Industry needs a WTC2021

23 October 2020

So, another World Tunnel Congress (WTC) has come to what can only be termed a fairly successful conclusion given the unprecedented Covid-19 malaise under which it was held and so rapidly put together.

In my mind, the first-ever online WTC worked well despite some industry misgivings over technical issues. True, the opening addresses did suffer from very poor sound exacerbated by the heavy accents of those involved. However as their English is a lot better than my Malay (which is non-existent) or Mandarin (also non-existent), there can be no gripes there. So congratulations must go to the organising committees of the Institution of Engineers Malaysia and the ITA for staging a successful event for which they had very little time to organise and did so under very difficult and unprecedented circumstances.

Over the three-day period, I watched a total of 11 presentations. They were all professional and informative with near-perfect picture and sound quality. Sometimes in a physical scenario it can be difficult to see the slides for a number of reasons.

Not so if it’s virtual: no disturbance from latecomers or people talking, coughing, mobiles ringing etc, or indeed any of the distractions you get in a physical scenario. Plus you can replay anything you might not have understood or wish to hear again. Naturally there was no coffee or cake during breakout sessions or for that matter, the ability to catch up with past colleagues and acquaintances. But that is the price we must pay for this hopefully temporary coronavirus state of affairs in which we must all somehow thrive.

Sadly, another victim of the pandemic is that WTC 2021, which was due to have taken place in Copenhagen has, not surprisingly, been postponed to 2022. Which means there will be no World Tunnel Congress – physical or virtual – in 2021. This will be a huge, huge loss for the industry.

ITA has said it will continue to stage virtual congresses and seminars throughout 2021 in conjunction with its ITACET, ITACUS, ITACOSUF and ITAtech committees. Which is great. But the industry really does need its annual gathering in 2021 to facilitate the flow of knowledge and innovation between all parts of the global tunnelling fraternity.

And what better way is there to do this under the current restrictions than to hold another virtual congress, not hosted by any country this time but by the ITA itself. This would enable a congress to take place and help in part to offset some of the financial losses which the ITA must have sustained as a result of recent events. Clearly much organisation would be required but it would show that despite the best efforts of the coronavirus, life goes on.