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Conversations in Lockdown: How the events industry has reacted across Europe
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In this latest Conversations in Lockdown post, Warwick Conferences’ Emma Willis sits down with ICCA’s European Regional Manager, Tamara Bernstein, to discuss the potential impact COVID-19 could have on global conferences.

European responses

How have venues and ICCA members across Europe reacted to COVID-19, as lockdowns start to ease? “We have been talking to members across the breadth of Europe,” Tamara explains.

“We’re seeing countries like Germany and Austria, starting to implement a recovery strategy, and this has been well documented.

“However, it doesn’t yet offer a full picture on how the meetings industry is going to react, and how we are going to bounce back and recover. There will be change - and we will need to adapt to so many new things – but this is still largely unknown.”

Introducing hybrid meetings has been discussed in the UK and it appears similar conversations are taking place across Europe, according to Tamara:

“I think that the interesting discussion - and it’s a little early to say because we are not there yet - will be what is actually going to be the new reality? What is going to be the new face of meetings, and are hybrid events going to be around for the long term or are they a short-term solution?”

International travel

If hybrid meetings and conferences are to be the ‘new reality’ – even for the short-term – how will this impact international travel? Conferences have been a staple in bringing international communities together to discuss and share new ideas. However, with international travel restrictions not going away anytime soon, Emma believes that a slow and steady approach is required.

She comments:

“Event planners will start to be thinking about introducing conferences and growing the offering in this space, with national and international guests and speakers invited virtually. This will eventually lead to bigger events and greater confidence. Once operational delivery has been assessed, experienced and evolved, we will be able to start gradually increase the number of attendees

“The likelihood is, though, that virtual options will need to be available, to support delegates who are not comfortable with travel.”

Tamara agrees, and believes travel will be one of the last issues to be addressed by the industry:

“Even if the borders open up within Europe - and you can start moving around more freely with your own private car or via public transport - confidence in moving around and travelling for conferences is likely to change.

“I think we will see many more regional meetings. Whether they are inside the region, cross-regional or inter-regional, I expect the circle will gradually widen as time goes by. We know that we won’t be able to just bounce back to 1,000 people gathering so organisers should prepare to adapt to reduced numbers.”

Virtual meetings

With fewer physical attendees, technical services will start to come to the fore when selecting a venue. For Tamara, virtual meetings are set to play a much bigger role in the near future. “For now, it’s the only thing that we have, so for as long as we can use this tool, we will,” she says.

“I think it will also be interesting to see what happens later on when we can actually start meeting again.

“We might not be able to meet in the same numbers that we could so maybe it would be good to implement these virtual meetings as part of a hybrid event. Some of these will take place live with a small number of people and the others can join in from a virtual platform.”

Warwick Conferences, for example, has put plans into action to support conference organisers move to a more digitally-focused event. Whether it’s through new camera technology, livestream options or perfecting ways to integrate keynote speakers virtually, it is adapting accordingly.

Emma adds:

“The objectives of the event will ultimately dictate how we move forward. Face-to-face is always going to be important, but it will no longer be seen as the ultimate objective for some events. For a conference to be successful, they must be interactive, otherwise people will switch off, and so any technology needs to keep delegates engaged.

“At Warwick Conferences, we have event production expertise on campus to help facilitate the different platforms and requested elements. While we don’t know the extent to which the industry will be impacted, right now, we must adjust to hybrid meetings.”

The way international – or even cross-regional – events are organised has changed. Conferences have the power to bring together hundreds of industry peers from across the world, and the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us the importance of shared ideas, networks and events. The challenge facing the industry is ensuring that conferences remain engaging and a priority, while introducing hybrid technology to keep delegates informed and engaged.

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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