The conference spouse’s programme – is this the end?

G8 Summit First Ladies visit Vatican Gardens July 2009 photo Rex.jpg

Spouses’ programmes at conferences have always been a bit of a mystery to the Blog. In these times of reduced travel budgets and lower attendance at conferences, it is hard to believe that companies are still prepared to pay for delegates to take their partners along too.


And yet from the number of wives at conference receptions wearing the official spouse’s badge, the Blog has to assume that there are still plenty of companies happy and willing to pay not only for multiple delegates but also multiple delegates’ wives. Or is it the case that delegates are prepared to put their hands in their own pockets and pay the extra for the spouse’s badge themselves?


The original “wives’ programme” (before my time) has evolved into the more inclusive “spouses’ programme” and now the less judgmental “partners’ programme” with provision for a “spouse/significant other, friend or adult child”. Significant others are now welcomed at a price of €150 each at EPCA, or $100 a head at NPRA.


It is particularly at the Gala Dinners at the end of conferences that the partners are out in force. Glowing from spending the day in the hotel spa, heavy on the sequins and largely ignored by their menfolk, they bond over talk of holidays and retirement plans.


The health benefits of bringing a partner have long been known.


It was Edwina Currie, a former UK conservative junior health minister, who controversially advised businessmen in 1987 that, “…when they go abroad on business there is one thing above all they can take with them to stop catching AIDS – and that is the wife.”


I once found myself on a spouses’ city coach tour during a fertilizer conference. In this case for spouses, read wives, and it was in my pre-wife days. They were very welcoming when they found they had a non-wife worker in their midst.


But the times they are a-changing. The ending of the traditional tennis, golf and sailing events at conferences due to a lack of interest could be read as another sign that there is less of an appetite to entertain spouses at corporate expense.


A senior ICIS reporter tells the tale of a top-level gathering of chemical industry CEOs which he regularly attends in glamorous locations like Sicilian villas, where the leading international figures of the industry consort along with their wives. As he tells it, the French and Italian CEOs, tanned and sporting designer glasses, bring their much younger gorgeous model wives, while the British and American CEOs are accompanied by their sensible mumsy first wives.


(photo G8 First Ladies visit Vatican Gardens, Rome, July 2009: Rex)


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