Kongres Magazine talked to Maarten Schram, the managing director at the Independent Dutch Event Association (IDEA), the association for Dutch leading event agencies. Since he graduated from the InterCollege Business School in The Hague, he has been working in the event and live communication industry for 25 years. Maarten is also a jury member and involved in the advisory board of several national and international awards and events. He was recently part of a Dutch initiative named Back to Live, which was organised to help live events return.

“The main goal of the events was to come up with a set of measures in order to restart the industry”

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

The impact was calculated as a turnover loss of 80% in the corporate event domain. The total NL event industry was measured: 7,4 billion turnover and 100.000 jobs, with a predicted loss of at least 47% (3,2 billion and 48.000 jobs) in March 2020 and obviously increased over time the past year.

Q: How did the initiative “Back to Live” come to life? With which institutions did you have to connect to make it happen?

It was a joint effort of the industry, scientific institutions and the government, and started in early summer 2020. Fieldlab Events is initiated by the three institutions mentioned and funded by the state. Back to Live is the general title/theme of the initiated series of test events.

Photo Credit: Back To Live

“We need everyone back; we need all the links in the chain.”

Q: What are Fieldlab’s main activities, and what is the organisation’s key goal?

The main goal is to come up with a set of measures in order to open up the industry in a safe way with a higher capacity (eventually aiming for full capacity), based on data and research (during test events). We took quite some time to write the research proposal and started up a few research projects in order to get primary data to use in this plan. Besides, it took us a lot of effort to get a go-ahead for the test events (in a lockdown situation in our country).

Q: You have managed to connect the entire Dutch meetings industry with the event’s platform. What was the biggest challenge, and what can other countries learn from your project?

Directly from the start, we joined forces as a corporate event domain, gathering all the relevant associations and organisations within the ‘Eventplatform’ (already existing for many years, however in an inactive state). This Eventplatform (corporate domain) is, together with another alliance (public domain, culture and sports) at the basis of Fieldlab Events. So, the wider scope of the event industry is covered in this way. Thus, joining forces in times of a crisis is crucial. Secondly, we approached the industry from the perspective of the whole ecosystem, instead of our own little subdomains. We need them all when we get back; we need all the links in the chain.

Photo Credit: Back To Live

Q: As a member of the FieldLab Programme Committee, what role did the organisation play in the execution of the project?

All events had their own organiser. In the case of the conference Back to Live, the organiser was the above-mentioned Eventplatform, which took the role and responsibility of organising this event. Fieldlab Events had the coordinating role, connecting all research and scientific partners to the project.

Q: How intensively does the Dutch Government support the project? Is it only moral support or actual financial aid?

There is financial support to run the Fieldlab Events in general. Furthermore, there is a budget for the involved research and scientific partners/projects within the test events. All organisers run these projects/events by out of pocket cost principle, and these costs are (partly) covered by ticket fees of the visitors/attendees.

Q: What will the plan of reopening the Netherlands look like? What phases of opening have been predicted?

It is hard to say at this point; however, we hope to prove our approach of organising events in a safe way, for example by using a pre-tested audience, safety measures in the venue and guidance of the audience. For instance, by using time slots and bubbles within the event.

Photo Credit: Back To Live

“when it comes to creativity, live is the only way”

Q: Can you summarise some of the most important results of FieldLab analyses for our readers; what is the biggest risk that meeting planners should address primarily?

Firstly we create a safe setting by 1) pre PCR testing of all the attendees, 2) ask triage questions a few hours before the event and on arrival before entering, 3) measure their temperature at arrival, 4) use masks in movement during the event, 5) use time slots for arrival 6) bubbles for the audience during the event.

Secondly, we conducted research based on eight building blocks. For example, air quality (various sensors), visitor dynamics (with tags and video analyses): how many contacts do you have during type x event and with what length in time. Additionally, more experience and behaviour related topics; how do people experience screens or masks during the show? Do people keep up to the measures asked? And so on.

Q: The interest of international media houses showcases how important your work is. Will the results be internationalised and thus help the entire European meetings industry?

Firstly, we have a huge challenge to deliver results within weeks… (unseen time frames for scientists). And obviously, we will share the outcome (when published) with the world.

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

It showed us the vulnerability of our industry and, at the same time the power of live events. Only really needed events took place or were considered as must-visit. Online and hybrid were among us for years already. COVID-19 was the accelerator and pushed it in our world with high speed. It’ll remain, however, and I am convinced people will return to live as soon as possible. Maybe not for every occasion. But when it comes to creativity, networking/meeting people, exchanging information or something delicate, live is the only way.

Q: It seems that the crisis is creating a gap between the creative and logistic part of the meetings industry. How do you see this situation?

Creativity and logistic have always been at high tensity and will always be. But we need them both. Creativity is frequently seen as the greater good. And yes, creativity is great and something very special, and you are gifted when you are able to produce amazing and effective ideas. However, the craftsmanship of the real organisation of events is also indispensable. So, I would say hand in hand. In the past, now and in the future.

Photo Credit: Back To Live


Q: For the end, I would like to ask you our classic question in regard to the future of our industry: High Tech or High Touch?

High Touch of course?. However, it’ll definitely and increasingly involve High Tech too.

Read the Customer Journey of Back to Live below.

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