Interview with Matjaž Jug, owner of ETC Adriatic, one of the leading corporate events company in the Adriatic region, on his perspective on the future of the meetings industry, how his company has adapted to the “new normal”, and why the scale favours live events at the moment.

“I think there is no debate – people want live events to return”

Q: Is there anything that can still surprise you in the current situation? How have you reacted to the situation from a business and personal perspective?

At the moment, nothing can surprise us anymore. The current times are exceptionally difficult as we do not know whether we will once again execute live events in a week, a month or a year. We are trying to stay in contact with our clients and partners as we look for new programmes, continue staying creative and develop new products. Our offer includes physical, hybrid and virtual events. The current situation can be understood as a crisis, although like any crisis, it is also an opportunity.

Personally, I dearly miss travelling and flying on aeroplanes. The thought of not being able to leave the country is more burdensome than all business problems.

Q: What are the wishes of your clients – do they wish live events to return, or is the scale in favour of digital events?

I think there is no debate – people want live events to return. Currently, we all desire that the country reopens and that we can once again travel, socialise and enjoy events. Of course, this will be a gradual process, as events must first be allowed to take place in Slovenia, followed by the region and then the rest of Europe. My personal opinion is that we will start doing “business as usual” again in about three or four years when the entire international market completely reopens.

Virtual events will undoubtedly stick around. They will be present in educational events, as well as in the one-to-one trade fair business. Virtual team buildings are great for companies that have employees around the world because they can organise more meetups with the help of the internet. COVID itself will reduce the number of physical events, and we will do more meetings online, as it is time-saving. Needless to say, time is money. The scale is, of course, in favour of physical events; however, digital events will partly stay.

Q: We cannot overlook the question regarding the future of the industry. Is the future of the industry bright? Do you personally believe it will come back stronger after the crisis?

Our industry will not fall apart; it will only continue developing. Into which direction depends on how long the virus will persist. I wrote on this topic in the blog named 10 trends in 2021:

As far as Slovenia and the corona crisis is concerned, numerous individuals have left the tourism industry for other industries, which will have an impact on the future. Having quality personnel is crucial, particularly if you wish to compete with the best in the global market. We must urgently upgrade flight connections from Ljubljana, as the collapse of Adria Airways and the corona crisis have taken away all our air connections. I am afraid that Slovenia is losing the battle against other regional competitors during this crisis.

“Perhaps we will be able to organise live events by mid-September. Nevertheless, in autumn and winter, virtual and hybrid events will still be at the forefront.”

Q: Can you give us a good practice case of organising events during the corona crisis?

We are highly satisfied with the quality of our virtual experiences and team buildings programmes. More importantly, we are pleased if we exceed the expectations of our clients and partners. When it came to virtual events, it was a process when we needed to first learn ourselves, then educate the client and finally the participants. Practically no one believed that good virtual team building could exist.

Regarding virtual events, I am most fond of the 10 Santa’s challenges event. It was a family virtual event for a company, where entire families were involved. The employees received a package with 10 tasks, which they had to solve together with Santa Claus. Watching a hundred families at home, in front of the Christmas tree and having fun, is something unimaginable. We could never execute such an event in person. At the same time, we are proud that we have organised virtual events, where participants from the US, Japan, Europe and elsewhere were all present.

Q: What is the best-case scenario for events in the second half of 2021? How will you ensure that events will be executed safely?

I believe the situation will be similar to that of last year. Perhaps we will be able to organise live events by mid-September. Nevertheless, in autumn and winter, virtual and hybrid events will still be at the forefront. If the situation turns out to be even more favourable, then we will be extremely satisfied.

Events will be organised as it is common practice now: attendees will be tested, keep their distance, and those who test positive, will watch the event from home.

Q: How effective were measures put in place by the government in your country? From the viewpoint of an event organiser, what did you expect?

We are eagerly awaiting help from the Slovenian government. I hope the new support package, which will give direct help to the meetings industry, will improve my opinion on the government’s measures. At our company, we recorded a loss of more than 70% of our revenue. Therefore, we expect more than just the government’s co-financing of employees on hold.

Regarding the measures taken against the corona crisis, I cannot but feel that the country and government are not aware of our industry and its importance. Moreover, our industry showed that it was poorly connected and that we do not have enough strong privately-owned companies.

Photo Credit: ICC Belfast

Območje 70 has been recently established as a new special venue, but it was closed for civilians for 160 years and was still producing gunpowder until recently. A part of the building, dating back to 1852, was kept untouched and is now a unique event space with an industrial look. Click here for a glimpse of this unique new venue.

Q: How has the public opinion regarding events and event organisers changed during the corona crisis?

Every day, I receive the same questions from colleagues: “When will you start working again?”

The general public understands what situation we are in and supports us. I believe we all want halls to reopen, announcing that we can once more start working, travelling and enjoying events.

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?

In our experience, currently, we are all more attentive and willing to cooperate. I must say that we have furthered our cooperation with numerous partners.

Q: During these times, what does your regional area represent to you? In this context, how does the slogan “think globally, act locally” apply?

We are a company based in Kamnik, and the majority of our team comes from Kamnik and its surroundings. In the past, we practically did not create anything in our town. However, recently, we have opened up a new event space called Območje 70. The location of the venue is incredible, as it is set in a former gunpowder factory and is a mixture between industrial objects and nature. The venue hosts business events, team buildings, picnics and seminars, while our wish is to also organise festivals and concerts. There is an array of activities and experiences awaiting guests. For instance, guests can try out the zipline or zorbing, visit the gunpowder museum or taste local craft beer. In short, an explosion of experience.

Območje 70 also serves as a starting point for trips into the Kamnik-Savinja Alps. Additionally, we offer various trips and activities at Velika Planina, Savinja Valley, Logar Valley, Krvavec or Jezersko. For this reason, a new brand was formed, dubbed GREENtovci, specialising in programmes for the Kamnik-Savinja Alps.

We must admit that the past year has encouraged us to focus on local stories, which were left on the sidelines for no reason.

Q: What do you see as your greatest achievement? What are you particularly proud of, and how would you describe your exit strategy in a few words?

Above all, I am proud that we have not given up and that we are following our vision to be the best option for our clients and partners when organising events for their employees. In these troubling times, we have built a new event space – Območje 70, developed a new agency GREENtovci for the Kamnik-Savinja Alps and created exceptional virtual experiences and team building programmes. Although we only organised business events in the past, we adapted our programmes to individuals. Most importantly, we are grateful to our clients for their trust and support in all of our ideas and projects.

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