Transparent communication is key to recovery

GainingEdge’s advisory clinics draw 25 CVBs 

GainingEdge CEO, Jon Sivertson: “Destinations that are addressing issues/challenges now and show empathy to client and stakeholder needs, will be the first to recover from crisis.”
GainingEdge CEO, Jon Sivertson: “Destinations that are addressing issues/challenges now and show empathy to client and stakeholder needs, will be the first to recover from crisis.” Photo Credit: GainingEdge

WORLDWIDE - From 9-17 June, GainingEdge held free individual advisary clinics with 25 CVBs/DMOs in Asia Pacific, Europe, North America, the Middle East, and Africa.  The typical questions participants asked focused on the short-term mitigation and how to soften the blow of COVID-19 on the business events industry.

Many were dealing with predicaments on dealing with event cancellations and postponements, and how to price registration fees when event pivot from live to virtual. We condense some of the key points from the sessions as shared by GainingEdge CEO, Mr Jon Sivertson.

CVB direction is crucial for recovery
Although the bureaus themselves are not directly hands-on in such situations, their supplier communities look upon them for leadership and direction.

Destinations that are addressing issues/challenges now and show empathy to client and stakeholder needs, will be the first to recover from crisis. The convention bureau and the industry will need to look at how to embrace the new technological era by building digital expertise and technological resources for hybrid events, event and venue management, digital marketing.

On the part of bureaus, top-of-mind concerns include how to stay engaged with their customers when this is clearly not the time to hard sell.

In this situation, an open line of communication is advised, which means giving relevant information about how the business events industry has been impacted (bad news), and also what measures the destination is taking to ensure that conventions and events can restart safely (good news).

Such clear and targeted information will help give organisers and potential visitors confidence about the efforts taken to ensure cleanliness, hygiene and safety. Several bureaus have quickly taken a pro-active approach once it is clear that the new reality will involve a greater component of virtual, with a move towards hybrid events combining face to face and virtual.

Agile bureaus have facilitated this sudden push to digital, be it through upskilling their industry partners via training or offering grants to make this shift as soon as possible.

Dealing with the state of borders
Also top of mind is the relevance of the convention bureaus in this era when the number of delegates to the host destination is going to be influenced by the state of borders. The traditional way of assessing conventions is through direct delegate expenditure and related economic impact.

Economies of scale therefore come into play - the more delegates, the more hotel rooms, the more economic impact, more jobs and tax revenue. So how can a convention bureau re-align the value lens in such a situation?

To this end, GainingEdge advocates focusing on the true value of conventions. It is not just about the dollars and cents, but also the longer term societal, community, environmental and even political impact as a result of meeting outcomes. All conventions - whether face-to-face or even in a virtual setting - will result in knowledge shared, partnerships made, the meeting of minds, opening of doors, thought leaders being thrust onto global platforms, etc. Those who have the vision to see these morph into long term legacies, and plan for the harvest, will do the best.

Another key concern was market recovery with the focus on when and how. There could be various scenarios – “V” shaped, “U” shaped; or “L” shaped. In every case, responsiveness and agility will be crucial as destinations open their doors for business in a red ocean setting.

Need for international guidelines
There was a discussion on the need for uniform health & safety standards across the city, prefecture/state/province and country, ideally developed by the industry and taking ideas from guidelines published by ICCA and UFI, and other global trade associations.

It was acknowledged that there are instances when local guidelines are available more quickly; however, to avoid confusion, it would be helpful to adopt one set of national or international guidelines (where applicable) in the interest of consistency.

Having varying guidelines might also inflate costs unnecessarily, make the logistics more difficult, thus making such destinations less competitive. While destinations who have responded swiftly can be applauded, in general, the view is that the industry does not want inconsistent standards being imposed by local governments for the above reasons.

A crisis is a good time to review and re-evaluate business models. Bureaus will need to know how to read the writing on the wall and respond quickly and effectively. New trends can lead to new markets, while dependency on the usual ‘tried and trusted’ stalwarts or approaches can lead to stagnant bases.

Strong collaboration vital
If there is ever a time for that quantum leap, this is it. Last but not least, a crisis is also the perfect time to rally the troops. Convention bureaus and their industry partners will need to collaborate to develop recovery strategies.

They also need to build the business case to their government, funders and stakeholders on why the business events industry is still valuable to the destination despite the potential reduction in delegate numbers and higher cost of staging, leading to smaller ROIs.

National events and meetings will be the staple diet for now, however international conventions must not be neglected. Bidding for association conventions should proceed even under trying conditions because these, being longer-term with long bid cycles, mean that the open years for these conventions will be beyond 2022. COVID-19 has disrupted the meetings industry in unimaginable ways, but the agile and innovative will spring back, perhaps even better than ever.