In an instant, the COVID-19 crisis has turned the world’s concept of small and large in-person gatherings on its head. Virtual meetings, and webcasts/webinars have become a daily part of life. We are now starting to see several large expos and conferences announcing virtual (and hybrids of live/virtual) iterations of their previously scheduled live events.
What does all of this mean for meetings industry suppliers? We recently spoke with Andy McNeill, CEO of AMI, to get his take on the future of our industry and learn what MICE suppliers can do to position themselves for success when live meetings and events are able to come back on-line safely.
AMI DIGEST: Are we looking at a “new normal” for the meetings and events industry? Do you see any changes that you believe will be permanent?
AM: Live meetings will never be replaced completely. The opportunity to meet face to face (even if at a safe social distance) is something intrinsic to all industries. That said, AMI has seen a significant increase in clients who are transitioning their events to virtual engagements, and I believe this trend could potentially continue for the next 6-12 months.
AMI DIGEST: What do you feel will justify the return to traveling for meetings and events? What should industry suppliers do to help best support that?
AM: Government and businesses need to work together to open up the world in a safe and sustainable way. It helps no one to have this happen again. However, ultimately, it will be the perception of safety amongst all of us that will shape the reality as it relates to the general public being comfortable attending live conferences, meetings and events. Right now, some things that meetings industry suppliers can do, are provide safety gear, come up with innovative ideas for our clients and most importantly be prepared to adapt quickly to our client’s needs. Right now is also a great time to build your network of meeting planners, procurement professionals and sourcing directors, and perhaps look to become a thought leader to your sphere of influence. When this is all over you will be well-positioned when live events do come back on-line.
AMI DIGEST: Do you expect to see more organizers expanding their virtual event offerings, even for gatherings planned for far into the future?
AM: Yes, I believe event agencies will now always have a hybrid plan in place. They will plan for a certain percentage of attendees, who will not register for a live event, even after they are deemed safe to be held, and offer on-demand. This will allow attendees to access specific content and sessions remotely. We are seeing a significant expansion of the custom virtual environments being created for large conferences and expos. For the long term, this allows the agencies and clients to build larger audiences, and ultimately larger live programs down the road.
AMI: How might we use virtual events to increase engagement and better complement in-person events?
AM: As it relates to virtual engagements, if content is king, engagement is definitely queen. Utilizing polls, gamification, breakout rooms and secondary device polling and surveys are just a few examples of the tools we are seeing clients use for their virtual events. Sending thoughtful gifts ahead of time (we had a client send pajamas for everyone to wear on the call), or sending attendees gift cards for what would normally be an in-person gifting station, are just a few ways that AMI’s clients are handling virtual collaborative meetings and incentive travel programs that have had to be postponed.
AMI DIGEST: The Meetings industry has been hit hard in the past. What lessons have been learned from the past (9/11, SARS, EBOLA etc..) that can be applied to the COVID-19 pandemic?
AM: AMI was founded in 2002, on the heels of 9/11. We weathered the storms (literally) of the 2005 hurricane season (Katrina), and helped our clients navigate the watershed of cancellations, & postponements that were associated with the downturn in 2008. The experience and knowledge we have gained as an organization over the years, taught us to constantly innovate. We have the goal at AMI to have one new idea a week for our clients to weather this storm. Other suppliers should try it out. Imagine the wealth of ideas that would be generated? Finally, it’s important to always keep your eyes on the horizon, knowing “this too shall pass”. For our valued partner suppliers, while none of us know the exact timeline, our industry will return, I believe that when it does, it will come roaring back with a vengeance!
We hope to see everyone at ENGAGE! 2021. Please be safe out there.