by Pádraic Gilligan, Managing Partner, SoolNua & Chief Marketing Officer, SITE.
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 small number of cases, can be fatal?
In 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 one of its provinces. Now, almost out of nowhere, we’re looking at an entire EUR country in lockdown and, closer to home here in Ireland, we’re cancelling 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, that is, small to medium enterprises that don’t have huge cash reserves or the 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 dematerialise before their eyes.
Is there anything we can do?
Stick with the facts
There’s no shortage of content out there on Coronavirus. The ceaseless hourly reporting on main stream 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 Organisation (WHO) directs international health within the United Nations’ system and leads partners in global health responses. This is a great place to start.
Regionally, there are other official organisations such as the Center for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) in the US and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) but the national health authorities in each individual country are probably the best and most important places 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.
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% 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”
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-prioritised due to over- wrought 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 keeping others at a distance (1 – 2m apparently) and outlaw all of the usual greeting conventions that make our industry what it is (vigorous web-to-web handshakes, arms around the shoulders, hugs, 1, 2 or 3 kisses on the cheek etc) 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. Was Spike Milligan’s little poem ever so apt?
Smiling is infectious
You can catch it like the flu
When someone smiled at me today
I started smiling too
This too shall pass
Almost twenty years ago, around this time of year, 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 in there.
This too shall pass.
Pádraic Gilligan, Patrick Delaney and Aoife McCrum run SoolNua, a specialist agency working with destinations, hotels, venues, agencies and associations on strategy, marketing and training for the Business Events industry.