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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.

Pádraic Gilligan, Soolnua

The increased use of virtual meetings will create an even bigger nostalgia for face to face

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

If we learned anything from China, it’s that to dealing effectively with the virus involves a total lockdown as quickly as possible. We’ll know in hindsight whether individual countries moved quickly enough or not, but finally, Europe is acting collectively and this can only be a good thing.

Q: What would you compare this situation to?

I don’t think we’ve seen anything in our lifetimes that can compare to this global pandemic. Our industry has experienced major challenges over the past three decades from Gulf War, 911, SARS, extreme weather, economic recession etc but these were local, national or regional, they didn’t stop the free movements of people around the world and they didn’t have the same global mortality rate as Covid-19.

From our history, we know that pandemics in the past have wiped out entire populations – check out bubonic plague and Spanish flu on Wikipedia. That all said, I don’t think any of us imagined that in this super sophisticated age, where we’re a whisper away from being able to clone human organs, we’d be brought to a total social and economic standstill by a virus!

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

Most governments are announcing billion euro schemes to deal with the economic hardship caused by the widespread impact of the virus. Thankfully, many too are highlighting the current and future needs of tourism and hospitality and setting aside funds to assist these sectors. These are unprecedented times that require unprecedented actions.

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

While there is really no substitute for “live”, face to face encounters, the use of technology to bring people together at times like this is a wonderful alternative. We’re fortunate too that there are so many platforms readily and easily available – free, freemium and paid – so really there’s no barrier to entry.

I have no doubt that use of virtual meetings will increase once Covid-19 has passed – by more frequent use of virtual meetings, we’ll quickly learn how best to make them work, we’ll develop new protocols and, of course, the technology will improve even more.

That said, there will also be so much pent-up demand for face to face encounters I don’t think we need to be worried at all. The increased use of virtual meetings will create an even bigger nostalgia for face to face as we realise more and more the limitations of virtual communications.

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

We’re following all of the recommendations around social distancing. All of the SoolNua team is now working remotely. We connect each day at noon for an hour to review and plan and make sure we’re aligned.

In our personal lives, we have all signed up as volunteers in our respective neighbourhoods to shop, do chores, provide assistance to the elderly and the incapacitated.

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

This is so fluid. Just yesterday Canada pulled out. I don’t think the Olympics will go ahead and certainly not according to the usual processes!

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

Digital marketing is not only sensible in times like this, but it is also necessary. That said, sensitivity and good sense must, at all times, prevail and marketers must always double-check both the medium and the message mindful of the absolute fact that as a result of Covid-19 people are losing their lives.

More than ever, digital marketing must follow the protocols of content marketing and set out to inform, give, provide, add to, entertain, delight etc but NEVER to sell.

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

Our marketing activities will continue during the Covid-19 crisis – all that will change after the virus has been beaten is the message!

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

Through the SITE network, I am in contact with meetings and events professionals all over the world. SITE has been living through the realities of Covid-19 since early January when our members in China started to feel its first challenges. Our Chinese members are now providing inspirational content for SITE members in EUR and North America where the virus is now at the stage it was in Asia 6 weeks ago. There’s a huge advantage to this global community.

The solutions will come from having reliable, relevant and open channels of communication and from following the recommendations of our political leaders and healthcare professionals.

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