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.

FREDI FONTANOT, Portorož Tourist Board

Marketing always makes sense; it just needs to be properly targeted.

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

Because the virus is spreading extremely fast, I favour drastic measures to stop it as soon as possible. It even seems to me that we have reacted and taken action too late.

Q: What would you compare this situation to?

Unfortunately, this period reminds me only of the so-called »Ten-Day War« – Slovenian War of Independence. There is unfortunately no other comparison, it is really an extreme situation.

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

The whole tourism industry is at stake. I expect a lot of help from the authorities, especially in terms of some cuts in taxes or contributions. We are a labour-intensive industry, and above all, we will need a lot of support in the field of human resources. We already see many problems in this sector, and we don’t want to lose additional workers. I must say I am not very optimistic about the government’s help to be honest.

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

Human relations play a big role in our industry. Therefore, any kind of communication is welcome, even virtual. Now is the time to take full advantage of social media and to communicate as much as possible. Through online meetings, we can cultivate contacts with our regular customers, expand new contacts with potential clients or even revive old contacts. This can help us overcome this period of crisis, but of course, virtual communication will not replace events where we can talk and meet with our partners live.

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

In order to stop the spread of the virus, we have decided to introduce work from home. We have online meetings with our partners, and we correspond a lot via phone and e-mail. We are trying to keep as many congresses and events in our destination as possible by postponing them on some alternative dates, especially in autumn and winter. In addition, during this period we try to reduce costs as much as possible. All hotels, restaurants, congress facilities are closed, we reduced marketing costs etc. We also closed our tourist information offices.

Tourists have a need to travel and will resume travelling when they feel the immediate threat has passed.

Q: When do you think the situation will go back to normal? Are you optimistic about the summer Olympics?

It will take time before everything goes back to normal. This virus crisis will have a long-term impact, especially on the financial results of all our partners. Considering the events in the world, where the battle against the virus has already started, it’s estimated that it will take at least 3 months to reopen our facilities and to welcome our first guests. Therefore, it would be more than welcome if we can be back in business in May. Otherwise, I’m afraid we won’t be able to restart activities until the main season (July and August), when high temperatures and warm weather will slow down the spreading of the virus. Fortunately, most tourists have a need to travel and will resume travelling when they feel the immediate threat has passed.

I am not exactly a sports expert, but I think the Summer Olympics are already problematic, because of the difficult conditions for the preparation of the athletes. 14 days or more in quarantine is a great loss for an athlete. I guess we’ll just have to wait for the organizing committee and its final decision.

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

Marketing always makes sense; it just needs to be properly targeted. We are changing all our communication plans and focusing them on the spring and summer season. For the first time in many years, we aren’t inviting guests for Easter. However, we are raising awareness among guests all over the world about the beauty of our destination, what we have to offer and what they can do in our destination etc. We don’t want them to forget us, but in the meantime, we stream to convince them to organise an event or to choose our destination for their next holiday. During this period all our forces are focused on long-term activities.

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

When the virus crisis will be over, we will reopen our doors to all segments of tourism and invite all our partners and guests to return back to us. In that period, we will be focusing on short-term activities so guests can come as soon as possible in order to fill the loss in the virus period.

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

We are in constant contact with our colleagues around the world, looking for solutions, alternatives, thinking about new options. The current priority is everyone’s health, and nothing should take precedence over it. We remain optimistic hoping it will stop as soon as possible and will fix and manage everything, if we just stay healthy. There is no other solution than to stay in this together and wait.

How concerned are you about COVID-19?