“Hybrid” events, key to the recovery of the meetings tourism sector
In the framework of a seminar organized by Eurochile, the Spanish tourism expert Raúl García López stated that while physical meetings are difficult to develop due to all the limitations to meet and travel, the option that many companies are taking is hybrid meetings. “Technology already allows us the development of these events, where a face-to-face part is combined, an event with people, mixed with attendees from all over the world who connect virtually to this meeting,” he said.
Tourism has undoubtedly been one of the sectors hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic at a global level, to the point that in the middle of the year the UN estimated the losses of this industry at a global level at 3.3 trillion dollars of the health crisis. And although today there are incial signs of recovery, the situation is far from normalizing, in a scenario where one of the most affected products has been meeting or convention tourism, known as MICE tourism (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions).
To analyze the situation of this activity at an international level and the prospects in Chile, Eurochile organised the webinar “Development and management of MICE Tourism: how do tourist destinations adapt to face COVID-19?”; a seminar framed in the project “MICE Tourism Internationalization Project Development Phase”. This initiative is co-financed by the Corfo Antofagasta Regional Productive Development Committee, through its NODOS program for competitiveness, managed by GEDES and executed by Eurochile Business Foundation.
On the occasion, the regional director of Corfo Antofagasta, Luis Alberto Gaete, stressed that “this is a primary issue to address given that tourism is the sector most affected by the pandemic. We need a safe return post Covid-19, which is what we are all waiting for, precisely to know the challenges that are presented and to adapt to the new way of tourism that is coming”.
For his part, the executive director of Eurochile, José Aravena, highlighted Eurochile’s role in promoting cooperation and technology transfer between Chilean companies and institutions and member countries of the European Union for 27 years, and which in this area it has involved carrying out a series of projects aimed at tourism -with the support of Corfo- from Arica to Puerto Williams.
“We identify us with sustainable tourism, and we believe that a project of this nature, which is a project for the future because we are preparing for what we believe will be MICE tourism in a not too distant future, but making contributions and adjustments to get in tune with the new reality that the coronavirus has brought”, he said.
The main presentation of the seminar was given by the Spanish Raúl García López, strategic expert on tourist destinations and project consultant, who stated that in a difficult time like this, the most important thing is to redefine the strategy of all tourism companies, particularly the business tourism, “which was the first segment to be affected, and probably the last to recover.”
He pointed out, that it is estimated that this year in Europe MICE tourism will fall between 36% and 77%, while those attending these types of events will decrease by 58%. These negative effects are expected to continue in 2021 and 2022, so a more stable recovery is expected until 2023. In just 3 to 4 months, in Spain, more than a thousand events were canceled and others were transferred to fall. This has been influenced not only by the fact that many countries are restricting events with large numbers of attendees, reduced air mobility and people’s fear, but also the outbreaks of the COVID-19 that have been registered in cities such as Madrid, Paris or Barcelona.
In his presentation he made it clear that there are key factors that are necessary for MICE tourism to face the pandemic, among them are: leadership, financing alternatives, support for local industry, more public-private collaboration, digital transformation, repositioning of brand and sustainability.
Until there is an effective treatment or a vaccine – which in principle would not arrive until next year – he said, many people will not want to attend face-to-face events. Recovery will depend, in each country, on many variables; among them, the evolution of the pandemic. “In Spain we were sure that business tourism was going to restart in September and October, and many congresses had proposed those dates, but there have been many outbreaks and the number of people who can meet is being restricted, which limits a lot” said the Spanish expert.
“Given all these circumstances,” he added, “we will have to see how the confidence of those attending events evolves to see if we are really going to be able to have physical meetings in the medium term, or if for the moment we are going to have hybrid or virtual meetings. What we have to be clear about is that we must be prepared for different scenarios, we will have to prepare our action plan depending on how the pandemic evolves in the coming months”
Although the future is still uncertain, said García López, there are some things that are already known: in the next 12 months the meetings will be smaller, of shorter duration and at a shorter distance from the place of residence. In the case of companies, they will want to hold meetings near their headquarters.
Today, health security and cleaning are at the top of the list of needs for any event, and this will imply having contingency and health care plans in the event of Covid-19 infections. Physical meetings will continue to take place, says the Spanish expert, because human contact is key for knowledge exchange, networking and business relationships. “We have to think that the sector is hibernating, but that it will recover. Meanwhile, we have to consider that the meetings, when the economy reactivates and the confinements are lifted, they will be more local, smaller, hybrid or virtual, “he said.
While physical meetings are difficult to develop due to all the limitations to meet, travel and reactivate the tourism sector, says Raúl García López, the option that many companies are taking is hybrid meetings. “Technology already allows us to develop these events, where a face-to-face part is combined, a physical event with people, mixed with attendees from all over the world who connect virtually to this meeting.”
This is not transmitting a conference by streaming so that people can see it, but it must contribute something more in topics and subject-matter. “In the end, when you have an attendee sitting in an armchair in a convention center, you have their full attention, but if the virtual assistants are at home we have to face a lot of distractions, so you have to have much more interesting topics to keep that attention, and activities or tools that allow these remote assistants to have interactivity”, explained the Spanish expert.
The important thing, he added, is that the virtual assistant feels as if he were in the meeting itself. “The key to hybrid meetings, then, is good subject- matter and technology applications that help generate a meaningful experience. If not, people will prefer not to attend”.
This also has advantages for the event organisers. On one hand, it has lower costs, you have to rent less space and there are fewer people traveling; there are larger audiences because even if a physical event is held at a time when there is no Covid-19, there are many people who for different reasons cannot attend, while virtually there are many more people who can connect. In addition, they are naturally linked to social networks and events have a much longer life, because while in a normal event people go home at the end, in a hybrid event you can keep in touch with the attendees by sending them the presentations or videos of these, surveys, and in that way, extend the life of the event beyond its end.
They are also more friendly platforms with the new generations, and can generate a new income channel that still needs to be refined. “It is true that a large part of the costs of the events are covered with sponsors, and now that we have hybrid events we will have to think well how these sponsors are given visibility so that all attendees can know the messages they want to send,” said the Spanish expert.
To this is added that many sanitary measures will have to be adopted to avoid COVID-19 infections when the meetings return to be face-to-face, and the attendees of these will have to be informed to offer them peace of mind about the safety of their health, as well as the rules to comply with. Inform if they have to attend with a mask, for example, and seek to perform outdoor activities to reduce the risk of infections, and there will be a greater digital transmission of events through streaming but also virtual reality, internet of things and holograms as featured items.
Creativity, García López said, will also be key when the sector is reactivated and connecting with people in a more emotional way, because there must be compelling reasons for someone to make the decision to travel and be in a meeting room with people who you practically do not know. “We will have to be more creative, organise more dynamic and participatory sessions, but transmitting confidence and security will be key,” he said.