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.
MIRO HRIBAR, Intours DMC and INK conferences
REALISTIC IN TIMES OF UNCERTAINTY
Q: How do you feel about the restrictions that European governments have implemented to contain the spread of COVID-19?
I support all the restrictions to curb the pandemic, as I believe health comes first. However, I am somewhat bewildered and angry at the conclusion that, despite the abundance of administration and all possible services and offices within the EU, those responsible did not react promptly. Considering what is happening in Slovenia and especially in our neighbouring countries we can conclude that the measures are coming too late and that there has been no timely and centralized or coordinated action within the EU bodies. After the outbreak in China, one would expect an immediate reaction in terms of concrete guidelines and instructions to governments on how to proceed. Looking back a month, we can conclude that the measures were left to the individual governments of the countries within the EU without proper coordination and clear instructions. The EU has not reacted uniformly and thus the consequences today are much worse.
Q: What would you compare this situation to?
For my generation this is a situation we are experiencing for the first time. The closest association to the current situation could only be a war with chemical weapons.
Q: Economic consequences for the meetings industry have already started to show, what do you expect government institutions to do?
Also concerning measures to mitigate the economic harm, one would expect a uniform approach within the EU countries. The EU is devoting resources for relief and this is why the EU competent authorities should make clear to countries what these funds can be used for and by what criteria. The EU should also issue some general guidance or recommendations on how the EU countries should help their economy, the extent to which they should subsidize loss of income, or the extent to which they should subsidize wages and contributions, how they should act regarding tax laws, what should be the interest rate on loans with state guarantee etc. This is now left to the discretion of individual governments and it is already clear today what the economic situation of the countries after the crisis will look like. The wealthier countries will leave the crisis even stronger and their economy will be significantly less affected due to the better governmental measures in comparison with the economies of the poorer countries within the EU. Unfortunately, Slovenia also falls into the latter part. The measures taken by the Slovenian government so far point to such a scenario. Our expectations are, above all, a realistic treatment of the problems caused by the crisis, i.e. subsidizing wages and contributions in the height of 75 %, loans with a state guarantee and an interest rate of 2 % and an increased fund for post-crisis promotion. It is also important to note that the crisis for our industry didn’t start in March, but much earlier. The decline was already noticeable in February, and March was already completely lost for our industry. This is something our government must also be aware of when taking action pertaining our industry.
Q: What is your opinion on virtual meetings, as an alternative to live events?
I think that for now, when the crisis is at its peak, no one is thinking about virtual meetings. People are focused on surviving, both personally and in the role of employer or employee.
Q: What precautions/measures are you taking in your company?
Since March 1 we are all at home, waiting. There simply is no work. Concerning the following measures, we will await the completion of the government’s crisis mitigation measures. That will determine whether we will have to resort to more drastic approaches, such as laying off employees.
Q: What are your expectations regarding the duration of the crisis and when will the situation go back to normal?
I fear that the pandemic will be followed by a period of economic downturn, which will of course greatly affect our business. Realistically we can expect our operations to return to normal in the second half of 2021. Our aviation connectivity in the future is also in question. The already poor flight connections can become even worse due to the crisis. There are tough times ahead of us.
Q: Is marketing (digital marketing) in the duration of the pandemic sensible (and appropriate)?
We have decided to give up our marketing activities during the crisis. I even believe that during this mentally difficult period, marketing campaigns can have a negative effect.
marketing activities will need to contain a subtle note and price competitiveness is likely to play a large role
Q: What will happen after we’ve beaten the virus? How will you (re)start your marketing activities?
We will plan the activities segmented, according to individual markets. We do not have a concrete plan yet. Above all, marketing will depend on the level of crisis and its impact on each market. It is clear, however, that marketing activities will need to contain a rather subtle note and price competitiveness is likely to play a large role. It will also be important that the message of attitude towards nature and the environment, i.e. the green component replace the emphasis on pettiness and luxury.
Q: Are you in contact with colleagues from around the world? Have you talked about any potential solutions?
We are in contact with our representatives abroad and also with agents we have known for a long time. Currently we are not discussing solutions, our conversations are rather focused on invigorating and alleviating current distress.