As time ticks on and Covid-19 numbers continue to rise/begin to rise again in countries across the globe, I realise it will be a long time before we are out of the woods. “Living with the virus” is the catchphrase of the moment, as a middle ground is hammered out between economic and societal health. How long will this take? I find the same questions popping up again and I am weary, we all are so darn weary. And, it’s OK to feel like that.

What we can do and should do, is reflect on what we’ve learnt, and how these learnings can be “activated.” As we stride bravely, into this unknown world, take solace in your new knowledge. You are not the same as you once were, and these turbulent times have forced you to grow in strength and resilience. These are mighty tools, and it’s good to recognise these as we move forward.

The below article from SITE Global CEO, Didier Scaillet, goes through some of his top lessons from this time.

1. The Global Village

This pandemic has shown us how inter-connected we are. And not only in terms of the virus spread but also in terms of common answers and connected economies.

There is no question that we are dealing with a hyper-contagious virus. The question is: would have it spread as rapidly 20 years ago? The answer is clearly no. The democratisation and growth of travel, fuelled by the growth of low-cost airlines, completely outgrew the crisis management and emergency preparedness protocols of the Travel Industry. It’s a classic example of how the private sector outran the public… and now it’s time to reflect on this.

This is a re-set button and we need to ask ourselves how sustainable the previous model truly was.

2. The Power of Human Connections

This crisis has been the catalyst for an entire industry to realize and demonstrate the Power of Human Connections. We took it for granted that we could connect freely, hop on a plane, see each other, solve issues in a room, negotiate deals face-to-face… What a lesson this is. None of this is a given, so all of it is valuable. It is our ability to get together that defines us and our ability to advance society and humanity. It was true 1.2 million years ago (first human settlements in the Gediz River in Western Turkey) and it is true today.

At SITE, we’ve seen an amazing sense of community, solidarity, compassion and collegiality. Here are some numbers: over 200 webinars, gathering 23,000 registrants, in 20 weeks. An unprecedented crisis has for an unprecedented response and the power of human connections will see us through.

3. The New Norm – Opportunities

Our industry is based on 2 words: Travel Experiences. With regard to travel, consumer confidence is everything. It is absolutely clear that all we do will be irrelevant if consumers, individuals, or even our own loved ones are not comfortable that they can travel in a safe environment. Regaining that confidence through demonstrating that we have collectively learnt from this crisis is quintessential.

When talking about experiences, even when we will travel again, it will be different. Sanitisation measures, social distancing, airport and airplanes protocols, meeting room capacities, to name a few… The key paradigm shift is that travel will be premium again. And this is certainly good news for incentive travel: the value of motivating rewarding top performers by extraordinary travel experiences will be higher than ever.

Another profound impact of this crisis will be on Destination Marketing Organizations (DMOs). The question here is: how do we measure success? In late 2019 / early 2020, my conversation with policy makers, mayors and destinations revolved around over-tourism. Here too is the need for a New Norm: is success measured by number of visitors or by contribution to the local economy? Again, this is an opportunity for the incentive travel industry – as it produces the highest per capita spend within Business Events.

4. We need to revise our Business Model

Many of our professionals have been devastated by this unique crisis. The entire supply chain has been impacted: from agencies to in-coming operators to destinations to end service-providers. So there is an absolute need to look at alternative business models: from cash flow management and deposits to Force Majeure and cancellation; from budget allocation for risk & crisis management to insurance policies, from return to travel to hybrid incentives … This crisis will give birth to profound changes in how we operate.

5. Co-opetition has a whole new meaning

Always look on the bright side of life (yes, I confirm that I am huge fan of the Monty Python). And here’s the bright side from this pandemic: despite all of our differences, we’ve ended up coming together. Not at first, clearly … Many still believed that we could compete and win market share in this environment. So not true.

By now, I have seen private entrepreneurs share information like never before, fierce competitors rally around regional and national initiatives, an entire industry mobilise itself to survive. And the associations have certainly been very pro-active in that space too: Events Industry Council, Meeting Means Business Coalition (MMBC), and Joint Meetings Industry Council have all been catalysts to bring the industry together, despite the competing nature of their memberships.

6. Crisis as an Accelerator of Trends

Back in 2018 (sounds like the last century), we identified these core trends for our Incentive Travel Industry in the Bangkok Manifesto: Sustainability & Corporate Social Responsibility, Incentive Travel as a Builder of Corporate Culture, Incentive Travel as an Economic Driver, Incentive Travel as an Opportunity for Second and Third Tier Destinations, etc… These core trends were confirmed in Vancouver and, as this was pre-COVD-19, I’m often asked if these are still relevant in this environment. My answer is clearly, YES. Sustainability, Corporate Culture and Economic Impact remain more important than ever and will be even more prominent in the Industry recovery.

One additional trend that will clearly be accelerated is the prominence of Digital / Hybrid events. The opportunity to mobilise wide audiences through digital channels has clearly been proven and business models will need to integrate that component into how we design and plan incentives.

7. Conventional Wisdom, CloudCuckooland and Intuitive Leadership

As one of my favourite mentors always says: the prime responsibility of a leader is to confront the brutal facts. The dominant school of thought (I was taught this way) was that a leader needs to be data-driven. But what happens when the data change by the day (if not by the hour)?

The new reality is that we need, as leaders, to integrate the new dimension of connected leadership. Data will always remain crucial to how we make decisions. But, clearly, sharing the data and confronting viewpoints will be essential.

I have seen many people not willing to confront the reality, wanting to diminish the impact of a hyper-virus, putting lives in jeopardy in the name of economic impact, etc. We need to build better mechanisms to evaluate, monitor and confront the feedback that we receive. At one point in time, humanity will have to accept a degree of health vs. economic risk: we will only find that tipping point by connected leadership and exchange.

And, finally, this TOO shall pass.

Resilience and agility are two characteristics of our association … and we will continue to live by them.

Stay Safe, Stay Strong, Stay Confident.

Didier Scaillet, CIS, CITP
Chief Excellence Officer

This article was first published by MEP Destination Business Solutions. MEP Destination Business Solutions is a DMC in Turkey, specialized in incentives, meetings and conferences. Click here to see the original posting.

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