'We will meet again, just not as we have before'

Events businesses must adapt if they are to survive and thrive, says Smyle Group's Rick Stainton.

Rick Stainton is founder & group executive director of Smyle Group.

Clear predictions or guesses made as statements of fact are dangerous for the industry. Especially for small businesses in a fragile situation that need clarity and transparency. 

No-one really knows, including the best economists, strategists or scientists, how this virus will play out over the next 6-12 months. 

Businesses will have to follow the state’s lead in its staggered protocols for the reboot and re-ignition of the economy. 

The events and business tourism industries will probably have the longest wait of all on the gradual unwind of lockdown measures. Bans on gatherings of more than 50 people could be extended into late 2020 or even into 2021 – or when a vaccine is readily available. 

'As soon as people start travelling again' is often cited – but different countries will likely have different rules on where people can travel to and come in from. This may further complicate larger live business events in their traditional form, even if they are permitted to take place. 

In a survey published on 23 April, IMI’s NextWave conducted 54,000 interviews with people across numerous countries. It found 40% of US and 60% of UK interviewees missed travelling for pleasure, while only 8% in the US and 7% in the UK missed travelling for business. 

Perhaps the difference in sentiment is unsurprising, but on future intentions the survey revealed that globally there was a 24% increase of intent to travel within their own state or country, versus overseas, and for the UK respondents a 20% decrease of intent to holiday overseas and a 43% increase to holiday in the UK. 

Facing the disruption

We have little option but to face this disruption head-on – those that treat this crisis seriously and tackle it in a nimble, proactive and professional way, will come out of this in the best position possible. 

Businesses that don’t take in the (daily) fast-paced and dynamic changes afoot, who aren’t trying to act as futurologists by loosely predicting a number of potential scenarios on what the market will look like, will not come out of it as well. 

There is a transition to more sustainable solutions and better communication with wider audiences with the deployment of digital solutions to maximise engagement and a more hybrid mix of physical and virtual experiences delivered together. 

This is a trend that was already happening slowly in our industry. However, what was likely to take around five years has now happened in just five months. 

Turning our attention to the long-term

In the short-term, the number one mission is to survive of course, but at the same time, there must be a focus on the longer-term and how to be at the forefront of the post-virus marketplace.

We need to remember clients are fully aware of their commitment to their internal staff as well as external clients and partners, and of the paramount importance for their audiences to be engaged, inspired and communicated with – now more than ever. 

They will likely be looking for a new approach that offers resilience and contingency when they book projects with us. Ultimately they will want to trust the new approach to events – physical, hybrid or purely virtual. 

This will mean we need to offer clear creative ideas so we can demonstrate our solutions and meet their expectations, as well as reassure that our work is secure and will add real value. 

This approach may, therefore, use a varied spectrum of elements to meet new client expectations: 

- New tech/digital innovation and solutions 

- Improved content creation and strategic application 

- Clear enhanced sustainable approaches with credible measurement, reporting and processes 

- More sensitive use of budget and efficiencies for multi-format event modelling 

- Biosecurity measures to ensure they are confident with live audience attendance 

- A resilient ‘virtual contingency’ to live/hybrid projects as a backup 

When live returns

According to a survey conducted during the virtual edition of Global Meeting Industry Day (GMID) on 14 April, which hosted 12,500 event and hospitality professionals from more than 30 countries, just over 25% of event professionals believe that live events could return by September 2020 and 92% think they will happen again before 2021. 

It also found that 62% of respondents think most events will become a hybrid of digital and live after the coronavirus crisis. 

It would be interesting to see what those results look like just one month later in mid-May.

Please stay safe and just as importantly, keep talking to family, friends, colleagues and the wider industry. The more conversations, perspectives and views we can glean from each other, the better prepared we should be. 

As The Queen recently concluded in her address to the nation, “we will meet again”. But if I may be so bold to add my own addition, “just not as we have before”. 

This article was written by Rick Stainton at Smyle Group. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of C&IT Magazine.

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