First off, a massive thank you to everyone who commented and shared the first article in this series. The response was very humbling and has led to some amazing conversations in the past fortnight. Now it’s time to discuss worldwide events post COVID.
As part of the Panoptic Events strategy, of reaching out to our clients, leads, and suppliers, we want to know what our peers are doing and how they are coping through this period of business interruption.
I am hoping that by sharing some knowledge from our own work and from our worldwide partners, we can share some tips which I hope can be added to your daily routine and long term planning, in order for you to help protect your dreams.
Our suppliers include Convention Bureaus, Hotel Chains, Event Venues, DMCs & Events companies, and much more, from all over the world. Some of which feature below.
Whilst researching this article I’ve come across some recurring themes which I will come back to later. One of the things I noticed coming back was about people’s mental health. Brendan at Ray Interactive spoke about his own business and his own positivity for the future.
“Sounds like you’ve turned this situation into an opportunity to streamline and stay focused. I share your hope for events and gatherings coming back soon, as much for my mental health as well as business.
Like everyone else, I’ve struggled to get my head around the situation we find ourselves in. I’ve struggled with the loss of our largest events, my worldwide travel, and a summer of festivals. It took some time to gather my thoughts and return to my music and events industry mantra of ‘The Show Must Go On!’ Hearing such great feedback from others about the positivity I am showing has really helped. As someone commented …
As we move through the COVID charts, curves seem to be leveling out and we are seeing the first signs of the rate of infection slowing down at a worldwide level. However, we are not out of this by any stretch and there is a real fear of a second wave. I wanted to find out from our worldwide peers how they plan to bring events back, initiatives that they are working on, and their own views on what may happen. To look at suppressing the chances of contagion at events, the safety of staff and attendees, and what the future may look like. In other words, what is your new normal? Many from around the world are asking questions now, which is great to see, however one was creating anxiety in itself:
“Protecting my dreams”
“What restrictions now apply in the UK for events organisation? Indoor, outdoor, up to 30 PAX, up to 100 PAX, domestic, international? How about the plan after quarantine? Do you have the suggestions from governement for Summer, Autumn Season?!?”
The truth is, we can’t answer a lot of these questions yet, though we can learn from around the world, talk to each other, and mitigate risks. Let’s pull together some ideas and create a knowledge share.Following the Prime Minister’s lockdown exit strategy announcement, it seems likely that some events will be held in a safe and controlled manner at some point this year. Jane Corkhill at New Craven Hall in Leeds gave voice to what many in the industry are thinking:
New Craven Hall is preparing for more rescheduled events and they plan to give customers a selection of options, depending on what measures are introduced. Jane is also a firm believer in sharing ideas and thoughts.
“The general consensus in the industry seems to be that events will eventually go ahead at some point this year, but under number restrictions and of course observing any social distancing rules that will be in place. How long this will be the ‘normal’ way of things is anyone’s guess at this point, but we and others we have spoken to are preparing for at least a year’s worth of affected events.”
There is a glimmer of hope this year as bookings start coming in for Summer onwards and hotels are seeing more enquiries for business. Many events though have been moved into 2021. The whole industry is awaiting policy & guidance on social distancing and therefore a reduction of capacities. Kieran Smith, Director of Sales at Kimpton Charlotte Square in Edinburgh predicts a tough, new, challenging landscape!
“we think it’s very important at the moment for everyone in hospitality to be communicating and working towards a positive outcome.”
“It’s important to get a balance of what is known and what isn’t. Those that are working are lucky, assuming they have strong leadership / those that aren’t working and basing their on knowledge on hearsay is a problem. All we can really do is keep working, maintain relationships and prepare for some sort of recovery.”
Kieran believes it will be 2021 at the earliest before any large recovery happens. That recovery will no doubt involve a hybrid model, but what are the commercial implications of this on event spaces and hotel rooms? What Kieran finds most painful is the damage this will have on the future of the events industry as a whole and especially the people in it.
Another venue in Scotland also echoed the reduced capacities sentiment, highlighting the issues for smaller event spaces.
” I feel sorry for a whole workforce who are going to return to something very very different than they left.The only thing I know for certain is that we need to look at industry or global leadership and I am afraid I do not know who to look to.”
There is no doubt that the potential new measures will lead to changes in catering, entertainment, and set ups at conferences. The spokesperson goes on to say how they are finding it very difficult to work out how the venue will host events now. The proposed formula of a certain amount of metres squared per person makes it difficult to see how that works. It is looking increasingly unlikely that, with these new measures and reduced capacities, a number of venues will be able to reopen despite the demand for events increasing.So where does that leave us?
“We have been trying to work out how many guests we may be able to serve in the bar and restaurant and how that looks on a P&L. Unfortunately, we lose more money opening under social distancing than we do being closed.”
