The bitter truth is the event industry took one of the hardest blow from Covid-19 pandemic. With the growing speed of the outbreak, all the major events around the world were either postponed or cancelled for the year.
Exhibitions represent the foundation of the travel and tourism industry. The special space where buyers and sellers of every aspect of the industry secure their business deals and launch their new product to the world. Busy exhibitions floors are filled with agents from aircraft fillets and new hotel brands to tourist boards and booking agents doing business deals.
However, due to the restrictions of the Covid-19 pandemic, everything came to a halt deferring investment decisions. High profile travel events like ITB and ATM were cancelled causing huge loss to many companies. ITB 2020 was cancelled for the first time in 54 years history, just a week before its scheduled date. More events like Expo Dubai 2020 was postponed for a full calendar year. Moreover, the site of World Travel Market; one of the major Europe travel industry fair has been converted into a temporary field hospital to manage the overflow of COVID cases.
The bigger question now is when these major events return, how much will it differ from the pre-corona world? Will physical distancing still apply, meaning that the exhibition will require twice the size of the space that they have used before the pandemic. Must exhibitors greet clients behind a protective screen, thereby eliminate any close-up interaction that once made face to face meeting such an effective networking tool?
Another major issue that the industry had to deal was a financial loss. United Nations World Tourism Organisation has stated that due to the pandemic tourist arrival is expected to decline 60 to 80 per cent compared to last year, which will result in tourism revenue losses of between US$910 billion US$1.2 trillion, with up to 120 million tourism jobs at risk. According to UNWTO records this is the worst crisis that international tourism has faced since their establishment in 1950. With travel companies across the world fighting for its survival, exhibition budgets will be the first expense to terminate.
Yet, companies need to be more alert during the lockdown and engage more with their customers and partners than ever before, positioning themselves to rebound to new normal post-pandemic.
As the coronavirus disrupts and affects everything around the world, large-scale conferences and meetings have gone all digital. The new digital format offers new opportunities, reaching a wider audience with the low carbon footprint of meeting travel. This leverages new technology with events going digital permanently.
In order to adapt to the current situation, a number of service providers have stepped in with a virtual offering for events. Avian, travel technology partnered with Travel Tech Nation and provides an online start-up community to produce an Online Travel Conference which emulates the real events. The online platform offers virtual booths to the firms to showcase their product. The founder of Travel Tech nation stated that allowing room for conversation will accelerate the industry recovery helping it to come out of this stronger.
Bench Events is leading the way by digitalising their event Hospitality Tomorrow conference. By using the latest conference technology, they have shown a glimpse of how conventions could operate post-pandemic. The Chairman of Bench Events, Mr Jonathan Worsley said: “Now is the time to continue the conversations and to make those critical connections to build relationships, unity and actionable ways to support one another for a stronger response – as one industry one community for one tomorrow”.
In other words, the pandemic has actually shown that meeting and conferences can be conducted from our living rooms through video apps like Zoom and FaceTime. A sense of unity has fostered through technology with the continuation of networking during the lockdown. The advance technology has made video conferencing, more reliable with it being accessible and affordable and its ability to unite boardroom from across the globe. Would this lead to buyers and sellers conducting their business digitally post-crisis, thereby signalling the end of large scale global exhibitions?
This puts exhibition organisers in a difficult position. The organisers need to stay relevant and engage through virtual events during the lockdown, but in doing so they risk destroying their core product, with technological experience becoming more beneficial that exhibitors accepting virtual events as their new normal. We all know that socialization motivates people to visits events and social interactions between event visitors influence their experience of the event and the outcome, thus event organizers are in need to find creative and innovative ways to integrate physical events and latest technology.
The status of the travels events and exhibitions in constantly changing with many organisers choosing the virtual format to keep the industry connected.