In these challenging times, Kongres Magazine is trying its best to provide meeting planners with the most relevant and useful information regarding the spread of COVID-19. We also want to share opinions from key members of the meetings industry.

We asked key opinion makers from the meetings industry for their thoughts on the situation and how they are coping with COVID-19.

Christian Woronka, Vienna Convention Bureau

Now we need to support each other, keep up our work and focus on the time after the crisis

Q: How do you feel about the restrictions that European governments have implemented to contain the spread of COVID-19?

Coronavirus has a deep impact on our lives, our society and our industry. It is of utmost importance to safeguard people’s health, our health care systems and our economy. Therefore it is crucial to obey the rules that our governments and authorities have set no matter how restrictive they are.

Q: What would you compare this situation to?

All my life I have never experienced anything that is comparable to what we are facing now.

Q: Economic consequences for the meetings industry have already started to show, what do you expect government institutions to do?

The meetings sector was one of the industries that suffered the most as a result of the Sars-CoV-2-outbreak. Now it is our duty to stand by all the people working in the industry who usually keep the system running but now face severe challenges. The government of Austria and the City of Vienna were among the first institutions in the European Union that have enacted a range of concrete support measures for local companies. Some institutions also play a crucial role in getting over this crisis. The Messe Wien Exhibition & Congress Center, for example, has been turned into a temporary sick ward in case further hospital beds will be needed. Some hotels accommodate nursing staff and some restaurants – they have been closed temporarily by the authorities – have started to prepare free meals for support staff.

Q: What is your opinion on virtual meetings, as an alternative to live events?

For the time being virtual meetings and digital communication channels are essential tools in order to keep up our work and to get ready for the time after the crisis. However, I do not believe that they will replace live events in the long run. To the contrary, I think that after weeks or maybe even months of physical distancing people will be very eager to meet again and exchange ideas and knowledge. Another important aspect is that live events involve so much more than pure knowledge exchange. Through personal meetings trust and understanding are being gained, which is essential when it comes to tackling global challenges and agreeing on collective actions and innovations.

Q: What precautions/measures are you taking in your company?

At the moment we all work from home. And just like the majority of all companies, we keep in contact and hold meetings with the support of great online tools.

Q: When do you think the situation will go back to normal?

This is only the beginning, we do not know how the situation is going to evolve. Now we need to support each other, keep up our work and focus on the time after the crisis.

Q: Is digital marketing in times of crisis even sensible?

In these challenging times, it is more important than ever to show empathy and solidarity within the industry. We stay in touch with our stakeholders, update them about the current situation and work together on future projects. Currently, we showcase Vienna’s virtual experiences – such as virtual tours of museums and meeting facilities, live streams of operas and concerts or ‘Beethoven’s Vienna’, our skill for Alexa and Google Home.

Q: What will happen after we’ve beaten the virus? How will you (re)start your marketing activities?

We have already started to evaluate this year’s marketing plan and to adapt it according to various scenarios. Our main message to our clients is: We are here for you, whenever you are ready. Also, we are working on the communication planning for the “time after” that will be based on the principles of Vienna’s Visitor Economy Strategy 2025 and its emphasis on adding value for the city, its residents and its businesses. After the crisis, it will be even more important than before to focus on meetings as a driver for location development and to highlight Vienna’s role as a business and research hub in the center of Europe.

Q: Are you in contact with colleagues from around the world? Have you talked about any potential solutions?

Yes, we are in exchange with our colleagues around the world. Virtually we are getting closer together than ever and it is our obligation to back and encourage each other in these very hard times. We realize that individual countries face different challenges at different times. This might affect the international alignment of our industry and become a challenge for our future cooperation.