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.

Igor Kovačević, National Tourism Organisation of Serbia

Serbia, always comes back. It will COME BACK IN this case AS WELL.

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

Since the beginning, there was no room available for expert opinion and advice. The media used the situation for bombastic headlines that spread panic among the general population, and this influenced governments to introduce special measures and restrictions. Organisational cultures can make the spread of the virus faster or slower, but until we reach the common immune system, it will not be stopped. We have unfortunately witnessed too many deaths. We need to think about the future and how to make life and business possible again.

Q: What would you compare this situation to?

Do not forget, Serbia has passed 2 wars and economic reforms in the last 20 years (Yugoslavia civil war, and the NATO bombing). We are still recovering from these events, and the current situation was just the cherry on top. Serbia, always comes back. It will come back in this case as well.

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

In our industry, countries that have a high level of development in terms of national and local medical associations (RnD, science, publications) will have a better and faster recovery and defence. Those countries that are not on such a high level, will have much larger negative economic effects, and will demonstrate that the image of the country, as a destination to host medical events, was not based on true brand promises.

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

The virtual environment will not replace meetings. Corporations will use technology to overcome the situation, but I think they are all looking forward to real meetings.

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

We have defence measures and recovery measures. Defence measure are internal (home office) and external include urgent meetings with the MICE industry, where we are trying to propose national measures. Recovery measure will follow soon.

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

I am optimistic about the Olympics. This is not only a question for the IOC, but for Japan. We are facing a situation that will test organisational and cultural values that make Japan one of the best event destinations in the world.

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

I haven’t seen any guerrilla marketing projects or any mainstream crisis communication so far. This is the perfect time to be different, but ethical questions arise.

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

We are preparing our plan. It will be focused on business development and reaching the right clients. But also, we need to educate clients from the get go.

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

Yes, we are sharing solutions, but, so far there hasn’t been a uniformed approach. Everyone is looking out after themselves first. Our focus is maintaining the number of employees in the hospitality and tourism sector, and we are trying to provide government subsidies for the social and medical insurance taxes in order to maintain the level of salaries. This means that there will be no decrease in employees and salaries.

How concerned are you about COVID-19?