the new ICCA President and consider it an honour that members have put their faith in me. As I mentioned during my campaign, ICCA has given me so much professionally and personally and with ICCA at a moment in its history where it has to evolve, I feel a personal responsibility to do whatever I can to support the organisation during its future transition.

What do you think about the rest of the contenders’ proposals and why you think your vision was more attractive among the ICCA members?

I believe each of the candidates ran excellent campaigns, each with their own vision and because the competition was of such quality, we each had to make sure we could be the best we could possibly be. I tried to be clear and consistent throughout my campaign and I hope that was a contributing reason for members deciding to place their vote with me. Additionally members understand that I have the full support of my employers and, importantly, my ICCA family to give me the time to dedicate to ICCA.

In your presentation letter you mentioned the meetings industry is in a systematic change moved by political and economic factors, and ICCA needs to be transformed, how are you going to help to this transformation?

ICCA already has a strategic plan that the Board of Directors has agreed. I would wish for the Board to continue to evolve that plan in the coming years, with a focus on helping ICCA become a more agile organization, able to adapt its services to meet the needs of each global region that we serve.

James Rees was elected during the past ICCA Congress (Image courtesy of Excel London)

As part of your vision you set at least six main strategic goals:

  • New business and competitive advantage
  • Engage Association Executives
  • Global knowledge Hub
  • Expanded Advocacy
  • World-Class Highly Specialised Congress
  • Effective and Sustainable Organisation

Would you please tell us how is going to be the process to achieve each one, and what do you need from the rest of the members to conquer all the goals?

These are the organisational strategies already agreed with the Board and so I am looking for the ICCA management teams to continue the work on driving these goals forward for the benefit of all members.

During Nina’s last intervention, she mentioned we’re living a critical situation around the world, then why not ICCA members encourage governments to support meetings to find solutions and become the catalyst. Do you think meetings has such a great power? How can the meetings industry contribute to face global problems?

I will be working with the other Board Directors to ensure we act as advocates for our industry in the regions we serve. We Will also continue our support of JMIC and The Iceberg (https://www.the-iceberg.org/) and other collaboration with industry associations to ensure we speak to governments in a common language.

You have got a great responsibility leading one of the most important meetings associations, then what do you think is going to be your biggest challenge during your presidency?

The key challenge over the next 12 months will be the recruitment of our new CEO. In the meantime, I and all the Board Directors will be supporting ICCA management to ensure we have a successful year ahead and plan for future growth in 2020 and beyond.

You are a family man, you actually met your wife during a congress, how Mr.Rees is going manage both, his private life and working life now you’re ICCA’s president as well as the Executive Director of ExCel London?

I am very fortunate that my wife Claire understands ICCA and the personal time I will need to give to the organisation. I also have the support of my employers ExCeL London and our owners ADNEC (Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Company) to allow me the opportunity if carrying out my duties to the best of my ability.

James Rees, Executive Director of ExCel London (Image courtesy of Excel London)

And speaking about the venue you’ve been leading for more than 15 years, the ExCel London, how it has changed since then?

ExCeL London has changed enormously in that time. We have continued to invest and now opérate a world-class facility which hosts world-leading congresses and exhibitions and have supported London’s rise from 19th to 5th in the ICCA rankings in recent years. Along the way, we have built and opened London’s only International Convention Centre and hosted the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2012.

International Convention Centre (Image courtesy of Excel London)

We know United Kingdom is set on the third place according to 2017 ICCA’s worldwide ranking and London in the fifth place, how this venue has contributed to the economy of London, and how it works along with the London CVB and the rest of the suppliers?

ExCeL now delivers over £4.5Billion annually to the UK economy and supports almost 40,000 jobs. We work closely with our CVB London Convention Bureau and have evolved a close partnership with hoteliers, transport providers and other suppliers to créate a world-class offer for any event organiser. Add to that the attraction of London as a destination and we can offer a very competitive proposition for our clients.

Excel London Panoramic (Image courtesy of Excel London)

Which has been the biggest challenge of the ExCel London since you’re leading it?

I lead the congress and convention división of ExCeL London. The key challenge for us in the early years when we decided to build the ICC was to raise awareness with large congress organisers who previously would not consider London because of the lack of a large centre capable of hosting their event. We now have a track record of hosting record-breaking congresses and so this part of our job has become a bit easier in recent years.

What’s next for the ExCel London for the years to come?

In 2019 the new Elizabeth Line will open, connecting ExCeL London to Heathrow airport directly in 43 minutes as well as Central London in 10-15 minutes. This investment will cement our position as one of the best-connected venues in the world and help us to attract even more world-leading Events.

Excel London events (Image courtesy of Excel London)