When I read all the articles, predictions and assessments out there on a post Covid world, my mind wanders to one old fable that many would have heard in their younger days. The Story of Chicken Little. The Chicken Little Syndrome (The sky is falling!) is a about a chicken who had something fall on its head, thought that the sky was falling, and convinced the other chickens that the sky was indeed falling. Hysteria spread as they all thought the world was coming to an end.
Economic behaviour is very strongly guided by human emotions. Stock markets, valuations, consumer trends etc are all fallible systems that very much depend on how we feel and react to the environment around us. So, what will happen next in the world of Incentive Travel and MICE is, in my opinion, to a great extent, going to be depend on how we as a community of professionals react.
We are all guilty of the Chicken Little Syndrome. It is a very basic human instinct. In Economics there is a theory called ‘Herd Behaviour’ which essentially tracks how technology and processes are adopted in societies through imitation. Think about how new ideas and concepts spread in our industry. When one company tries something new, two others look at it and try it as well and so on.
Chicken Little is very similar, just with feelings and a lot gloomier. But why do I refer to Chicken Little? When crises occur, it is very easy to let your imagination run wild. For stories to be conjured up in our heads. We need to be aware of the danger of our industry slipping into a self-fulfilling prophecy of doom, despair and decline. If we as professionals keep on talking about the end of our world, can you imagine how our clients will react? How our employees will feel? Our suppliers partners?
We have to remain positive. “Optimism isn’t optional but compulsory.”
Perhaps Covid is that reset button that the world badly needed. Mother nature is most certainly a lot happier. Many of us have also been able to enjoy a few special moments with our loved ones, moments that the daily rat race made it hard to get. We have been able to reflect a bit on our lives. To reconnect with old passions and hobbies. For all the economic hardships so many of us are going through, there are a few moments we will cherish.
The concept of meetings has been around for thousands of years. It is a format of human interaction. Will it stop? Most certainly not! For those who think the likes of Zoom will replace travel are mistaken. Humans need to interact. They need to see, feel, touch and smell. No matter how much you sit behind a computer and speak, it will never replace the comfort of a handshake and a hug. That is in our DNA since time immemorial. There is simply no other way around this.
The question then arises of where does this broad segment of Business Events now go next? Will there be new rules? New formats of meeting? In my opinion, there is no one in the world who can accurately state and predict what will happen next. There are no recent historical parallels to learn from or to dictate our future actions. The last time something so globally encompassing happened was probably WW2 if not WW1. We can only rely on conjecture, but we cannot say for sure. All the reports and predictions out there are all over the place. Some spell doom & gloom while there are others that show a strong desire to travel. It is indeed confusing and somewhat demoralizing to read all of them.
When will airlines start flying again? How will airports change? Will hotel buffets go away? What type of new travel documents will be required? There is so much that needs to be ideated, debated and introduced before we regain some sort of normalcy. The only final solution is perhaps when the vaccine arrives.
Will changes in how we stand in line or keep gaps between flyers really make a difference? Can you really enforce social distancing in a public world? I doubt it. Mankind has established norms of society in how we interact and live. Are extreme regulations of movement an ideal situation or are there other better ways forward? Nobody knows.
There is a pent-up demand to travel out there and that has to be capitalized upon. Humans are wired to travel. Tying us down is not an option nor is it desirable. Our eco-systems are not designed for that. There are a few interesting recent surveys circulating on the leisure side of travel that clearly show a strong desire to travel soon. That is an indication we in incentive travel need to look at very carefully as they show a strong consumer behavioral trend. Remember, economics is driven by human emotions and buyers of incentive travel will be no different.
In MICE, travel is a byproduct, a tool of delivery. The main purpose is to create and grow business opportunities. Can an Association retain their membership structures without any annual conventions & congresses? What will happen to the sharing of knowledge? To research? To generating of sponsorship revenue to run the Association? Will the absence of in-person meetings allow Associations to be relevant? I doubt it.
No Exhibitions and trade shows? How will you showcase a new car or piece of machinery? How will you let people feel new textiles? Websites and emails have been around for long, but they never replaced the need to meet physically. If online was such an effective medium, Germany would have never made a success of being an exhibition & trade show powerhouse. Business happens face to face. That is the reality of our world.
For Incentive Travel, yes it can always be replaced by merchandise and cash incentives. But I feel after this extreme lockdown period, employees will find a lot of joy in safe structured travel programs that give them the freedom to travel. There will be a new found appreciation to explore the world, that for us is an opportunity. The norm will be to offer more finely curated programs that consumers may not normally be able to access on their own.
I foresee Incentive Travel having a strong edge if we as professionals talk the right talk. Our collective opportunity lies in showing how incentive travel done well and safely is the fastest path to improving employee morale and incentivizing teams. The lockdown has shown how material goods are no longer as important as once thought. Emotions, feelings and moments will rule.
Short term, there will be some hesitation in organizing events. Medium term, we will be back closer to our old patterns with new systems of hygiene and health guidelines. We will get used to new ways of accessing convention & exhibition centers and travelling on planes. To say that Business Events will stop and reduce is both fatalistic and uninspiring. This business will survive, will adapt and will continue to grow
This is a speedbump on the highway of this journey what we call life. The option of letting basic fear take you over and abandon all hope is your choice to make. It is a choice. Look at new opportunities. Look at a future which will most certainly be different. But it is a future and that future for you has yet to be written. You have some control on your destiny. It is time for all of us to collectively to take this challenge head on and tell our clients, our employees, our suppliers, our partners that we may be hurt, we may be challenged, but we most certainly are not going to be out of the game. We are strong, resilient and innovative. Our job as incentive travel professionals is to create dreams to motivate. Let’s motivate with ourselves. We will survive and we will be back!
Let’s not be like Chicken Little.