Founded in 1924, the International Society of Sugar Cane Technologists is the single most important institution in the sugar industry advancing as it does the competitiveness of the global cane industry. This it does primarily through the congress it holds every three years, supported by workshops in various subject areas. Supported also by industry experts across academia, research institutes and sugar factories, its peer-review process ensures presentations at the event that have gone through critical scrutiny are of merit. This has doubtless assisted in generation and application plus the transfer of new knowledge. The 30th congress in Tucuman, Argentina in the heart of the country’s cane sector was generally marked by high standards across the board that one has come to accept. But the event also exposed wrinkles in the overall organization of the event that suggested that ISSCT needs restructuring – it is apparent that we cannot continue to have more of the same. There are some compelling issues that need addressing.
The foremost is having suppliers of technology and services be a part of the decision-making structure across the selection, management, organization and choice of venues. Representatives from the vendors should be on the board of the secretariat with full voting rights. After all, their funding support through sponsorship and exhibition as well as paying a premium for corporate membership is vital for the event’s success. One of the limitations of having the recent event in Tucuman was that the city simply did not boast a variety of quality places where they could entertain their both existing and potential clients. Buenos Aires would have been a far better location for the event and would have probably attracted more delegates. The same goes for the quality of the venue – the last congress in Chiang Mai, Thailand was held in a fine convention hall where the organization of booths for exhibitors and placing of central coffee/snacks area supported ready interaction between the sellers and potential buyers of technology and services. Sadly, the same could not be said of the venue in Tucuman. Such a hit and miss affair is doubtless unacceptable when these companies are investing a lot.
Added to this is that the local event organisers must provide clear information to exhibitors on formalities of customs clearance. For the Tucuman event, more than a few exhibitors who sent promotional material in advance were told to pay a hefty clearance charge. One exhibitor relented and paid US$6000 for the release of their brochures. International Sugar Journal declined to pay such a charge as did several other exhibitors.
Then, there is the issue of the delegate fee. Could this be lessened to expand the number of delegates attending? As it is, by default, the high fee (US$1500 at the recent congress) is elitist, excluding those lower down in an organization’s structure to attend, due to prohibitive costs. While this is a premier event lasting over a good part of the week with local organizers having to include a risk premium as they shoulder any financial loss, one has to look at how other event organizers are managing to do with significantly lower delegate fee. The Philsutech event in the Philippines I attended in August attracted over 800 delegates who paid some US$300 supported by over 100 exhibitors (twice the number of the recent ISSCT congress). Ditto, the ATALAC congress in Cali, Colombia attracted similar delegates’ number and exhibitors. The tiered delegate fee peaked at US$260. Another alternative, as one attendee suggested to me is to stream the presentations live as webinars – a cost-competitive alternative.
There also has to be a provision for delegates with specific dietary requirement. Well remember at the 2001 congress in Brisbane where the delegates from India had a woeful vegetarian choice – I was gobsmacked to see boiled pasta served with tomato sauce at one seating. Again, while the Thai’s did a splendid job accommodating spicy vegetarian for delegates from India and halal for those from Pakistan, no such provision was discernible in Tucuman. As one Pakistani delegate joked, we didn’t realise that we came here to lose weight. When these delegates/exhibitors are paying a premium, it is unacceptable that their modest needs are not catered for. This is unlikely to be an issue at the next event in India, but as a matter of course, ISSCT must be responsive to such needs.
We live in a connected world, but while the registration has gone online, that is where it ends. If you look at events organized by most commercial conference producers, there is an online networking support system whereby when you register, you have online access to other delegates who have also registered so that you can organise meetings et al in advance. It is simply frustrating to rely on bumping on to people you want to or like to meet, by chance.
Finally, ISSCT members are simply not privy to audited accounts nor have any say in the organization’s finances unlike many other associations in the industry. There is no disclosure of how much profit is made from the congress and who gets to keep it.