Conference

Look into the crystal ball

“Clean will be the new green”

Rob Davidson, Managing Director of MICE Knowledge, author of Trends Watch, the annual report about trends in the international conference industry.

The COVID-19 pandemic will cast a long shadow over every aspect of the hospitality, travel and events industry, including congresses. For this reason, the clear priority for congress destinations and venues for the next few years will be hygiene and safety measures. ‘Clean will be the new green’, and congress organisers will be attracted to those destinations and venues that can clearly demonstrate that they are taking measures to ensure the safety of participants: cleanliness protocols, the use of technology to enable social distancing, the use of outdoor spaces, where available, and so on. We will need to win back the confidence of congress planners and participants, and this begins with health and safety measures. Planners may also be naturally attracted to holding their events in destinations that can show that they have dealt most effectively with the pandemic in terms of limiting the number of infections.

Rob Davidson

“The rise of the experience economy”

Remi Deve

Remi Deve, Chief Editor of Boardroom, the global reference point for the world of associations.

Millennials are projected to become the largest group of business travellers by 2024, and I strongly believe there will be significant changes and new demands created by Gen Y and even Gen Z. Those will include increased specific dietary requirements, hyper-advanced technology facilities and engagement, personal enrichment experiences curated to their individual interests, wellness (both physical and spiritual), private time, community involvement, and responsible sustainability. It’s the overall experience that will be searched for: the main trend is, to me, the rise of the experience economy, and I’m curious to see how it will be integrated in the so-called New Normal.

 

“People will travel more wisely”

Giuseppe Marletta, Managing Director Europe, Association of Corporate Counsel, ESAE President

We should move away from the belief that the evolution of the meetings industry will solely depend on the development of COVID19 or other viruses we might get to know in the future. Health measures certainly represent a barrier, but I strongly believe the creativity of the professionals and stakeholders working in this sector will shape the future.
There is a lot of untapped potential on getting to innovative and accessible solutions which will bring people closer for educational or networking reasons. COVID-19 has just accelerated the process of thinking out of the box and identify hybrid solutions which can accommodate people’s meetings.
People will not necessarily travel less, but will certainly travel more wisely. This is the main reason why organisations (associations, corporates, destinations, meetings professionals in general) need to think thoroughly about their value add and why a meeting is being organised and proposed to delegates.

Giuseppe Marletta

“Delegates will appreciate physical meetings even more”

Prof . Annick Schramme, Lecturer in Culture Management, University of Antwerp

The coronavirus pandemic’s impact on the conference industry will continue to have an impact for many years to come. On the one hand, this will result in more hybrid models for offline and online meetings. At the digital level, this crisis will promote technical progress and improvement of the existing digital platforms. These often still tend to fall short when it comes to interactivity. On the other hand, delegates will value physical meetings even more. The main reason for travelling to conferences will not be the content, but the importance of personal networking, the need for a lively debate, and an introduction to the local culture and the local colour.

Annick Schramme

“The main objective of a conference will always be to connect people”

Jan Samyn

Jan Samyn, Owner at Seauton Group

When people ask me what Seauton does I always reply, we connect people.
In our industry, people often confuse means with objectives. While this may sound like a cliché, there is a certain element of truth to it.
Organising a physical conference is a means, not an aim in itself.

 Setting up a website is a means, as is setting up a digital platform. Webinars, exhibitions, seminars – whether physical or digital – are all means.

The aim is to connect people, to communicate, and to convey a message.

How this is done will always be different, and the methods will be continually developed. As a result of the current difficult circumstances, digital seems almost the only way forward. As industry professionals we have no choice but to investing in all the means that are available to us.

But one does not exclude the other. If there is one thing that became clear during this crisis, it is the fact that people miss physical conferences. The added value of meeting each other face to face, across boundaries and borders. To look each other in the eye.

Will we ever organise physical conferences again? Most definitely. Will this be at the detriment of digital conferences? Never. Will hybrid become the new normal?
Perhaps. Even though I see hybrid as a means, only to be used if relevant for the intended objective.

Do we deserve this difficult period? Most definitely not.

Did our industry – and the associations – experience a wake-up call because of this unprecedented crisis? I think so.

Were we spoilt in recent years? I'm almost certain we were.

Will the industry come out this crisis stronger? That is my wish for everyone. And I firmly believe it too.”

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