Madrid's former COVID-19 hospital hosts face-to-face hospitality forum
Rahul Pathak in Madrid

There was precious little evidence of social distancing at the Ifema Conference center on Monday as former Madrid president Isabel Ayuso attended the opening day of the Hospitality Innovation Planet Expo.

Before she stepped down to trigger regional elections in May, Ayuso had vowed the hospitality industry would not be ruined on her watch.

Naturally she is a popular figure among many delegates.


First face-to-face conference since start of pandemic

The three-day congress is Spain's first major face-to-face conference since the start of the pandemic. More than 9,000 people are expected to attend, with at least 300 companies exhibiting.

Around this time last year, Ifema was being used as an emergency coronavirus field hospital. The fact it's now being used for its original purpose is hugely symbolic, according to HIP Expo Director Manuel Bueno.

"In the hospitality sector we service, physical contact is key," Bueno told CGTN Europe. "We don't have virtual experiences now, they are physical experiences. So that is why we bring all the sectors together.… Many entrepreneurs, many companies have been alone trying to solve the situation but now they can share together the key and the tools to move forward and adapt their business to the new situation."


Delegates confident in safety measures

Many delegates told CGTN Europe they were confident in the anti-COVID-19 measures put in place by organizers.

"The measures are fine. It feels very secure. Normally when you take a plane or a train you feel safe. But here I actually feel safer," Felix Guarnido, manager of food supplier Ahumados Mediterraneos, told CGTN Europe.

Vittorio Figurato, owner of Pizza chain Trattoria Fratelli Figurato, added: "The pandemic has been a challenge for every restaurant owner. Hopefully we are coming to the end of these difficult times."

In two months' time, one of the world's biggest tourism expos is due to be held at Ifema. Before the pandemic, more than 250,000 people attend the Fitur expo.

In many ways, the Hospitality Innovation Planet congress is being used as a test event to assess whether even larger face-to-face gatherings can be held safely while the pandemic is ongoing.

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