WTC 2020 ready for virtual experience 10 Sep 2020

Shani Wallis, TunnelTalk

Some may still be wondering where to go, when to login and how best to populate a virtual exhibition booth, but we are assured that the virtual WTC for 2020 is prepared and the event will begin tomorrow Friday 11 September and progress until Wednesday 16 September. The schedule remains much the same as a traditional WTC programme with the exception that we are all in our home offices, no one will be gathering at the Petronas Towers KLCC Convention in Kuala Lumpur – more is the pity, it is a wonderful city – and all will be conducted in the virtual web environment with online, pre-recorded and live-streamed sessions.

The programme is scheduled on local MYT, Malaysia time, and the programme reads more like a local rather than an international event with the local and Asia based professionals presenting keynote and invited lectures each morning starting at 8am MYT. Technical presentations starting at 2pm MYT will be the papers that authors have agreed to pre-record for presentation (Fig 1).

Fig 1. Programme for the WCT 2020 based on Malaysia time
Fig 1. Programme for the WCT 2020 based on Malaysia time
Fig 2. ITACET Training Course programme
Fig 2. ITACET Training Course programme
Fig 3. ITAym Symposium of Young Tunnellers Asia
Fig 3. ITAym Symposium of Young Tunnellers Asia

The programme starts on Friday with the ITACET Training Course. Registration for the virtual Zoom session is now closed for the lectures that will progress from 1pm to 9pm MYT, Malaysia time, with lectures by leading international and local professionals on geotechnical engineering, project management and innovation in tunnelling (Fig 2).

Saturday is the first Symposium for Young Tunnellers of Asia (SYTA) with its own programme of technical lectures and a session to plan for the second SYTA by the young members of the ITAym steering board (Fig 3).

There is a technical session, local Malaysia time, on Wednesday morning, with the ITAym General Assembly starting at 9am local time, the closing ceremony starting at 6.30pm. Following that, the ITA General Assembly of its 78 Member Nation society representatives starts at 7pm Malaysia time and continues until 11pm local time. The Executive Council (ExCo) of the ITA will then meet in closed session on Thursday as is the usual format for a WTC and ITA General Assembly programme in normal times.

The digital exhibition platform is open to registered delegates and exhibitors from 14 to 16 September.

Virtual expectations

Ironically, the theme of the WTC 2020 – established three years ago when Malaysia bid to host WTC 2020, and was selected at the WTC General Assembly in 2017 in Bergen, Norway, against strong competition from Member Nations Australia and India – is Innovation and sustainable underground serving global connectivity. If ever global connectivity was put under great strain, it has been this year, with connectivity in gathering on lockdown, travel suspended and connectivity even in the closest of environments, going online.

Under normal circumstances most professionals would have made at least six or seven international trips in the six months from March 2020 and all would have been commuting to offices and events using highways, trains and metros. Perhaps all was moving too fast with regard for the environment and social wellbeing being the too often dismissed cost. As an element of the WTC event trapped in time, is the WTC2020 website page that introduces the venue. Photos of the empty lecture theatres and meeting rooms, which would otherwise be images anticipating the crowds, are eerie reminders of how things have changed.

Reminders of what might otherwise have been

An online element to all international conferences has been possible for many years but has always been dismissed. The big money for organisers and host cities is exhibitors, sponsorships and delegate registrations and to have the delegates staying in hotel rooms and spending in the local shops and restaurants. A virtual option for attending a congress was considered a threat to the traditional model with too many choosing the virtual option and reducing the potential income of the event. The opposite would in fact be the truth. Only those unable to attend in person would choose to attend virtually. Given the choice, we all understand that the reason for going to a congress is not primarily for attending the lectures, as the book or thumb drive of proceedings is available for reviewing the papers at a later date, but more for networking, socialising, meeting people, visiting companies at their exhibition booth, and feeling part of the international industry.

If Malaysia had planned a local conference in Kuala Lumpur in May or September, it would not in any way attract the delegates, exhibitors, sponsor or authors of an ITA-WTC branded event. This is a fact that seems to have been forgotten or set aside in the management of the circumstances created by the pandemic and its initial postponement from May to September and eventual cancellation for a virtual only option. The ITA cannot divorce itself from this responsibility to the international industry in the way Malaysia has managed the necessary changes. There is still no information about when requested refunds for cancellations will be paid and exhibitors and sponsors are yet to assess the return on their investments in WTC in its virtual alternative. Rather than individual delegates, exhibitions and sponsors trying to manage communications with the IEM organisers of the ITA WTC, the suggestion is that there should be a company engaged by ITA to be the go-between to resolve any and all outstanding issues associated with WTC 2020.

A review of WTC rules, regulations and hosting criteria was already in process for an ExCo working group and is to be part of the ITA General Assembly on Wednesday 16 September. The WTC situation faced by ITA in 2020 will provide so much more material for discussing this issue and the hosting and management of WTCs into the future.

In the meantime, ITA has encouraged the international industry to support the virtual WTC in Kuala Lumpur. Those registered to attend the virtual WTC event will have more to say and report during and after the event, which is also part of the normal WTC experience.


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