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Photo Credit: Graz Tourismus/Hannes Loske

Exclusive interview for Kongres magazine with Heinz Kaltschmidt, the Head of Graz Convention Bureau on the effects of the travel restrictions have had on Graz, the future of events and how Graz will recover from the crisis.

“The conference industry is at point zero”

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

As far as I can see, the conference industry is at the moment – we are currently in the second lockdown in Austria – at point zero. We lost over 75 per cent of our international conferences in Graz this year, which means at least 150 congresses since march 2020.

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

We are a publicly financed tourism office, which means our budget has not yet been cut, but we have additional income from hotel booking, which we lost almost entirely in 2020.

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

The hotel industry, convention centres and other service providers are intensively supported by our government, and almost all tourism employees are on short-time work. Still, I don’t think these measures can compensate for the complete loss of income.

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Photo Credit: Graz Tourismus

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 personally believe that we will see a bad winter and that the situation will only improve in the spring – maybe with vaccination, and I believe we can only counteract this by currently sticking to the rules, wearing masks and minimizing personal contacts.

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

At the moment I don’t see anything positive in this development for congress cities. For congress organizers and also for agencies PCO etc., however, new business areas are emerging, especially for hybrid meetings, virtual meetings, online streaming etc.

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

That is quite possible, but these ideas will only have to prove their worth over the next few years. I’m definitely seeing a lot of changes, but I’m still not sure how that will play out.

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Photo credit: Graz Tourismus/Harry Shiffer

“I think online and live events will be merged as both types have very specific benefits”

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?

There are many alternatives to live events, and we are already seeing many of these different forms of play, and I am convinced that these will continue to exist and will expand – but of course, there will still be live events, this is a basic human need.

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

No, I think online and live events will be merged as both types have very specific benefits. The organizers, therefore, rely on both variants and thus increase their reach and customer activity.

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

We are a congress destination, a tourist office. We only organize very few events ourselves, but we support and inform. However, it is very difficult for us to support online-only events as it means little or no overnight stays at the destination, which is still our main goal.

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

I think Graz is a modern and innovative city and the economy is still strong, so we can recover quickly after the crisis. Overall, however, I believe that all cities in Europe are currently having problems and therefore I believe that we should try together, above all, to remove travel restrictions!!!

PERSONAL QUESTIONS FOR HEINZ

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

I hope how well and how quickly the economy has recovered since the new corona vaccination has given security…

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

At the moment events are not so important to me, we prefer quiet evenings in front of the TV or doing sports and exploring nature in our free time – either alone or together.

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

Cycling, hiking, walking, gardening, hopefully skiing again soon. I think it’s a particular shame that dance schools are currently closed but otherwise dance. During the summer I will definitely go sailing again – with or without corona.