In an industry — and region — that’s changing and developing at an astounding rate, the ever-present International Live Events Association (ILEA) has gone from strength to strength over the six or so years since the conception of its Middle East Chapter. For the past two years, under the presidency of ESP International’s Rebecca Wilson, the ILEA has not only seen a growth in member numbers, but has forged the way when it comes to introducing and improving industry standards across a variety of fields.
However, with the usual term of an ILEA board usually only lasting for 12 months, the two-year stint by Wilson and her fellow panel members came to a close last month, and saw the board undergoing a reshuffle that includes Lee Charteris now taking over the presidential position, supported by Dan Bolton as president elect and Lesley Fair as deputy president.
Naturally, Sound & Stage wanted to know more about the new set-up, so when we were kindly invited along to Harlequin Arena’s offices in Al Quoz for the board’s monthly meeting we jumped at the chance to catch up with faces both old and new, to find out what lies ahead for the region’s events industry association under its new management.
With a CV in the events industry that would warrant an entire article of its own, Flash Entertainment’s VP of operations, Lee Charteris, seems almost tailor-made to take on the role of president from his predecessor, Rebecca. And it’s a position that he seems only too willing to get stuck into, telling us: “It’s an honour for me to be nominated as president of an association like ILEA. Flash has been a member of ILEA for quite a long time and I wasn’t that active a member but I was kind of in Abu Dhabi banging the drum if you like, and I think it’s just the right time for me to do it.”
Charteris continues: “ILEA is the only recognised industry association [in the region]. I think the way the association gains gravitas and becomes more respected and more listened to, is about membership. So, while membership isn’t my only focus, our voice will be heard more with greater numbers. A big thing for the next twelve months is to grow the membership and become a voice for the maturing event industry in the UAE; to have a seat with the right people, to be a ‘go-to’ for potential government organisations to come to for impartial — but professional and mature — advice on the growing entertainment industry.”
And, supporting Charteris in his new role, Dan Bolton, ILEA president elect, also believes that membership is key to a successful 12 months ahead for the new board. He tells Sound & Stage: “Something we’re really working on at the moment is to identify what it is that people expect from membership. Everyone is very different; some people want it for business referral opportunities and to generate business development, other people want it to put into best practices for health and safety, others also want to have a voice and to lobby government and create change. So we’re looking at ways we can engage more with members — I think that’s really important — to talk to them a lot more, to find out exactly what it is that they want and to try and offer a very broad range of opportunities.”
Bolton continues: “We’d like to try and get more members and diversify the range of members that we have. We’ve identified so many key players within the industry that either don’t know about us or are not members, so we definitely need to get them involved. It’s a team effort and there’s lots of people within the leadership team and also the board that contribute — but for me I’m really excited because, since I’ve been a member of ILEA for two years, I’ve definitely seen over the last six months to one year it’s been transforming. It’s growing so quickly and there’s so many people that want to make a difference so we want to tap into those people.”
Being present at the ILEA board meeting also gave us an opportunity to find out more from Custard Communications’ director Lesley Fair, who explained to Sound & Stage how she had deliberately made the decision not to step up to the role of president following two years in the role of president elect, but rather to remain in a supportive role as president deputy to Charteris.
She elaborates: “I think the organisation currently represents a large body of quite rational opinion that is of benefit to people if they choose to dip into that bucket. It’s been an evolution — we’d love to get to the point where we’re running elections because then it means we’ve got a large amount of members who are engaged and interested, but we’re not quite there yet. All the VP level roles are people who’ve been committee members and moved up because they’ve shown an interest and would like to be more involved and have more involvement generally. That’s how it works — you become a member, then you become a committee member, then you become a board member where you can run for presidency.”
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And Fair also reinforces the main objective of the new ILEA board, again stressing the importance of the organisation’s members as a driving force for change in the industry. “We invite fresh opinions and fresh ideas,” she says. “As an individual you only have a certain circle of influence and that only stretches so far. The more people we can get in, the more that circle of influence is going to grow. And that’s been proven in the last year — the massive uptake in membership that we’ve had recently is because of that ‘sphere of influence’ that people have; we’re trying to ride that train at the moment and I think it’s going to get better and better as we try to involve people that we’ve identified as being great additions because their voice is slightly different, their interests are slightly different, but they’re still within the events sector.”
