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.
URŠA ŽORŽ, founder of Eventio
new rules for events to come
Q: How do you feel about the restrictions that European governments have implemented to contain the spread of COVID-19?
At first, it was a shock, as probably for most of us. Then it was followed by acceptance of the situation and the next step was searching for new opportunities. I am an optimistic person, so I try to find the positive in every situation. I took COVID-19 as an opportunity to work on myself, to introduce new rituals into my everyday life that are helping me in the current situation and to learn new skills.
Q: What would you compare this situation to?
Every situation or crisis is different. I already “survived” the Slovenian Independence war in 1991, the economic crisis/recession around 2008, so this is another important milestone in my life. What is similar in all three situations is that we didn’t know how long it would last and that we had a lot of stress and fear about what will happen after it ended.
Q: Economic consequences for the meetings industry have already started to show, what do you expect government institutions to do?
They’ve already started with the first package of help. But this is just a small drop in the ocean. In my opinion, the state should come up with a new strategy (for tourism and meeting industry – including experts from both industries) as soon as possible. Of course, the first priority now is to “extinguish the fire”, to help with convenient loans and financial assistance as much as possible, but after that, they should think about the bigger picture on the national level. There are also insurance companies that have to adapt to the new situation and make new (pandemic) products to help companies during the pandemic.
Q: What is your opinion on virtual meetings, as an alternative to live events?
I think it’s great that we live in a technologically advanced age and have the possibility to go online instead of just being closed at home. So, we can use this time to connect with our clients, business partners, offer webinars, online events, explore different options and not just wait until it’s over. Online activities will never replace live meetings and events, but it’s a quick solution for connecting people all over the world in the time in between.
Q: What precautions/measures are you taking in your company?
COVID-19 will change many things, also our event industry. When live events return, we should have in mind that attendees will need to feel reassured. So, we will have to give them more information about the safety measures of the event, hire a person (or have a person in the team) that is in charge of this area, present free sanitizer units and standing washing hands units, taking care of the distance and so on. So, now I am preparing a list of options to introduce and bring to life when the situation will change, also preparing a new webinar instead of a live event …
Q: What are your expectations regarding the duration of the crisis and when will the situation go back to normal?
It’s difficult to predict the future. It depends on how successful we are in not spreading the virus, how fast the proper vaccine will be available and so on. But it also depends on the people. How long will people be afraid to come together in large crowds. The restrictions will be over one day, but then we will see the real situation and the damage that COVID-19 has left.
Q: How are you tackling the event prohibition? What will the next few months look like for you?
When all this started, all my scheduled events were cancelled, and just when I started planning a bigger one in November. So now I am thinking of new ways, deciding to go online or waiting a bit for the possibility to have a live event (more than 200 people) or find a hybrid solution. I am preparing a webinar instead of a live seminar and new rules for the events to come.
Q: What can we do to help our industry get back to its feet as soon as possible?
At this moment, when we don’t know how long the restrictions will last, the best way is to give people new knowledge about online possibilities, marketing, how to communicate with clients in this time – to give people preeminent information, how to keep clients/partners and then to build a stronger event community, to share new, innovative ideas. Maybe also give moral support and psychological help to businesses as this is a very stressful time with cancellations of the events, meetings …
Q: Are you foreseeing any problems for the meetings industry once the prohibition is lifted?
As I mentioned above, I think that one of the challenges will be fear. Fear of live gatherings, fear of getting closer to meet someone new. The other challenge will be the financial situation of companies. Many have lost their businesses now, so it depends if they will invest money in organizing events or send employees to attend the events or be event sponsors. Time will tell how big the damage is.
Q: What does this mean for events in the future? What will have to change?
We will have to think outside of the box. As it has already started in the meetings industry. But now we will have to be even more inventive. I think in the first period the events will be more of a hybrid between live and online events. To give people the possibility to decide. Then find a possibility to meet in smaller groups but still be part of the bigger event: small groups that are attending one event together, so they still have the possibility to meet each other, to network in person, share experiences, have team buildings and to learn something new online. And you can have many smaller groups around the country (world) that are attending a big online event together.
If we have an online event (instead of live), but we still want to surprise people and make them a part of the event, we could send them culinary baskets, goody bags of event sponsors …
Probably the infrastructure would change for the new type of live events – more space for attendees (social distancing), paying more attention to hygiene, protection, disinfection, the number of attendees in the room … to give people a good and secure feeling.
The communication and risk management will be very important to assure people that there’s no risk if they attend a live event (with all the needed regulations).
And the collaboration between venues, event agencies and others should be even stronger with the best solutions and outcome for all involved.
Q: Is marketing (digital marketing) in the duration of the pandemic sensible (and appropriate)?
Marketing is a must and should not be stopped during the pandemic. But it should be done with more care and wisdom. It depends on which strategy you want to follow… to be educative, motivational, inspirational, funny … but we should be careful as it’s a thin line between a good joke and going over the line and making “damage”. The marketing strategy should be adapting to the situation regularly, depending on the changes that are going on in the country and the world.
AFTER THE PANDEMIC, WE WILL NEED CONCRETE MARKETING AND CLEAR COMMUNICATION
Q: What will happen after we’ve beaten the virus? How will you (re)start your marketing activities?
It all depends on the situation after the suppression – state of the economy, people’s emotional and economic situation, government restrictions and so on. I’m staying in contact with my clients, speakers, checking on their situation, needs, trying to help if possible … I am also staying in contact with attendees via newsletter, sharing some useful advice, so I will just continue in this direction and try to adapt as soon and as much as possible.
After the pandemic, we will need concrete marketing and clear communication. Also, to conduct research on what kind of event people want (online, live – with how many attendees so they still feel good) – even more listening and talking to people.
Q: Are you in contact with colleagues from around the world? Have you talked about any potential solutions?
I am in contact with my colleagues from Slovenia, checking their situation, sharing ideas, talking about different possibilities, attending webinars … I am sure that together we can find some good solutions that will help us get through this period.