As the world of events reels from the COVID-19 outbreak, we hear of the impact faced by planners, suppliers, incentive agencies and travel management companies and their predictions for the industry’s future.

Liz Taylor, Founder and CEO of the event management company, the Taylor Lynn Corporation (TLC)

These are unprecedented times. TLC marks its 25th anniversary this year and now faces its greatest challenge. Coronavirus is having a devastating effect on our industry and was something none of us could have planned for. With events suddenly cancelling, we were quick to react and rebook clients where we could for the autumn. Thankfully, this provides us with a base for strongly rebuilding the business. In the meantime, we have worked closely with suppliers and venues to ensure minimum costs for clients rebooking events, while ensuring that suppliers also have business booked in the longer term to aid their own recovery. Event planners can’t deliver the dream without our army of creative suppliers!

My own team have embraced homeworking with their usual gusto. I am sure that, once this is a proven model, many event companies may embrace the concept in the future instead of offices. I for one would certainly look at this as a possibility for the team. We have also come to rely on technology – not just to communicate within the team, but also with clients. We are encouraging clients to engage in video conferencing and virtual reality tours of venues instead of site inspections, which has seen a great response. The TLC team calls on WhatsApp are met with enthusiasm!

The industry is changing, and we must adapt and support each other. My glass is always half full and so, long-term, I am optimistic. Some less-established event companies will not have the depth of resources or resilience to survive. But this is when we call on the banks and government for advice. As an industry, the business landscape will certainly look challenging post-virus, but I am optimistic that we can all emerge stronger than ever.

Clare Bingham, Engagement and Operations Director at brand incentives and engagement agency, FMI

The current climate for any conference, hospitality event or group travel trip is really challenging – and sadly one that’s having a devastating impact on large numbers of companies, venues and suppliers as a result. While in the short term, it’s very much a ‘doom and gloom’ situation, the good news is that we’re seeing many trade conferences and exhibitions simply being postponed to later dates – not completely cancelled. But there’s no guarantee that life will return to some form of normality in the next six months, so then what?

We’re already seeing businesses working smarter and considering how they can better leverage digital marketing platforms in order to communicate their key business messages or engage a disparate workforce. It’s likely that the digital shift will change the face of business forever, making it a lot more cost-effective and responsive in its operations.

This week alone, we’ve moved an international roadshow onto an online forum; we’ve switched travel trip rewards to digital e-codes; we’ve taken new briefs for brand videos to communicate to employees that they are supported during these global challenges; and we’ve launched new products to market by leveraging online engagement programmes while field teams are grounded.

At times like this, adaptation is the most critical factor to business survival. It’s no secret that the events sector has been significantly impacted but we have to look after one another. Supporting smaller businesses, sole traders and the huge amount of freelancers in our industry is key. We’re now offering more flexible payment terms and we’re working hard to ensure those we work with are afloat and operating as best they can. We’ve been in similar situations before with the 2008 recession, and we got through it – I have no doubt that we will come through this together.

Tracey Boreham, Head of Global Meetings and Events Operations at American Express Global Business Travel

While COVID-19 is unprecedented, the industry has dealt with major travel disruptions before, and duty of care is top of mind in these situations. As an industry we need to work collectively with health organisations to ensure it’s safe to travel again. When it is, we will reiterate to businesses what measures are in place, what actions they can take and how we’re here to support them.

It’s at times of disruption and uncertainty that the value of a travel management company (TMC) is emphasised. Our role is to support our event planners’ duty-of-care objectives, and key to this is helping to drive policy compliance – you can only care for your employees or attendees if you know where they are. When a sense of normality resumes, that means booking through the proper channels, so that you have the data to support and communicate with travellers when there’s disruption.

Good communication is key to a policy compliant overseas event, so it’s important to provide the right channels such as in-app messaging, and live webchat with travel counsellors, as well as phone, SMS and email. Other services we offer include being able to pinpoint and communicate with travellers in a crisis by using GPS and recent credit card data combined with itinerary information. With the right technologies and services, TMCs can help rebuild confidence in travel and meetings programmes.

Now is not the time to ‘turn off the lights’ – the next few months and beyond will be spent keeping in constant contact with our clients to understand what their plans are, share best practices, update on suppliers and start the planning process for postponed or new meetings.

Jake Ward Business Development Director at live streaming supplier Groovy Gecko

The impact of the coronavirus on events has been felt across industries worldwide from automotive and tech, to sports and travel. The Geneva Motor Show, Mobile World Congress, Google News Initiative Global Summit, Paris and Milan’s fashion weeks, Formula 1’s Grand Prix and even the Dalai Lama have cancelled events in the past few weeks.

Global corporate events are planned months, even years in advance, with huge investments of money, time and forward-planning from both organisers and delegates. As well as jeopardising product launches and business opportunities, the financial hit is monumental. Hundreds of thousands of pounds are spent by exhibitors annually on marketing and PR assets, staff attendance, flights, stands, products, fees, hotels, entertainment and hospitality.

Face-to-face events will always be essential, however advances in live-streaming technology enable marketing and event experts to adapt and re-evaluate strategies that are underpinned by one major global event each year, as well as opening it up to a wider audience than before. Whether it’s streaming several smaller, more localised interactive events regularly throughout the year, or incorporating streaming into major annual events, there is some relief in technology helping to de-risk and future-proof marketing and sales strategies moving forward.

ITB Berlin, one of the world’s largest travel tradeshows, decided to launch a virtual convention with more than 20 live streams and videos available both live and on demand, following its cancellation earlier this month. However, ITB isn’t the first to adapt. The Adobe Summit was also cancelled in Las Vegas, opting to make it an online experience this year, while Shanghai Fashion Week is currently live-streaming on Taobao Live, Alibaba’s live-streaming channel, making it the first fashion week event to go fully digital.

Streaming technology has advanced dramatically in recent years, including vast interactive opportunities so that those viewing from home or in the office are also able to engage, question and influence the flow of the discussion. As the fate of further global events this year is still in question, this crisis is not only a devastating eye-opener to how vulnerable the events industry can be – but a catalyst for the evolution of digital global events.