Why meetings and conferences will return post Covid-19

Currently using technology to have meetings and events is just a bridge to when coronavirus (Covid-19) lockdowns and travel bans are lifted again.

This was one of the conclusions of a webinar hosted on Friday for tourism businesses in the meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) industry in Africa. It was hosted on Friday by international events organising company AviaDev Africa and VoyageAfriq Travel Media with the aim of helping shape the policy direction of tourism post Covit-19. 

"The MICE industry is a vital part of any national tourism strategy and provide huge economic benefits to those countries that have embraced them as a source of income," says Jon Howell, CEO and founder of events company AviaDev.   

"At the end of the day we are human beings with a need for personal interaction. The lockdown period is an opportunity for us to reset and reinvent our businesses." 

Rick Taylor, founder and CEO of the South African company The Business Tourism Company, suggests that a "Lego strategy" be followed for the MICE industry. One where you realign the pieces, most likely in a new way.

"The pandemic has pretty much made the playing fields level in the MICE industry. There is no doubt that live events will return. Real life will never be replaced by a digital life," he said.

He said research indicates that an hour of face to face personal interaction is worth 5 hours of video conferencing, 10 hours of phone calls and 20 emails.

The big thing of course is the added focus on providing health safety at events, he added.

Another conclusion from the webinar was that MICE businesses in Africa and African countries themselves, should work closer together to see how the industry can be enlivened again after the pandemic has passed. Events and exhibitions in one country can, for instance, be expanded to also be hosted in other regions of the continent. Baby-related expos were given as one such theme with likely huge potential to explore.

"The Events Industry Council values the global MICE sector as being in excess of $1 trillion and estimates that, due to the pandemic, about 23% of the market has dissipated. That is a lot of money," said Taylor.

He emphasised that the importance of the MICE industry is that it brings thousands of people and delegates to a destination which they would probably not otherwise have visited.

At the same time he cautioned that the industry should have a clear post Covid-19 strategy and not just "rush in" once the pandemic is over. In his view, it could take about a year for convention bureaus, for instance, to get operations fully running again, then another year to implement a post Covid-19 marketing strategy and then only to reap the benefits for the three to eight years after that.

For Kwakye Donkor, CEO of Africa Tourism Partners based in South Africa, the best would be for the MICE industry to put out dedicated, well structured packages post the pandemic.

He too foresees that face to face meetings and events will still happen, but just with caution.

"Strong business relations are established in face to face meetings so we will start seeing those return," he said. He also foresees that the new normal might be for corporates to use a hybrid model where a core staff are at offices or headquarters and they then communicate via technology with the rest of the workforce.

In his view, retaining good technical skills as well as obtaining the services of good legal advisers and including Covid-19-type coverage in insurance agreements, has now become very important, especially for convention centres.

He also sees opportunity for African countries to try and keep incentive tourism on the continent instead of being hosted elsewhere.

Last but not least, he indicated that already about seven African countries have expressed an interest in getting a Coalition for African Convention Bureaus off the ground to deal with post pandemic challenges for the industry.

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