Fast forward

Date: 08/12/2020


November/December issue of the Meetings magazine in South Africa

Is 2020 the year to be forgotten or to be remembered? If you would ask my children, the answer would be clear. Why would you want to remember a year where we could not hang out with friends, play volleyball (both of them play in regional competition level) or go to our grandparents (for cash flow or other reasons)? But for event professionals, this could be the year to remember as the year we were offered the opportunity to re-invent ourselves.

Let’s be clear: this year has been horrific for anybody involved in organized events. At the same time, this crisis has catapulted us 10 to 15 years ahead. The things we are witnessing now are not new. Many venues and event organizers were already experimenting with digital, for many different reasons: increasing reach, get a better understanding of customer behavior, create additional channels, etc. But almost all of us were still in the experimental phase, trying things out in order to fully understand the ins and outs. And then we had to push the fast-forward button, with no time to think about all the possible issues and solutions.

A lot has been learnt over the last year and I think most of us will agree that the world as we knew it before COVID-19 will not come back as such. Just to take one example: bringing people together from across the globe for a 4 hour general assembly, including a 90 minutes lunch break, is unlikely to happen in the next normal. At the same time, the fact that we have not been able to meet face-to-face has made us realize the tremendous value of something which was often taken for granted. Although technology has helped to keep the global economy afloat, it can not bring the interaction needed for true innovation, collaboration or trade – whether that is in finance, medical or other fields. People – and businesses – are therefore in need to meet, discuss, plan and create.

Event venues are – more than ever – the perfect platforms to do so. Not only do they have solid safety and security protocols in place, they now also offer the possibility to choose the channel most suited to achieve the objectives of the event organizer. Take the example of a medical association. Typically, their annual congress wants to achieve – amongst others – following objectives: disseminate knowledge and stimulate innovation. The latter is done by bringing people together, have them discuss and network – lots of medical innovations started on a napkin. The dissemination however does not necessarily require a physical presence and in some cases, those who are in the highest need are the ones who are not able to travel for financial or other reasons. Therefore, there is a clear purpose to use the digital service offer of the venues to reach those audiences. It’s not an “or” story – it’s a clear “and” one.

So everything is there to make organized events happen again? Technically, yes. The first challenge is elsewhere: how to re-gain the hearts and the confidence of international communities to come together again. The need is definitely there, but reluctance remains – both on personal and organizational level – to step on that plane. Even with a vaccine.

Venues and destinations will need to work together to re-conquer this confidence, by creating safe and smart value chains. Technology used to create safe environments – for example low touch – can also be used to create smart environments, creating value for both delegates, organizers and venues. No more badges, buying metro tickets, queuing at the hotel check-in, etc. Just one safe, seamless – and touchless – end-to-end experience.

Which brings us to the second big challenge: the creation of quality standards for the next normal. The rollercoaster-ride the industry went through now needs to be translated into a set of standards which provide event organizers with a sense of comfort when it comes to selecting venues and destinations  for their events and which indeed cover the full value chain.

The future is ours to create. It is something I like to tell my children and it’s definitely something our industry is putting into practice.

Sven Bossu, CEO AIPC

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