Is a single industry conference on the agenda?

The prospect of bringing together the three main catering equipment-related trade associations for one annual industry event has been discussed many times over the years.

But while CEDA, CESA and FCSI each have their own conferences and events programmes, all three are yet to unite to provide a joint, overarching discussion forum for the sector.

However, the idea has its backers. “CESA has fully supported the concept of a single business conference for many years,” said its chair, Simon Frost.

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FCSI also endorses a pan-industry event. According to chairman, Andrew Etherington: “We have an excellent and long-standing relationship with all of the industry associations, particularly CEDA and CESA, and have always actively partnered with each association at their individual annual conferences.

“We’re open to taking this one step further and exploring the possibility of a full conference with CEDA and CESA. It may also be interesting to look at holding a ‘pan-industry’ conference in conjunction with other industry associations such as LACA, Hospital Caterers Association and the British Institute of Facilities Management, to name just a few.”

CESA’s Frost believes that there are advantages to such a forum. “Working together we can be stronger. Collectively we have more influence, not to mention more resources, when it comes to attracting the best possible speakers. We’ll also be able to deliver improved activities alongside the conference. More of the industry will be together, and we will be able to offer a compelling conference, over 2 days, that makes best use of everyone’s time.”

Etherington said that while FCSI fully recognises and respects the differing underlying agendas and needs of both sets of members, there is an inevitable overlap and repetition when associations hold separate conferences. “We anticipate that a joint event would enable topics of common interest to be debated by all delegates,” he said.

“We are all time poor so anything that enables us to come together in a more efficient way must be a benefit to us all. A single joint conference held by the three leading sector organisations would also surely have more power, influence and importance to the wider hospitality industry.” [[page-break]]

CESA feels that having a stronger conference will also attract a wider audience. Frost commented: “The main fear is that a single conference will somehow water down the individual identities of our separate trade associations. We don’t believe that to be the case – and we would all work hard to ensure that each organisation is given even stronger profile in front of its own community, before uniting in the shared, higher calibre conference.

"Jointly we will provide a bigger, more inclusive event for the industry as a whole. Meanwhile, the many other useful and popular events run by each association throughout the year will carry on.”

FCSI does not see a joint conference as a matter of ‘winners’ or ‘losers’. “Many of our Allied members are also members of either one, or both, of CESA and CEDA. So, the establishment of a single and authoritative event bringing together members from all three organisations in a common arena must surely benefit everyone concerned,” said Etherington.

Frost added: “Another obstacle to a single industry conference is the natural inertia that delays change. That’s why CESA heartily welcomes the open discussion that is now taking place.”

On the topic of subjects which would be covered at such an event, he said: “We’d see the combined conference as focusing on industry-specific issues, such as business and research, as well as being a forum for learning from other business sectors and other countries.”

FCSI’s Etherington would prefer an agenda which covered regulatory issues. “Current and future topics that have a wide bearing across all sectors of our industry, such as BIM, EU procurement and ever-changing government legislation, will always be better understood and endorsed if they are discussed in an open forum,” he said, suggesting: “If required, the conference could also incorporate separate sessions for each association where specific topics could be discussed behind ‘closed doors’.”

Frost believes that CESA and the other associations could take co-operation even further. “The combined conference could well be an opportunity for our associations, individually and collectively, to develop new activities and events to enhance benefits to members,” he proposed. “They might include open workshops on technical or legislative issues, for example, and could be channelled through the established industry groups such as the Association Liaison Committee.”

CEDA was also invited to provide its view of a single industry conference. Director general, Adam Mason, reported: “CEDA has agreed to raise this subject with our members and this will be discussed, debated and decided upon by the CEDA membership.”

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