Opinion

Adaptability, resilience and support hold the keys for event industry amid crisis

At the earliest realisation of the incredibly damaging economic implications of COVID19, the UK Meeting and Events industry had already garnered a petition for the UK government to provide economic assistance to the sector.

This petition rapidly exceeded the 100,000 signatures required for it to be debated in Parliament.

The mass cancellation and postponement of events in the UK and across the globe, has brought our industry to its knees and placed it with a truly uncertain future, but what is coming to the fore is an industry fighting back.

The petition states “The industry is worth more than £14bn to the (UK) economy, with 25,000 businesses supporting 500,000 employees- all of whom are nervous about whether their next event will go ahead or not, and how their income may be affected”.

Today’s crisis has exemplified the need for domestic and worldwide cooperation, not only to battle Covid19, a pandemic that does not respect borders and boundaries, but to reevaluate and adapt the processes of the MICE industry in the UK, which is being replicated across the world.

One of the UK’s premier exhibition and international convention center ‘ExCel’ in east London has been turned into a make-shift hospital to help support NHS England. These are truly unprecedented times and circumstances. Only a matter of weeks ago, one of the main concerns to the UK meeting and events industry was the impact of Brexit, and while that question is yet to be fully answered or indeed realised, the industry battles this greater immediate threat.

With that said, the meetings and events industry has several key traits; passion, resilience and adaptability to come together to try and secure the future of this valuable industry, for the UK but also on a macro level for the global events sector, with technology playing an absolutely critical role during this period:

“Clearly the impact of Covid-19 has presented new technologies to help supplement the fact that we cannot safely all meet in person right now. I do believe that many of these new interim solutions will become a long-term part of the MICE market to add educational opportunities in addition to meetings. Conversely, I do believe that the current situation where we are all operating from our homes and are distant from our team members, customers, etc., has shown that humans need human interaction. I think the value of face-to-face meetings has never shown to have been truer in the last couple of months” stated Don Welsh, President and CEO, Destinations International

New and current technology is of critical importance right now, allowing aspects of the ‘Events’ business to continue and provide a lifeline for many individuals and organizations. Conference News magazine’s web platform stated “live events may be dormant, but the events industry is still hard at work. Each week Mash Media will be publishing a list of virtual events and webinars aimed at helping the events industry navigate the Covid-19 crisis”.

Many firms are adapting to the situation through online/ virtual training sessions, meetings and knowledge sharing. Therefore, within these worrying times, Covid-19 may well provide the ideal ‘acid-test’ and catalyst towards offering a more comprehensive programme of remote and virtual business operations, beyond Covid-19 and for the future health of the meeting and events sector. In recent years we have already seen the continuing trend of supplementing ‘live events’ with AI, Virtual and other technology solutions, but Covid-19 could help to adapt these innovations to support the MICE industry remotely when required, both in terms of general development and at times of future crisis.

On that note, event planners/ organisers, venues and suppliers will be including a Plan ‘A’, ‘B’ and likely ‘C’, for their future planning, hosting and provision of products for events, in an attempt to cover varying scenarios. There needs to be recognition that if the primary plan becomes impossible, there is an immediate way to streamline an event or indeed utilize technology to make sure aspects of an event can still go ahead and generate some form of ROI.

It is also worth recognizing the value of ‘meeting and events’ member associations, highlighting their overall importance during this pandemic; they are providing industry data, updates, feedback and some free professional training, in essence acting as a conduit between all industry stakeholders.

They are even helping to propagate and put a coordinated plan in place to bring the sector together on April 14th with a record-breaking attempt to gather as many industry members virtually; the idea was the brainchild of Anh Nguyen, CMP, the founder of Spark Event Management Inc. who stated “showing the world that even in a time when our industry has really been knocked down, we can still connect and collaborate and the power of me inviting my friends, who in turn invite their friends creating exponential growth is really where the power of our industry lies”. If you wish to be involved go to GMIDGoesvirtual.com.

Miguel Neves, a digital strategist for event professionals and a Meeting Professionals International (MPI) Board Member feels that “The GMID Goes Virtual is all about inspiring the industry to come together and be part of something unique. It's a completely grassroots effort built on the energy and determination of event professionals who still want to meet and mark this special day, despite the circumstances. With the current situation bringing the events industry, and the overall business world, to a complete standstill, it's more important than ever that the events industry shows its resilience.”

The age old saying “Necessity is mother of invention” is no more relevant than right now; “we are all certainly going to be much more experienced in participating in and creating online experiences of all sorts” Neves continues. So if there is a silver-lining to the crisis, new technology innovations and processes in the MICE industry could accelerate new opportunities and ultimately the way we all work, long after Covid-19.

Neves adds “I believe once we are able to meet in person again we will do so with additional gusto and we will value our face-to-face interactions even more. I am confident that events will recover and the number of events may even grow, but I also expect that they will become more focused and offer mixed-media experiences with plenty of content to be consumed on-demand. In turn, the in-person events may focus more on the opportunities to discuss, exchange ideas and network.”

The industry is momentarily holding its breath, but still breathing, working and innovating. But as Don Welsh mentioned, ‘human to human’ interaction can never be replaced and we all wait to convene again but maybe in a slightly different type of industry.

Ramy Salameh

Tags: Covid-19, Events, Meetings Industry

30-03-2020