Padraic Gilligan on New Normal

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New NormalPrevue has turned to the experts in the meetings and incentives industry for their predictions of how the Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic will reshape the landscape and what the new normal will look like.

A comprehensive report will appear in the May-June issue of Prevue and we will also share highlights from our research pertaining to the new normal here. Today we feature Padraic Gilligan, chief marketing officer, SITE and managing partner at SoolNua, a specialist MICE agency helping destinations, hotels and venues with strategy, marketing and training, and his insights into the new normal.

Andrea Doyle (AD): How will Coronavirus COVID-19 change the MICE industry and what will the new normal look like?

Padraic Gilligan, SITE and Soolnu (PG): COVID-19 will change the MICE industry beyond recognition in the short term in that live events will simply not take place at anything like the usual scale and frequency. Microsoft, for example, recently announced that all internal meetings would be virtual until Summer 2021.

In the mid to long term, however, the industry will settle into a new normal where events will take place but with a whole bunch of new protocols around social distancing and, probably, a much greater incidence of virtual and hybrid.

Events will be smaller, more human in dimension.

That all said, our industry has distinguished itself for its “bounce-back-ability.” We’ll struggle for a bit as we try to figure our collective way out of this dark woods, but we’ll soon find the track and build a new road map.

(AD): What will the new normal look like?

(PG): The “new” normal, ultimately, will be all about smaller meetings and events.

Take venue capacities, for instance. COVID-19 has alerted us all to the reality of viruses and how they’re spread by physical contact between people. For this reason social distancing will be a key factor for event planning.

Hotels, venues and convention centers will have to tear up their CAD drawings as capacities will be reduced. New best practice will demand much greater space allocation and that will have far reaching consequences for venues and their per head revenues.

(AD): When do you predict all meetings and conventions will come back?

(PG): Based on the surveys undertaken with the 12,500 #eventprofs that attended the virtual Global Meetings Industry Day event this past week, the industry as a whole is betting on September 2020. I don’t disagree with this.

However, I think it will be 2022 before meetings, incentives and conventions are back to their normal cadence and this will be in the context of a new normal.

Many MICE events operate to a rotational pattern and this has been fundamentally disrupted so it’ll take some time to re-establish the rhythm.

(AD): Will the physical attributes of a meeting change? How?

The physical attributes of meetings will certainly change, first in terms of overall venue capacities, second in terms of configurations and third in terms of protocols.

Venues will have to re-calculate their capacities based on social distancing and this will lead to greatly reduced numbers.

Fixed seat configurations that place delegates adjacent to each other – like theatre style, for example – will use every other seat, effectively halving capacities.

Crescents of 6 or 7 will become crescents of 3 or 4. All venues will have hand sanitisers.

There may be push back on some of the advances in sustainability for meetings as single use comes back in vogue.

Technology will once again be in the ascent as organizers seek to maximize social distance and minimize physical contact. We’ll finally learn to download badges before we arrive at the venue and thereby reduce or eliminate lines and queues. Facial recognition software will be greatly prized.

Buffets will be a thing of the past as there are far too many unprotected variables involving the co-mingling of people, utensils, food etc.

This, of course, will have massive implications in terms of staffing and service levels at large functions.

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