A huge percentage of the businesses in our industry are small- to medium-sized enterprises that don’t have the huge cash reserves or deep pockets that global behemoths can often rely upon. Daily, these businesses all over the world are watching helplessly as hard and expensively won contracts de-materialize before their eyes. I’m writing to say 3 things: 1) Stick with the facts 2) Postpone, don’t cancel and 3) Use this crisis as an opportunity to reflect and also to be kind. And know one thing: This too shall pass.
When I say “This too shall pass,” I think back to almost 20 years ago, around this time of year. That was when Foot and Mouth disease brought Ireland to a standstill, causing extreme hardship to farmers and the cancellation of Cheltenham and the St. Patrick’s Day parade. It caused untold short-term losses for DMCs and PCOs, too. However, things recovered and Foot & Mouth was soon forgotten.
So too with coronavirus.
Stick with the facts
There’s no shortage of content out there on coronavirus. The ceaseless hourly reporting on mainstream media is certainly keeping us up to date but its relentlessness is also causing acute concern and now fear and panic are spreading 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.
They say the first casualty of war is truth and that appears also to apply in the war against coronavirus.
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 Organization (WHO) directs international health within the United Nations’ system and leads partners in global health responses. This is a great place to start, along with the Center for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC).
Postpone, don’t cancel
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.
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 program at a later date in this calendar year.
This approach is both reasonable and fair given that up to 80 percent of the work in support of a conference or incentive is usually done before the event goes live.
Take advantage of this period to reflect
We’re being told this is a once-in-a-lifetime event—a bit like those massive snow dumps that sometimes occur in Vancouver or Dublin, closing down the unprepared city for a week. And what do you do at times like that? You use it as precious time to reflect, that’s what!
Try to take advantage of the extra time to tackle those items on your to-do list that you’ve constantly de-prioritized 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.
We often liken the rhythm of our work life to a fair =ground roundabout 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!
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 involve social distancing, let this not lessen the empathy, tolerance, understanding and kindness that is, equally, the hallmark of how we roll.
Nothing in the precautionary recommendations mentions smiling and the warm kindness that we can spread with joyful eyes and happy faces.
Pádraic Gilligan, Patrick Delaney and Aoife McCrum run SoolNua, a specialist agency based in Dublin that works with destinations, hotels, venues, agencies and associations on strategy, marketing and training for the Business Events industry. Gilligan is also Chief Marketing Officer at the Society for Incentive Travel Excellence.