WTC2020 opens successfully but without the usual ceremony

14 September 2020

Monday 14 September saw the official opening of the World Tunnel Congress (WTC2020) under an extraordinary virtual scenario brought about by the coronavirus pandemic.

In her welcome speech broadcast live on the WTC conference website, ITA president Prof. Jenny Yan, thanked the WTC organising committee for its hard work over the past three years in successfully launching the first online WTC. It had not been easy, she added, given the difficult global circumstances. Yan noted that while it would have been preferable to have had the conference in Kuala Lumpur as originally planned, she said digital conferences can provide a solution for difficult times and are likely to be used increasingly in the future. She went on to cite the critical part that tunnelling plays in mega projects and its role in improving global connectivity.

Previously, in his welcome speech, WTC2020 Organising Chairman Dr Ooi Teik Aun said WTC2020 aimed to digitally lead the tunnelling industry forward, advancing this year’s theme of innovation and a sustainable underground in securing global connectivity.

COVID-19 had placed unprecedented restrictions and stringent border controls and Aun regretted that attendees would not be able to experience the warm Malaysian hospitality. But he added that “every challenge brings forth an opportunity and through the WTC2020 digital platform we might embrace change and avail ourselves to the new technology, providing an engaging way to embrace one another.”

In her brief address, Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture, Dato’ Sri Hajah Nancy Shukr said that the virtual WTC2020 had attracted 1,300 delegates. Although they were unable to attend, she hoped they would all be able to visit Malaysia in the near future to experience its world class facilities and tourist attractions.

Ir Ong Ching Loon, president of the Institution of Engineers Malaysia (IEM), expressed his gratitude on being given the opportunity to host the event, saying that as the first-ever virtual WTC, it was a significant milestone. He stressed that although the digital conference platform had been agreed with ITA, the IEM had been ready to host the physical event in Malaysia. “One important lesson the pandemic has taught us,” said Loon, “is that we can get around problems to achieve a desired outcome.” As a result, WTC2020 can reach a larger audience but it had been challenging to organise registration, paper presentations and the ability of participants to engage with exhibitors, he said.

Loon added that IEM and the organising committee had worked hard over the past three years and he was sure the digital WTC event would be a success. The digital conference would serve as a platform for knowledge exchange, identifying the challenges in sustainable tunnelling through knowledge and experience sharing and to help understand how engineering technology could be used to create opportunity. He hoped the conference would foster working relationships and shed light on the issues and the opportunities, so that everyone attending the event could look forward to learning new ideas.