Marta Gomes: Business events are undergoing a profound transformation


She was born in Porto, but lives in Paris where she holds the position of International Sales Director at Viparis, that manages several venues in the French capital. She is currently ICCA’s vice president and has shared with Event Point International both the association and the sector’s challenges.

Can you describe your career path up until Viparis International Sales Director? What were the most striking and decisive moments?

I’ve been bilingual since the age of 3, having spent all my school years at the Oporto British School and then the International school of Lisbon. I studied for a Masters degree in English and History at the University of Saint Andrews in Scotland and worked for a while in London after graduation. I’ve always wanted a job with international connections and started out wanting to be a diplomat. My French was not so great at the time so I found an internship in Paris at ICEP (the Portuguese foreign investment board) and discovered the MICE industry by organising the Portuguese Pavilions at textile exhibitions. I have worked in international venue sales since then, my first job was junior international sales manager, and I’ve gradually taken over more responsibilities and a growing team. I have found that working in events and promoting Paris is a bit like being the ambassador for the city!

What attracts you the most in this events sector?

What I most love about my job is meeting fascinating and passionate people, who are often the world leading experts in their field, great scientists, doctors, researchers and top-level executives, whose event of major importance, and who I get to work with closely in my day-to-day. A bid for an event is a team effort which can sometimes take years, and where there needs to be close collaboration with all the stakeholders to achieve the most successful result.

What are the main challenges venues face these days?

Business events are undergoing a profound transformation. Attendees, exhibitors and sponsors expect more meaningful and personalised experiences and connections and demand more innovation and creativity in all aspects of the event experience, from content delivery, networking tools, general well-being and sustainability concerns.

Our challenge as venues is to offer our clients the infrastructure and technical solutions to enable this innovation: high-density wifi, networking areas with charging stations, a more varied, authentic and local food offer, greener transportation, less waste, better energy. These are all concerns that Viparis is working on for a better client experience.

What are Paris’s strongest arguments for continuing to attract events?

Paris is not just the Eiffel Tower. Most beautiful city, most romantic city, most fashionable, everyone has their special reason to love Paris.

But Paris is also a dynamic business city, with over 800,000 companies, ranging from high tech sectors to traditional industrial activities. It is also a city of innovation, with a start-up ecosystem which is today one of the most active in the world. It is a city of science and healthcare, with more than 100,000 researchers, and representing Europe’s no. 1 region in terms of R&D expenditure.

It is this unique contrast that makes Paris particularly attractive for business events: one of the most visited cities in the world, but at the same time a place where 12 million people live and work, with all the necessary infrastructure for large events: flight connections, hotel capacity, ease of transport within the city, and unforgettable venues for evening and side events.

What is your take on the French political situation and what impact does it have on your work?

I’m proud of the French President and government, who have a strong vision to reform the country to make it future-ready: I like his pro-business attitude with campaigns like #ChooseFrance, his vision for Europe, and his proactive attitude towards environmental issues, and positioning France as a start-up nation. He just announce the results of le Grand Débat, by proposing measures to respond to some of the requests from the Yellow-Vest movement. International conferences in our venues have continued to attract a record attendance, so I don’t think the political situation has kept people from attending business events in our city.

How important is it to be on the board of an association as important as ICCA? How did this come about?

I’ve been an active member since I first participated in an ICCA congress in 2006. I was immediately drawn to this vibrant international community where knowledge exchange is open and friendly. Many social media posts related to ICCA are tagged with #ICCAFamily, which really reflects the spirit of the association. It is the only truly global association in the meetings industry, dedicated to shaping the future and value of international association meetings. I was soon interested in participating more in the life of the association, and giving something back to this amazing community where I learned so much. I started by becoming Chair of the France-Benelux Chapter from 2009-2015 and was elected to the Board in November 2015 in Malaysia.

What are the association’s main challenges at this time?

Our main objectives are to make ICCA stronger, more global and more sustainable in the long term. ICCA has grown a lot in the last few years, to more than 1,000 members worldwide, and opening regional offices in all continents. It’s now time to solidify the position of these regional offices, and offer more services to all members worldwide, and help integrate the younger generations in our membership. Our new CEO, Senthil Gopinath, who is a former regional director in the Middle East, has been hired to deliver on ICCA’s strategic goals, building on the talents of ICCA’s global team.

What reasons do you find for the scarce presence of Portuguese professionals in the leadership of international associations in the sector, such as ICCA?

A lot of associations in our industry are US-based, with only a few which are really international. I can think of a few Portuguese leaders in our industry, like Ricardo Vieira, who just stepped down as Chairman of the ICCA Iberian Chapter, Mónica Freire, who is a member of the IAPCO Council, and Miguel Neves who is a Board member of MPI. I really couldn’t tell you why there are not more, but I can say that we could say the same for the French.

What legacy do you expect to leave following this time in the association?

I was inspired to run for the ICCA Board by Nina Freysen- Pretorious, our immediate Past President, our first woman president. I hope to encourage more ICCA members, more #ICCAWomen to stand for elections in our boards and chapters.

I’m also very much involved in leading the working group to engage more with association executives, and I look forward to presenting the results at our next Congress in Houston.

What do you miss the most from Portugal?

Living in Paris, what I most miss is the sea! And all that goes with it: fresh grilled fish, sardines, crabs, clams… I could go on forever!