Coronavirus: what we should keep in mind

Pádraic Gilligan writes from Ireland on how event and incentive businesses can come to terms with the shutdown being forced by Covid-19

IN the MICE business we’re used to things going viral. These things, however, are usually to do with the mildly embarrassing occurrences that happen at events, like the CEO doing his Dad-dance at the company Christmas party. Who knew we’d be dealing with a real virus and one that, in a certain cases, can be fatal?

In some ways Coronavirus has snuck up on us like a thief in the night. A few short weeks ago we looked on with detached interest as China battled with the initial outbreak in Wuhan. Now we’re looking at countries in lockdown and in Ireland, where I live, we cancelled our St Patrick’s Day public celebrations, the traditional kick-off of our crucially important tourism season.

A huge percentage of the businesses in our sector are SMEs (small- to medium-sized enterprises) that don’t have huge cash reserves or the deep pockets that global behemoths can often rely upon. Small businesses all over the world are watching helplessly as hard and expensively won contracts dematerialise before their eyes.

So, what can we can do?

Stick with the Facts
There’s no shortage of content out there on Covid-19. The ceaseless hourly reporting on mainstream media is certainly keeping us up to date, but its relentlessness is also causing acute concern and fear, and panic spreads faster than the virus itself.

In addition, all the usual social channels are clogged with it and, as we well know, anything goes on social media, except, it might seem, accuracy and truth.

So the first step is to find a trusted source of information and then base any business decisions and plans on the plain facts. The World Health Organisation (WHO) directs international health within the United Nations’ system and leads partners in global health responses. This is a great place to start.

Postpone, don’t cancel
At time of writing, in most European countries, we are not in a “Force Majeure” situation. This means, from a vendor perspective, all contractual obligations remain in force and cancellations attract the usual penalties. If a corporation or an association decides to cancel when there are no restrictions in the destination around staging an event of that size, then the contract must apply as a first response.

Obviously it’s up to individual vendors to decide whether to enforce the terms of the contract and vendors, certainly, will look at each instance on a case by case basis with due regard to the totality of the relationship with the client.

More on this… Championing the industry in tough times

From what I’m hearing, most DMCs, PCOs and other vendors faced with such scenarios are retaining funds already paid and seeking to re-accommodate the programme at a later date in this calendar year.

This approach is both reasonable and fair given that up to 80 per cent of the work in support of a conference or incentive is usually done BEFORE the event goes live.

Take advantage of this ‘period of reflection’
Use the extra time to tackle those items on your to-do list that you’ve constantly de-prioritised due to overwrought schedules. Updates to your website? Now is the time to get them done. Work on your road map or business journey? Use this time to face the “brutal facts” (remember Jim Collins, Good to Great?) and re-engineer that road.

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We often liken the rhythm of our work life to a fairground carousel in perpetual motion. Well, it’s slowing down now and it’s safe to jump off. Why not take advantage of the opportunity to check out the other fairground rides? Maybe there’s a better one. Or maybe there’s a better fairground? If nothing else, at least when you jump back on, you’ll know for certain this is the ride of your life!

Be kind
If Coronavirus is telling us anything, it’s that we’re all unavoidably and indispensably connected. We can try to build walls and isolate ourselves but, fundamentally, we’re all inextricably linked, whether we like it or not.

While the recommended health precautions in many countries involve keeping others at a distance, let this not lessen the empathy, tolerance, understanding and kindness that is, equally, the hallmark of how we roll in the events industry.

Pádraic Gilligan is managing partner at SoolNua and chief marketing officer with SITE, the Society for Incentive Travel Excellence

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