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Exclusive interview for Kongres magazine with Sanja Vukov-Colić, the deputy CEO of Spektar putovanja ltd. – PCO and DMC; headquartered in Zagreb, Croatia. She has served as the head of the Congress department for the last 26 years and has been involved in the meeting industry for over 35 years.

“No one involved in the event industry was left without consequences”

Q: How badly has COVID-19 affected the meetings industry in your country?

The impact of COVID – 19 on the Croatian meeting industry has been severe. No one involved in the event industry was left without consequences, as most events were postponed or cancelled. The extend of the crisis has forced service providers to change and adapt to the new circumstances by implementing virtual solutions to the physical meeting bans problem.

Q: How much damage has the epidemic caused for your company?

The epidemic has caused as much damage to the company as one might expect. Sales are down to a fraction of last year’s results across all departments. However, our company succeeded in preserving jobs. Our staff turnover has been kept to a minimum. Regarding the MICE segment for 2020, we had contracted over 60 projects, of which 4 were realized, and the rest were either postponed or will be held in another form according to the new regulation.

Q: How do measures put in place by regional governments help with exiting the crisis? What do you miss?

Measures lack a sense of long-term strategic thought or even a rudimentary understanding of the industry. The measures provided by the government are pure of a reactionary financial nature ( salary subsidies, for ex.). According to optimistic estimates, agencies will not be able to generate turnover and ensure the liquidity of operations until the summer of 2021. That is why it is important to ensure additional measures: the placement of new liquidity lines with a longer period of use, reducing VAT in tourism and exempting businesses from paying contributions to employees’ salaries and income taxes.

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Q: Do you think the situation will get worse before it gets better? Have you prepared any preventive measures in case of a second coronavirus wave?

I honestly do not know, and I refuse to speculate. We have been implementing epidemiological measures on-site during the few incentives and events that were left on this year’s calendar. We plan to continue the implementation of such measures.

Q: What has the epidemic taught us about the current state of the meetings industry? Will the epidemic also bring something positive

The epidemic has made it clear that changes in the industry, on an organized scale, must be made. Trends change at lightning speed and roles change dramatically. Experts in the meeting industry have to adapt to the new rules of the game. New knowledge, new skills, challenges….

Q: Do you think the quarantine period was beneficial for unwinding and gathering new creative ideas for the future?

It was beneficial in the sense that one could develop methods of necessary change management. Ideas are all well and good, but it is hard to develop anything if the future of the industry is uncertain. This situation affected people differently, from fear and blockade to euphoria and new creativity.

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“Communication is key”

Q: What are some alternatives to live events? Are live events a thing of the past or will we continue to meet in person after the coronavirus?

The only alternative to live events we have any experience with is the virtual event platform. Live events are not a thing of the past, and I do not believe the epidemic will have a multi-generational effect on the industry. It will go away, and people will continue with their lives.

Q: Do you think online events can replace the physical experience of live events?

No. Virtual events are a poor substitute; an ersatz solution. There are currently an extremely large number of different virtual events and this way of participating is becoming tedious. Human contact is irreplaceable. It is also important to emphasize the enormous importance that the organization of live events has on the entire tourism and other activities.

Q: How have you managed to connect the digital and analogue world at your events and in business?

Communication is key. The most important element is reaching an understanding with the client. After that, everything falls into place regardless of the methods chosen.

Q: In these turbulent times, what separates your company from the competition?

The same qualities that have always separated us from the competition. Our experienced and flexible teams, robust organization, strong financial base have become more apparent during this crisis.

PERSONAL QUESTIONS FOR SANJA

Q: What will we be discussing over coffee at the same time next year?

Hopefully, we will not have any time for long discussions over coffee next year.

Q: Where do you find inspiration for events in these tough times? Do you have a favourite event agency or role model?

Among my dedicated and enthusiastic coworkers.

Q: What inspires you in your daily life? (music, books, nature…)

Socializing with people who have a positive effect on me and share the same outlook on life.