Trust in your expertise and learn how to apply it to new situations, international meetings specialist Eli Gorin advised the audience of planners and suppliers in attendance for Northstar’s Interact International digital event. "You know you’re an expert in organizing meetings and events," he said. "So use that intelligence, find what works for you and talk to friends, talk to colleagues, reach out to people, post — we're all in this together."
Nearly 60 meetings professionals attended the hosted-buyer-style online event, representing more than 15 countries, to make new connections, maintain existing relationships and develop best practices in a vastly changed international landscape. As managing director for FHT Global, Gorin discussed how his company has been working with international medical associations to adjust to the new way of bringing people together.
"One of the things that we made sure to focus on," he explained, "is that we looked at what we do specifically, and how we can take that exact service and convert it to a virtual area."
Gorin's team works in the niche market of handling international groups attending medical conferences, and they took a deep dive into all of the ways pharmaceutical companies typically try to engage with those attendees. "So we created a new service that links into the main association meetings platform and provides relevance to the sponsors," Gorin explained — thereby speaking to a significant challenge as large conferences move online and must satisfy all stakeholders. He said that kind of approach is crucial in today’s environment, where translating existing expertise to the digital realm is essential.
"We mentally did a full walk-through of the experience to ask what a virtual platform could do for us," he recounted, "and we demoed 30 to 35 platforms before we settled on working with our current partners.
"You have to ask all the questions," he continued. "What are you looking for? What are you trying to do? And it is extremely important to research all of the companies," Gorin pointed out, adding that many suppliers have very quickly put together virtual platforms — and that the industry is dealing with a lack of transparency, both on the underlying technology used and the pricing around it.
The research you do now is particularly important because digital meeting platforms promise to be around for the foreseeable future, Gorin noted.
"We’ve spoken to some organizations that say they’re actually doing double work — 'we’re planning in-person, with hybrid, and we’re planning strictly virtual, and we’re going to prepare for whatever we need to do,'" he explained.
"There is optimism out there in terms of getting meetings going again in the early part of next year, but more realistic in what we’re hearing from more people is more towards the end of 2021, if not early 2022," he added. "Now, we’re working with major international conferences, so we’re talking about tens of thousands of people. The larger the meeting, the longer it’s going to take for it to really come back."
Until then, Gorin concluded, "I think we need to support each other as much as we can. Anything I can do to help anyone, I will try to go out of my way to do. Because we need to support each other."
Similar sentiments were expressed in the afternoon’s panel discussion, in which buyers and suppliers addressed the near-term outlook for meetings and travel. At Yamaha Corp. of America, a very strict travel policy is in place, noted Laura Myers, CTA, travel services manager. "There is no travel unless it is an extreme circumstance and it gets approved by [the employee’s] manager and the president," she explained. A further hindrance is that travelers are required to self-quarantine for 14 days after traveling anywhere.
At MotivAction, design and purchasing manager Shay Farmer is focused on "making sure our clients stay optimistic about travel, maintaining any future bookings and preventing them from cancelling." The company expects domestic incentive travel to pick up next year, while international incentive programs are more likely to return in 2022 and 2023.
International suppliers, meanwhile, are working hard to stay in close contact with clients and keep them informed of the latest developments and restrictions in their destinations. The inability to plan ahead is a frustration for Sandra Fahy, officer for Meet in Ireland. Only 10 countries are on the government’s "green list," indicating that they may travel to Ireland. "I am optimistic that our main markets will feature on that list very soon," she said. Meanwhile, the unpredictability of the pandemic is a real challenge, "but rest assured the suppliers on the ground here in Ireland really miss our international friends and we can’t wait to welcome you all back to Ireland with open arms."
The situation is much the same in Germany, noted Lumi Hilchey, regional director, USA and Canada, for the German Convention Bureau. "I think 2021 will be a little mini lab for all of us. We need to accept that we are in this exploratory stage," she said. "I am a fan of face-to-face meetings for sure, but hybrid is going to be here for a while. In Germany, many suppliers are actually working on upgrading their tech capabilities in order to be able to provide this type of service."