Social Impact and Silver Linings Through Latin America’s Convention Centers

Grupo Heroica president and CEO Juliana López Bermudez shares how the convention industry in Latin America ‘has an extraordinary capacity for economic spillover.’

Author: Jennifer N. Dienst       

Cartagena de Indias Convention Center

Cartagena de Indias Convention Center in Cartagena, Colombia, has a scenic perch on the edge of the city’s waterfront. Colombia’s popularity as a convention destination has grown in recent years; in October 2021, the facility hosted the 60th annual ICCA Congress.

The business events industry, at large, is comprised of women — 77 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. But some spaces are quite the opposite, particularly facility management, where just 21 percent are women, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. We’re spotlighting women who have worked their way up to the top spots at convention centers around the world, and up next is Juliana López Bermudez, president and CEO of Grupo Heroica, which operates the Cartagena de Indias Convention Center in Cartagena, Colombia, as well as Valle del Pacífico Events Center in Valle del Cauca, Colombia, and Costa Rica Convention Center in San José, Costa Rica.

Juliana Lopez Bermudez headshot

“Our industry does not know of the word ‘routine,’” said Juliana López Bermudez, president and CEO of Grupo Heroica.

In addition to your skills and capabilities, to what would you attribute your success in a male-dominated sector of the business events industry? What attracted you to this side of the business?

I believe that regardless of gender, passion for what we do and the enjoyment of our tasks are determining factors for a successful performance. I was attracted to this sector because of the dynamic nature of our activities; our industry does not know of the word “routine.” In addition to this, our sector has an extraordinary capacity for economic spillover, which allows us to generate social impact in the communities where we work. In Latin America, where we have so many social challenges, it is a magnificent way to generate employment and promote development.

Now that groups are coming back, what’s different? For example, are you noticing that groups are using the space differently than pre-pandemic? Are groups offering different programming (maybe fewer sessions and more white space)? Or are there other kinds of different attendee behavior that stands out to you?

We have noticed greater specialization in events [and] probably fewer people and fewer exhibitors, but those who participate do so actively generating a higher ROI. Regarding programming, more emphasis is being given to the generation of networking spaces in non-traditional areas; open spaces are much more valued today.

How are you accommodating groups with hybrid programs? Can you share any changes or investments you’ve made in new technology to meet this need?

With our technological partners, we have developed a portfolio of products and services to achieve more inclusive events from a hybrid module, including platforms for digital events as well as required adjustments in physical spaces, such as recording equipment, to generate live broadcast with higher quality.

How are you navigating the rise in costs and working with clients who have a stricter budget (especially F&B)?

A great result from the pandemic was the achievement of greater efficiency in costs and expenses; we were able to quickly implement changes and operational adjustments that would probably have taken much more time and effort under different circumstances. This has allowed us to address the extra costs of biosecurity measures, increased energy costs, and inflation with less of an impact. We have migrated to a much more flexible operating model by working with our clients in an allied scheme to propose or jointly design options according to their possibilities.

Jennifer N. Dienst is senior editor at Convene.

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