One place we could look to would be Asia, where suppliers, trade bodies, venues, and buyers are coming together. Recently I was talking to the Philippines Convention Bureau who are looking to bring together the whole domestic MICE industry for the greater good. They are speaking to associations that look after the convention and exhibition organisers as well as the Tourism promotion board. They are doing a complete overview of their current policies whilst researching best practice ideas from other countries. I believe they will have a best practice solution soon.As Tom Waits once sang:
In Dublin, it’s likely hotels may be able to reopen from July onwards. Like others, the team at the Westbury are currently working on a reopening strategy now and planning procedures for what that will look like. There is nothing concrete in terms of technology being used but David Synnott, the Westbury’s Sales Manager foresees a need for an update to hotel facilities in order to provide a safe environment for everyone. The Westbury has recently had their site mapped digitally, so people can visit remotely.
“Luck is when opportunity meets preparation”
A remote solution for the events industry would be welcomed by many event buyers across the world. At a time when travel is suffering, we could use content to show clients our proposed destinations. Joachim Goulette at HelmsBriscoe in Barcelona believes events will start again soon with hybrid solutions:
“I think in the short term that will solve a few problems for any travel restrictions that prevent 2020 Fam Trips from scouting for 2021/2022 events. Or at least, I hope it will.”
“The lockdown has sped up the demand for virtual technology, it is always nice to participate virtually if you cannot do it physically. Though for events, it will be additional and will not replace face to face meetings.”
Kirstie Johnston who is the Sector Head for Scottish Government & NHS at Vodafone Business, echos Joachim’s thoughts and talks about how she works across a number of key events and sees most being rescheduled rather than cancelled. A short term pain for the long term gain.
“We run global webinars online and also use the slido app for virtual audience participation, which is great and quite interactive. We have have been running digital play books to engage with our customers virtually.
Despite having the technology to move to an interactive element, Kirstie feels that psychologically there will be a longer period after the restrictions are lifted before people actually have the confidence to attend events in person. There will need to be a lot of planning by the events teams and businesses will need to be much more creative in their approach and leverage technology even more. At the recent Running Remote conference, I learned about a “Worldwide explosion of hybrid teams” referring to the way teams are currently having to work. Individuals are all having to work from home, but it is in the office environment where relationships are made, teams are built, camaraderie grows and ideas come to the fore. This is currently not an option but using technology is bridging a small piece of the gap. Those who are still working have plenty of distractions including, space issues, internet capabilities and children needing to be homeschooled. What everyone is missing is the human interaction of not just events, but also in their own day to day. In the short term, there are advantages of no long commute and keeping staff safe and healthy. Anne Marie Dunn of Kidzcare Nurseries has a view on both sides of this.
I have to say there is nothing like face to face networking which I miss badly.”
“We have learned that our back office team could work quite successfully from home, even on a part time basis. This could make their roles more attractive, particularly those with family…
…work can be done more productively at home to fit around someone’s family life(while bringing more productivity and loyalty to the company) while allowing some more relaxed social interaction with co-workers to meet our other human and company needs.”
Though things that are currently being missed from sharing an office are also brought up.
Many businesses are likely to introduce a more hybrid approach to working as well as what will happen to the events we attend. Advice regarding the future of events from the ‘Global Association of the Exhibition Industry’ is obviously heavily focussed on safety. Personal hygiene being offered in terms of masks, gloves and hand sanitiser. Seats and booths will need plenty of space as the physical distancing regulations come in. Before coming into events, health screenings and crowd control will take effect. This will in turn lead to reduced capacities. All of this will combine with visual reminders and notices around venues. Glasgow Science Centre is taking this on board and adding their own initiatives to it. Hannah Wright at the Glasgow Science Centre has this to add:
“I do believe the informal, social interaction that naturally forms part of a busy office environment brings lots of intangible and more defined benefits eg, feeling part of a team, building social relationships , building trust and team spirit between back office and customer facing staff.”
Their aim is to improve confidence in bookers to choose them as a venue post lockdown. Topics that were discussed included: Digital registrations, Increased digital signage, Floorplans, 2m distancing, Serving buffets (Could be gone for a long time), Networking events – virtual business cards, Sanitation and Disinfection, PPE for staff, Temperature checks, pre-packed H&S box, AV equipment – Increased microphones so there is no sharing etc, Vulnerable attendee management, Food suppliers, No cash service through bars. Card only, Contingency plans and insurance Also being very proactive in this area is the Baltics largest conference venue, the Atta Centre in Riga, Anita Pokrovska talks about their new Clean Program.
“What a crazy world for sure. We had a meeting yesterday to discuss how events are going to change To be honest there is so much information out there. We are collating all of the information from that meeting which will go to our H&S teams for confirming and then we should hopefully have something in writing in soon. For the short term i’d imagine virtual events will take over for a while and this is something our AV teams are heavily focusing on.”
They are doing all of the things recommended and have also added other initiatives which include the traffic management of guests in the building, ensuring it does not require opening any doors. There will be an increased level of ventilation of the air conditioning systems in order to renew the air more frequently and in terms of catering, they will focus on individually packed and served food and beverage items Deutsche Hospitality will be reopening lots of their hotels across Europe this month, with most aiming to be open on 25th May. They have promised lots of new measures in hotels including restrictions on capacities, no F&B initially plus spas remaining closed. Thomas Willems, the CEO of Deutsche Hospitality echoes many of the sentiments about what we are missing. However, he sees a return coming back.
