Conference organisers here are warning that their sector will be among the last to recovery post-pandemic – and have called for an extension of State supports for businesses.

The Association of Irish Professional Conference Organisers (AIPCO) also wants clarity around the return of regular international travel in order to help its members plan for 2022 and beyond.

"Over the last 14 months, due to the pandemic and the associated travel restrictions, our reality that we've had little or no business and sadly, in 2021, we anticipate that we will have a second year [like that]," said Marina Finn, co-chair of the AIPCO.

"We’ve had no business because, essentially, we are entirely reliant on the overseas, international delegate attending."

The AIPCO represents ten companies that specialise in conferencing, which in normal times would have been responsible for almost 100 conferences each year.

They were worth a combined €75m and would have seen 32,000 people attending each year.

Ms Finn said that the planning required for a conference, and the long lead-in time attached, meant that it would take some time for regular conferences to return even as restrictions are eased.

To help conference organisers in the meantime, she said they hoped to see an extension of the supports that have been afforded to businesses for most of the past year.

"We’re calling on the Government to extend the EWSS until April 2022, and allocate further grants for our sector," she said. "We really see this as a temporary measure going forward, and really a bridge to recover in 2022.

"We appreciate the subsidies and assistance that we’ve been given but we really see this as a core part of us being able to keep our doors open, and being able to maintain the experience and expertise we have in our industry."

Ms Finn said that 2021 was already largely lost to organisers, but there were already plans for conferences next year, with many more on the books for the years beyond.

Until then, she said it was key that the industry did not lose vital expertise and skills.

The AIPCO held its own annual conference this year – virtually.

Businesses and attendees have had more than a year of online events, prompting some to suggest that the day of the traditional conference is over – even in a post-pandemic world.

Ms Finn is confident there is still strong demand for in-person events, though she also sees the sector adapting on the back of the past year's experiences.

"We’re all human, and what we want to do is have live, face-to-face meetings," she said. "But there is no doubt that the model has changed and what we have done over the last 14 months is been very agile.

"For the future, we see this as being a hybrid model… a blended model between having live, face-to-face meetings on-site, in Ireland, and equally having a virtual, online platform where delegates from all around the world can actually join the meeting."