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Combining 75 years of experience, Warwick Conferences’ Sarah Dietrich sat down with Pistachio View Director, Mia Butler, and Mandy Jennings, Managing Director of Paje Consultancy and Executive Director of Venues of Excellence, to discuss what the events and hospitality industry can do to prepare ahead of lockdown restrictions being lifted.
A change in direction
It is fair to say that the first six weeks of lockdown has seen the events and hospitality industry connect and network. The plethora of webinars and online get-togethers has seen the industry positively reflect, with professionals taking a step back from their day-to-day work and support the health and wellbeing of colleagues, customers and peers.
As the industry comes to terms with the impact of the pandemic, the conversation appears to have shifted towards the changes that might be required in the not-so-distant future.
With safety and delegate wellbeing concerns heightening, technology is one of the means venues will need to use in order to adapt. Globally, it’s unsurprising to see that the COVID-19 pandemic has seen demand for video conferencing apps at its highest on record.
Plans to introduce hybrid events and digital conferences are already underway, with many international gatherings due to happen this year preparing to take place online. “Virtual meetings are going to be a top priority for planned events as organisers will want to safeguard attendees and keep that interest,” Mia comments.
Any nervousness surrounding virtual meetings appears to be dissipating, as more companies prepare to use technology to avoid unnecessary wasted time. Mandy adds: “It could save hours on travel and the success shown in recent weeks will make us consider the options when accepting face-to-face meetings.”
Warwick Conferences has already put plans into action to support conference organisers looking to move events online. Thanks to its in-house technology, the team is able to adapt its services to allow for virtual conferences, as Sarah comments: “It’s so important to listen to clients and we are currently testing ways in which we can support them through our technology.
“We are adapting the capacity of our venues, demonstrating livestream options, and perfecting ways to effectively utilise keynote speakers. As a venue, we have to adapt and utilise our internal skillset to develop and enhance our services to the benefit of customers, which is exactly what we are doing.”
What next for the events and hospitality sector?
Despite the rise of technology, the overarching impetus is that networking and connecting with peers will still have importance once lockdown restrictions ease. Mia comments: “I think there is always going to be a desire for people to come together. Some are saying this need will intensify, as long as the safety and wellbeing of all those involved is assured.
“As a supplier and buyer, I want to be reassured that the safety of me and my customers is taken seriously. We have already seen companies start to introduce plans and engage with customers, educating them on health and safety initiatives that have been developed behind the scenes. This is important if we are to return to face-to-face networking.”
Mandy agrees, and believes that virtual conferences will be tougher to prove the return on investment (ROI): “For conferences, there is an expectation to have a return, which is more difficult to replicate online. The success of a great event isn’t solely on the content; it needs to be experiential to ensure we are engaged.
“I have been enjoying the way in which the industry has responded to lockdown and the increase of online seminars. However, can I say they have my complete attention? Possibly not. And this is something that virtual conference organisers will need to address.”
For venues, ensuring they are educating their customers on the steps taken to enhance hygiene and wellbeing standards will be key. What was once work undertaken in the background will now become a focal point to the services on offer. “We want to know about the work you are doing to ensure the safety of delegates,” Mia says. “The industry should concentrate on educating customers on their safety as we know lots of good work is already underway.”
Mandy believes now is the time for the industry to prepare to take action and communicate any changes to policies and standards. “We will need courage and confidence to come back, and we must accept that the changes need to happen. We need to reassure our customers on their safety concerns and work with them to deliver the best experience possible.”
It is clear that the events and hospitality industry will change as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Whether it’s working more closely with suppliers, or developing technological solutions, events and conferences are going to be adapted accordingly. The importance of conferences will never go away, but the way in which they are delivered will need adjusting, at least for the immediate future.
If you or a colleague would like to speak to someone about the topics covered in this blog, please get in touch with a member of the team today.
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