“With the onset of the pandemic, the largest conference centre in the Baltics – ATTA CENTRE – has seriously revised its guest health safety policies. At the moment, we have developed the ATTA Clean program, which we will implement with the opening of the center.”
Nity Tripathi Global Director of Sales for MICE and Groups at Global Hospitality Services has this to add: “As part of our commitment towards a SAFE and HEALTHY recovery of the hospitality industry, we have created an essential guide to post COVID-19 Hospitality Delivery for our Hotel partners.” You can view this here. Countries are opening up and there is a proverbial light for the industry tunnel appearing. Germany’s government has agreed that exhibitions, trade fairs, and congresses, are now on the list of activities that are listed as possible and can potentially resume under strict health and safety controlled conditions, rather than being classed as mass gatherings, which currently remain prohibited in the country until the end of August. In Vilnius, the first planes from Germany landed last week. This week events up to 30 people will be allowed. Cafes and restaurants are open again. Urte at Go Vilnius is still waiting on a recovery plan from the government, though they can see positive action and initiatives from local businesses. In Croatia a real bout of optimism is appearing, as commented on by Ivan at Radisson Blu Split –
“The corona-epidemic has brought about a lot of changes and has also given us plenty to think about. We have become acutely aware of just how much we miss normal daily activities. A warm greeting accompanied by a handshake, giving someone a hug, going to see friends or family, embarking on a business trip and visiting a restaurant or hotel. All of these actions are now sadly absent from our lives. Although normality is slowly returning, this will be a “new normal”. The same applies to the whole of the Deutsche Hospitality Team.”
Silva Usic at Penta Zagreb has business coming in from Sweden “The country who believes there is life after Corona” Silva is very optimistic regarding the neighboring countries coming to Croatia by cars and busses now, with flights about to be allowed again. In Thailand, they have already started a phased reopening. Jeff Fongmool who is MD at Journey to Asia comments:
“I must say that our government did a really good job in the prevention of the virus. In the last few days, the number of new cases is around 3-5 per day which is really low. If we continue in that direction I believe that by June we could be clear of the virus. That way, we could ”save” the Summer months, which are the months of highest demand. Once this all is finished it will be very interesting to see what is the impact on everyday life.”
Airline’s full fleet operations are scheduled to return on June 1st on both domestic and international services. In Malaysia, the Business Events Council is asking the Government to differentiate between business events and mass gatherings. A clear distinction between the two – much like in Germany – will help kick start the industry. Business Events in Australia could take place in July, as the government there outlines a 3 step plan. Some local and regional travel is allowed and gatherings of up to 10 people are currently also permissible. Phase two will see entertainment venues like galleries and cinemas reopen in June and permitted gatherings increased to 20 people. Phase three, described as the ‘new normal’, will come into effect in July and will allow gatherings of up to 100 people for time being. International travel and mass gatherings over 100 people will remain restricted. This plan will allow for sales leads to be activated as many venues can reopen with events for up to 100 people Though a lot of these policies and procedures are in the hands of governments, event spaces and hotels – what should individuals be doing? Will individuals be disciplined and follow regulations? Silva Usic has her thoughts on this matter:
“Due to low case reports – it is controllable and could lead to more and more businesses opening back up. People have to wear Compulsory facemasks. or will be fined. Hereby, all business events / MICE operators are now working on Post COVID19’s SOP, Risk management and Preparation Manual for 2nd Wave of Virus Outbreak. All operators are concentrating on personal hygiene and virus prevention based on Social Distancing and Virus Prevention regulation.”
Many companies are now redesigning and adjusting their presentations, refreshing documents, and looking at virtual conferences in order to keep pace with the world. Overall I think it’s time to remain positive, work on your own plans, and get ready. The industry is coming back and it is going to change.
“I think if an incentive group is happy to travel, the least the passengers can do is to stay at home 5 days prior to travel, as thus they do not jeopardize travelling. I would not mind staying at home for 7 days in self isolation.”
It is also up to individuals attending events to be vigilant, respectful, and follow guidelines of what will now become normal. Things have changed and have sped up the use of technology. We need to be mindful and respectful to all.The responsibility does not only rely on the government, the whole industry needs to come together and help one another. Attendees also need to do their part. As the industry strives to find solutions to an uncertain future it’s imperative that we talk to each other. A knowledge-sharing attitude will lead to ensuring we all still have competition when we are back to normal. One thing is for sure, a collaborative approach, a knowledge sharing platform, and talking to others will provide some brilliant solutions. There is a race to find the perfect hybrid event, we are also putting more and more distance between the attendees of our events. Yes, it is important that business returns, yes safety is important. However many are protecting their dreams. Dreams that they have worked their entire life for, their passion, the thing they live for. Things are changing and those dreams and passions will have to evolve in order to survive. Remember this, we will all be back at events soon and will be talking about that pandemic when the world shut down, it will be a long memory by then. However, we need to note that we have all gone through this together, some have been positive, others more on the negative side. Both are fine. We will enjoy a handshake, a cuddle, and a laugh. We may also still be working from home in our new setup, though able to have a pint after work with friends. The more we embrace technology to keep us together when we are apart, the more we need to remember when we are together again to be human!