The warnings were there about the platform possibly not holding.

The warnings were there about the 5000+ registered participants possibly not joining.

The warnings were there about the content not holding interest for 6+hrs.

The warnings were there about the audio dropping.

The warnings were all there. We were ready.

But no one, absolutely no one, warned us about how terrifying the excitement of going ‘live’ would be!!

Since the start of the 21st Century our shared world has been busy turning the noun ‘innovation’ into a verb, into an adjective, into a sign of success, into a badge of honour, into a form of status. However we express it – disruption, ideation, new world creation – all of the terms talk calmly about what it takes to be innovative, to create something that step-changes how we think, how we act, how we live, how we conduct business, how we connect to one another. The possibility of a dramatic shift from the now to the new has been a force of growth for industry, for humanity.

We talk about it calmly. We talk about it in classrooms. We talk about it in textbooks. We debate it. We debate it. We debate it. And then we debate some more. The analysis around innovation life cycles, investment models and human dynamics is plenty – the subject of innovation is not embedded in many an institution.

Yet interestingly, it’s only when one actually dives into it – when an idea emerges that just feels so right, and so right for right now, that the alchemy of innovation takes hold.

It is exactly as French playwrite Victor Hugo once said: “Nothing else in the world…not all the armies…is so powerful as an idea whose time has come.”

Such was the case just a handful of days ago in March 2020, as the world was settling into lock-down country by country, that an idea’s time came.

The working world was grounded. Suddenly no one is going anywhere, and yet we started to find ways to be everywhere. Meetings were zoomed and skyped and logged into. For millions worldwide, working from home became a whole new way of not just working but living. It erased boundaries – geographic, professional, social and emotional. Suddenly we were all sharing each other’s lives. There has been no way to escape what our homes look like, what our lives look like, what our personal styles look like. We are who we are, from wherever in the world we may be connecting.

But all has not been without its ache. Millions sharing this new way of life have also been bonding over shared loss – loss of momentum, loss of motivation, loss of plans to meet somewhere else, sometime soon. Somehow, in the blink of an eye and with the closure of borders, business and meeting stopped, and with that, the advancement of professional bonds, the building of future plans and setting of priorities, and the business of yesterday, today and tomorrow.

But why must it stop, especially when now more than ever people need to come together to find the collective strength to face one of the greatest professional and personal challenges of our lives? To not feel alone?

Why not create a way of staying connected, continuing to learn, continuing to build, continuing to hope? Build the future of our industry? No – it is not credible to begin that process, the spread and impact of COVID19 as a global human crisis, forget industry, is still being understood. We cannot credibly start looking at the solution. We can, however, come together as a community of leaders ready to interrogate the problem, from different geographic, technical, economic, political and personal perspectives.

And so was born less that 4wks ago (at time of writing this piece) through a conversation with Jonathan Worsley (a long-time trusted and respected colleague with whom I have been blessed to work for several years, he giving me the honours on-stage across his global portfolio of events), the idea for the world’s largest ever (over 6hrs), over 6600 participant strong (far beyond estimation), Travel, Tourism and Hospitality virtual conference:

As soon as ‘why not?’ was accepted in mind and heart, with trust in partnership implicit, principles of conference design and debate were agreed, platforms were explored, plans were made, PR began, personal networks were contacted, programme slots were filled, and preparation briefings were conducted.

Fast forward three weeks, and the morning finally came when it was time to go ‘live’!

Suddenly one’s lounge becomes a studio,

One’s bathroom a dressing room,

One’s conference link a back-stage pass to a global stage,

One’s heartbeat is a pounding drum!

Prayers to the Tech Gods eclipsed all thoughts as the number of participants online grew wildly, 100, 300, 800, 1200, 1500, 1700, 2000, 2300…on and on the numbers climbed. “please let the platform hold, please let the platform hold…!!

We could hold no longer – it was time!! April 07th, 2020, 10:00am BST. Jonathan was ‘on’, the backstage team watching each and every second pass by with concrete weight. It was a cocktail of thrill and terror, making us all feel like giddy children trying to contain our nervous screams of excitement!!

And so the day began.

Over the course of the following 6 hours were there technology challenges? Of course there were. Were there continued intense prayers that things going wrong would go right? Absolutely. But everyone, every one of the 6000+ people participating backstage, onstage and online across the globe was with us.

We were all in this together.

What was happening was not just a moment of innovation of our global meetings and conference industry, it was a defining moment of our lives. Together.

This was the dimension of innovation, the art of the possible, that, reflecting on the experience now, seems missing from articles, books and analysis on innovation. Why? Maybe because it is just too difficult to put into words. It is an experience that leaves one speechless (and nerve-knotted!)….with only a quiet smile to reveal what had occurred.

What turns an inspired idea into an inspiring innovation? It’s not just about the idea. It‘s about the people who show up because they believe in it, however the ‘it’ is defines, and they don’t want you to be alone in the quest to create what could be a defining moment of awe.

In the case of HospitalityTomorrow, as the conference was rapidly engineered, carefully selected international leaders were called on to join us on the virtual stage not just because of their expertise and the logos on their business cards, but because they were also loved colleagues that we knew we could trust and count on to take this leap of faith with us. Together we would throw ourselves into an ocean of possibility, we would swim together.

And we did! We swam hard, we swam strong, we swam fast, we swam towards a vision that we shared (even if we didn’t know exactly the conditions of the water), somehow confident we would somehow get there together.

That is a critical, unquantifiable, unmeasurable, yet essential part of innovation. That is the of bringing people together who are not just creative intellectually, but are incredibly creative in their power of belief. They show up, they feed confidence, they fuel conviction, and they’re there just in case support is needed should we feel we are drowning in overwhelm.

That is the magic of innovation.

And that, through this COVID19 chapter of our lives, will forever be a critical reminder of the power of crisis.

Scary innovation, innovation that grabs us by the collar and shifts us forward, can, like now, require scary circumstances that push us into the ocean. COVID19 has taken so much from our shared world. Lives, livelihoods, hopes, homes and hugs – nothing is taken for granted.

At the same time COVID19 is giving us the chance, and time, to rethink a new world – one we never would have naturally co-created given the unnatural way we were ‘progressing’. Mother Nature knew our focus was faulty.

Through these defining COVID19 moments in which we will create new ideas, new innovations, new possibilities, as precious are the new bonds of trust and deep appreciation formed by now knowing with whom one can jump into the ocean, confident they will help us find the starfish!








With special appreciation and love to:

  • Jonathan Worsley, Chairman & CEO of Bench Events
  • Sally Marwaha. Event Director of Bench Events (and our technology Wizard of Oz!)
  • Hon. Minister Najib Balala, Minister of Tourism and Wildlife, Govt. of Kenya
  • Amr Al Madani, CEO of Royal Commission for AlUla
  • Puneet Chhatwal, Managing Director and  CEO of Indian Hotels Company Limited (IHCL)
  • Roger Dow, President & CEO, US Travel Association

Ever-grateful, ever-awed. x


Copyright: ANITA MENDIRATTA 2020