News & Views

Business Events: A Hope-Studded Future

While the tourism industry reels with the continued effects of COVID-19, one sector has been hit particularly hard. MICE – meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions – tourism has stuttered to a halt.

It was the first sector of the tourism industry outside of China to feel the impact of the novel coronavirus. From the cancelation of the World Mobile Congress in Barcelona in mid-February to the numerous tech conferences canceled in San Francisco between late February and early March, it was indicative that big changes were upon us.

As leisure travel marketers strategize and plan recovery efforts, business events professionals grapple with the challenge of when people will feel comfortable convening in groups again.

These challenges are very real and very serious, but the most important advice we are sharing now is not to panic. The industry has weathered crises before, small and large. Of course, we haven’t experienced anything quite like COVID-19 in our lifetime, but that doesn’t mean we can’t overcome it together.

Leisure travel gets the most of the media’s attention, but the MICE industry has its own unique challenges. So, what are tourism boards and convention centers prioritizing right now? We held a virtual roundtable with a dozen or so business event professionals, representing DCI MICE client destinations, to take their temperature, to find out how they’ve struggled and to understand what they are doing to get ahead of what’s to come. The takeaway messages painted a picture that, while difficult in some spots, remained surprisingly rosy overall.

The hard facts for MICE

First and foremost, local jobs are at stake. Leaders in business events tourism all agree that they want to keep people employed. For those facing furlough or lay-offs, they hope to be able to get their teams back once the situation stabilizes – if it returns to what we might call normal. Keeping its people employed remains the priority for MICE organizations worldwide.

MICE leaders, however, are aware that COVID-19 has had very real, potentially permanent effects on their industry. It is difficult to imagine viewing meetings and conventions the same as before, at least for the foreseeable future, with the specter of the coronavirus hanging over us all. It’s too soon to speculate on how exactly things will change, but leaders are preparing to evolve as needed.

Thirdly, convention bureaus across the globe are suffering. It’s not just San Francisco, Spain and Italy. Every corner of the globe has been affected by COVID-19 and there is a certain frustrating acknowledgement that at least we’re all in the same storm-battered boat.

The glimmers of hope

But it’s not all bad new – not by a longshot. Business events leaders are already looking to the future, and there is cause for excitement.

First, even as upcoming meetings and incentives are canceled and their futures unknown, there is solace knowing that planners tend to plan well in advance. Our clients are receiving RFPs for events as far out as 2025. By looking to 2021 and beyond, it’s clear that there will be a future for events and conventions. Will it be different? Quite possibly. Will it still exist? Most definitely.

Could it be about hybrid or virtual events, where some people are present in-person and others attend online? Could you be walking through a VR version of a convention center, stopping into a virtual, real-time meeting with presenters? We’ll know soon. There are a lot of creative wheels spinning right now and we’ll see what develops. What we know is that virtual events cannot replace face to face events. Virtual components can enhance events and there will be adjustments made to existing events to make them virtually compatible in the short-term.

But anyone who has planned or attended a business event knows that it is the unscripted moments where the magic happens, where ideas are formulated, business deals are closed and new connections are made. It all happens during conversations after the plenary session, while networking over dinner and even sharing a ride to the airport after the business event.

Secondly, our destination clients are eager to do something they haven’t done before, or at least for a while – work closely together. Coopetition, or rather collaborating with your business competitor, is poised to become the core strategy for business event destinations. Rather than working in silos, they are considering ways to move forward in a more organized, united fashion. What does this mean for the MICE industry? In more traditional times, this would have meant joint-sale missions and networking events, but in the post COVID-19 world, this can and should look differently. From our virtual roundtable alone, the conversation inspires a new sort of future, or at least the possibility of something new and exciting. Watch this space, for sure!

Thirdly, in the same vein, MICE leaders are discussing how the COVID-19 pandemic is forcing them to reevaluate their values and practices – for the better. While trying to save jobs remains a priority, the challenges presented allow them to refocus their efforts. Why are they doing what they do? What are their real goals? What can they change to be more efficient? These questions will help convention bureaus and convention centers around the world operate more efficiently and effectively on the other end of this pandemic.

Moving forward

We are working actively with our clients from around the world to take the next step and to create the sales and marketing blueprint for the meetings and conventions industry of tomorrow. It will take time, and we’re by no means looking for a quick fix.

Instead, by having important conversations and brainstorming sessions now, we are hopeful that global meetings will be back on the agenda as soon as possible and that locals in each destination will be happily at work again. It will take some innovation, some pivoting, some creativity, and a lot of open-mindedness, but in-person relationships are far from extinct. We’ll be shaking hands at a conference in the future, sharing a meal, and reminiscing about this scary and weird time that, hopefully, will be only a distant memory by then.

Nervous about how your meetings and conferences industry will fare during the COVID-19 crisis? It won’t be easy. And we know. With 60 years of destination marketing experience, DCI has been through it before. If you want to know more about how we can help, contact Stella Tsitsipatis at [email protected] for more information.

Written By

Stella Tsitsipatis

Stella is a destination marketing veteran with experience in marketing communication campaigns and leisure/business tourism sales efforts for destinations in Asia, the Caribbean, Europe and the Middle East.

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