As everything is settling back into its pre-coronavirus tracks, the meetings industry is still waiting for the situation to normalize itself. Lifted regulations will not bring back business like nothing has happened, yet everyone is supposed to survive by their own means. We wanted to hear how meeting planners are coping with the situation, what COVID-19 means for their businesses and how they see the future of events.
MAŠA PENTEK, General Manager at Promideja
Q: How would you introduce yourself to someone who doesn’t know you?
I never rest. I think all the time, I learn, I follow trends, I am active, I absorb information, I am resourceful, and I do not want to stop. Sometimes too demanding of myself, but to achieve goals, it is necessary to step out of the comfort zone. Above all, I am still creative. Impossible doesn’t exist. There are always ways to achieve a set goal. Sometimes you take the hard path, sometimes the easier. But in the end, all that matters is that the goal is achieved. I learned the most from my own mistakes, which I correct all the time and don’t forget just like that. I always strive for perfection. I enjoy socializing but I also like to enjoy the peace and quiet. Planning, however, is in my blood. When you realize that everything around us is organized in some way, it is hard to avoid criticism, evaluation and monitoring. So I am always in the loop of what I am doing because I look at things differently. Which is burdensome at times, as I would sometimes like to speak up and give advice, but I know how to hold back.
Q: What is your love story with the world of events?
I have 27 years of marketing experience under my belt. For the last 20 years, I’ve been dealing with events that are really hard to separate from marketing. I trained in PR, corporate marketing, creative marketing, design and combined all my knowledge into event planning. I can say that it was “love at the first event”. You never forget the first one and neither will I. From the first onward, I live for event planning. You can’t plan events like a job, but you can live the profession. It’s been 20 years since the first one, and in all those years I’ve never thought about doing anything else. You put a part of yourself into every event. Every single one. Whether it’s a congress, a conference, a professional meeting, a symposium, a creative event, the installation of trade show equipment or a press conference. There is a part of you in each of them. It’s true, it’s kind of like a love story.
Q: How has the coronavirus epidemic affected your business and survival?
… until something tries to stop that love. In the spring, we had two big conferences and some smaller events announced. Preparations for both conferences have been underway since December, we have already invested a lot of work, creativity, planning, and had numerous meetings with suppliers. Just 18 days before the first conference, we received a decision from the client to postpone the conference until the autumn. And of course, it went like dominos; all the events that were planned from March until June. July and August are months without business events. That is why the first six months of the year are so important. Events are planned at least half a year in advance. At that time, there was still hope that after two months we would enter new September dates, push through October, work hard in November and wish a happy New Year with the last atoms of strength in December. And plan new events in the meantime. In April, it was clear that my until then positive outlook on the rest of the year was just my “romantic film” turning into a “thriller”. All of a sudden this is not just a movie but the reality, a struggle for survival. Understandably, health comes first, but congresses and conferences, where people are educated, exchange opinions, experience and knowledge, can by no means just evaporate. But that happened. No one dares to plan anything at this moment. It is also difficult for companies to understand what the future will hold. We are striving for digitalization, which doesn’t have the same results as live events from a social point of view.
Q: How long can you endure the quarantine as a company and as an individual?
Promideja will be 9 years old in September. The planning of business events is currently, as the only employee, completely manageable. Since I have been doing events on my own for 20 years, I haven’t hired any additional staff. Nevertheless, the company cannot survive more than a few months. And this by tightening the belt of course. I can’t imagine what colleagues who have employees are going through. Transparent operations, competitiveness and settled liabilities to the state and suppliers are the most important guidelines. The first measure to solving the problem was also a salary reduction, as this helps the company to “last” for longer. The problem is that the market is not opening up and we cannot plan for events. It will work for a few months, but not more. Of course, I also have problems as an individual, because so far, I somehow managed with hard work. Now even hard work is not enough. Sadly.
CONGRESS GUESTS FILL HOTELS IN THE OFFSEASON. AND THAT IS WHY WE ARE ALSO TOURISM.
Q: How satisfied are you with the country’s measures so far? What could be improved upon?
I think about that all the time. I’m trying to understand. I try to be objective. Given that the government responded quickly, trying to help better and faster, quite a few mistakes were made. We will, of course, be able to forgive them. But only if it doesn’t stop here. I am afraid that this was too much to handle. At some point, however, the government should catch its breath. Without the economy, the country is as good as dead. The economy feeds the country. And at this point, I think too little has been done. The focus is on rescuing the economy in general, not its “components”. Companies (of course I also count sole proprietors and craftsmen, everyone who gives back to the state treasury with their work) must provide funds for salary payments. All employees give back to the state treasury every day, with every salary, with every payment slip, with every purchase… Both companies and individuals can only rely on themselves and… at least that’s how it should be – on the state. I try to continue believing that we will be seen very soon. Listened to and accepted. Especially out industry – the meetings industry. We contribute a lot of tourism every year, but we are not mentioned anywhere. Tourism is not just foreigners, who have come to see our country’s beauty. Tourism are also
congress guests, who fill hotel capacities and halls throughout the year, and visits to congress destinations (which can also be smaller) give a springboard to Slovenian tourism. And of course also promotion. Congress and conference guests fill hotels in the offseason. And that is why we are also tourism. The technical requirements are ever-increasing. That is why every event is diligently carried out with educated technical staff, moderators, cultural workers. A fair is also tourism. I believe that the government can help us survive, because, without us, tourism will be threatened with a decline in conference and congress guests in the future. If companies that are in any way engaged in conference/congress activities, fairs or similar gatherings of the professional and lay public start to close their doors, we will not drive congress guests to our congress destinations. We are not a negligible industry. We aren’t.
Q: How will the virus change the essence of organizing events – socializing?
In the last three months, we have all, of course, digitalized our practices. I myself am technically literate enough, as I have been working with several IT companies for many years. I strongly believe in technology, I support progress, I am happy to participate in projects, but never, really never can anyone convince me to stop believing in personal contacts, conversations, sharing of opinions, eye contact and personal communication. Digital and virtual is just an aid. But surely not a mean. Communication, exchange of opinions, expert discussions and last but not least sales (in my opinion) are definitely related to personal communication.
Q: When do you think we will be able to move with full steam ahead?
It looks like not much will change before the end of 2020. I anticipate that we will at least start planning in the second half of October this year for 2021. It all depends on how the “new reality” will be accepted. What the spread of the virus will look like. And of course… if businesses survive.
Q: What comes after the pandemic?
If only I could see into the future. The uncertainty is the worst. We keep hearing about a possible second wave. Even if it comes in a milder form, it will affect us, event planners, just as the first wave. In an epidemic, any socializing is prohibited at first. And of course, we are afraid of that all the time. We will probably have to develop digital solutions, be prepared for the transformation from a physical to a digital event at any moment. It is completely different to organize a live or a virtual conference. Maybe we will be ready for both options? As I said: I don’t believe in successful sales, imparting knowledge without socializing, networking, and personal contact. I know this is simply not possible. One day we will meet again, we will be stronger and even more connected. After all, we humans are social beings. No matter what we will be doing.