‘One of a kind’ virtual conference by EPRA for listed sector

The annual European Public Real Estate Association’s (EPRA) conference went ahead in this year of the virus, amid the enormous logistical challenges it poses.

Innovation was the order of the day at ‘Rethink 2020,’ which took place entirely online this month due to the necessity of social distancing rules making traditional in-person meetings and large gatherings impossible.

Responding to the ‘new normal,’ EPRA built a virtual ‘e-conference’ space, complete with digital versions of exhibitor stands, live streaming of debates with industry leaders, and networking opportunities in cyberspace.

Despite Covid-related obstacles, there was plenty of insight for delegates taking part remotely via screens, over the course of five days.

‘With no less than 600 attendees over this five-day event, I am sincerely glad about the enthusiasm and engagement the conference has achieved, as it highlights how much our members and more widely the listed real estate sector are eager to keep this industry on track for discussion and constant improvement,’ reflected Dominique Moerenhout, EPRA CEO.

‘We had the pleasure to host committed panellists who gave us inspiring speeches and debates and they showed us that despite the difficult times the pandemic has brought to our sector this year, this crisis is not a fatality as a fast economic recovery is already on the way.’

Former chief economist at the European Central Bank, Peter Praet, delivered this year’s keynote speech and it was no surprise that the impact of Covid-19 was to the fore, including the role of governments in the recovery.

‘The role of the state will be incredibly important,’ said Praet. ‘I would say it is key to getting out of this crisis. Some states are well-managed and have a clear strategy for recovery spending and some are not. Seeing as this is an international economic shock, it will be crucial to engage international cooperation and not look at issues only on the domestic level.

‘We have seen a sharp decline in productivity – which is normal in an economic contraction –because it is increasingly difficult to reallocate resources from one industry to another area. This is something the states need to look at when assessing recovery funding.

‘What is the balancing act that must be struck between investing in the industries of the future and supporting those that exist today?’

The shape of the coming recovery from the pain the pandemic has inflicted upon the listed sector – wiping nearly 22% off overall returns during the first six months of 2020 – was in the spotlight at Rethink 2020.

Sabina Kalyan, CBRE Global Investors’ Global Head of Strategy and Research, told an Insight Session that they expect a recovery shaped like the Nike ‘swoosh’ logo.

Elsewhere, at a panel debate about the operational and financial challenges facing the listed sector, rent collection and the future of the office asset class were up for discussion.

Unveiling her vision for the listed property sector, EPRA’s first female chair Meka Brunel – CEO of French firm Gecina – said: ‘We are not just speculators and real estate owners. We are an industry and we must be considered this way, connected and working together.

‘The crisis is accelerating trends. And we need to accelerate our inclusiveness and ESG efforts to match this. We need to work on standardisation across Europe to ensure we reduce fragmentation and improve as a whole entity.

‘Diversity and inclusion are not just fashionable, it brings efficiency in terms of our capacity to deliver results.’
Also at Rethink 2020, a record number of 90 awards were given to companies for improving the quality for financial reporting, which organisers say boosts transparency and the listed sector’s reputation.

Reflecting on ‘Rethink 2020’ taking place in exceptional circumstances, Moerenhout said: ‘The feedback we received from the participants was extremely positive and I know now that hosting this event virtually was the right decision in the current context, despite the initial ambition to keep a physical event.’


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