However, this intended expansion on the ILEA membership side is not without just cause, reflecting a concurrent growth in the regional industry itself. Charteris explains: “We’re fast approaching 2020 and there are more and more big events coming in the UAE. The UAE as an event marketplace has grown dramatically comparatively to the rest of the world; a lot of people are looking into the Middle East — especially the UAE — for the future of events in so many ways.”
He continues: “As an association I just want to grow ILEA so that we have a brevity and a gravitas. I want us to be a guide, I want us to be a ‘go-to’. Whatever part of the industry you work in I’d like to feel that ILEA is a place that you are comfortable with, that you can go to for impartial advice, for support, for information, just to be able to reach out to on many different levels. Whether you’re a two-person company just starting out in Dubai or whether you’re a big event company that’s been in the UAE for 10 years, I think we’re all going to get something different from it, no doubt about it, depending on our requirement.”
Fair adds to this: “It’s about developing trust relationships. We’re part of a membership organisation where we sign a code of conduct when we join. So by having membership of ILEA, it’s a promise that you’ve made to the rest of the industry that you are of a certain calibre and you act in a certain way. So, with that as an endorsement of your professionalism and your ethics, it’s almost a stamp of professionalism.”
And it’s this reputation for professionalism that has seen the ILEA developing even more ‘pulling power’ over the past couple of years under Wilson’s presidency, and this is something that the new board is keen to maintain and develop even further.
Charteris tells us: “As the industry matures and the country matures, the government are going to be introducing more laws and regulations. It would be great to think that if there are any event-related laws or lobbies, that we would be seen to be an organisation that the government would be happy to come to for impartial advice on the best way forward. That’s the place we would like to be, for sure.”
Bolton elaborates: “At the moment there’s an open dialogue between DTCM and ILEA, and I think that we need to build on those type of communication channels because it is an issue that affects all of us in some capacity, whether through the actual online process or the costs involved. So I think there definitely needs to be an engagement because we are essentially the voice of the events industry in the region and, collectively, all our members share their feedback, their opinions, their frustrations, concerns, and the good things as well! So it’s a good way for us to communicate that back to the authorities and people that need to hear that type of feedback and engage in order to adapt it maybe or to influence the way that it’s implemented.”
As we wrap up our meeting and let the board members get back to business, it falls to Bolton to summarise the new phase ahead for the ILEA and all its members — present and future. When asked what his hopes are for the next 12 months, he replies: “I definitely feel that for this new term there’s a gear change. There’s fresh people, fresh ideas, a broader range of opinions and more people that want to contribute to it — I’ve definitely seen that over the past year. My ambition as president elect over the next 12 months is to support Lee and Lesley in everything that they’re doing — the impetus is now on actual business and positive things we can do to make a difference. This city and this country is changing at such a rapid pace and I think we can be at the forefront of that change for the event industry.”
Passing the baton
As she steps down after two fruitful years as ILEA president – though still remaining an active member of the organisation - Sound & Stage took two minutes out with Rebecca Wilson to find out what she thinks the future holds for the Middle East chapter of ILEA under its new leadership. She explained: “I’ve had an amazing two years with a great board – some of whom I inherited from Adrian Bell’s tenure and some of whom I brought on myself. It’s been a really enthusiastic board. My pledge at the beginning of my two years was ‘back to basics’ so I think I’ve achieved a lot of the things I set out to do because I kept them simple. It’s almost been like starting a new business with ILEA, so I feel like I’ve had a brilliant couple of years and we really have put ILEA on the map as an active trade association. It did take time, and we really had to get the foundations in place, but I feel like we’ve done that and I’m really excited to hand over to Lee, who will bring something different to the table. And that’s the idea really – the board changes every year so that you get different leadership styles, you get different ambitions and goals, and I feel like Lee is a safe pair of hands. The fact that he’s in Abu Dhabi is also a really good message to the Middle East region that we are ILEA Middle East, not ILEA Dubai. Lee has different contacts to me and a different style that will, once again, refresh and drive ILEA forward, so I’m very excited about that.”