The international MICE industry is among the sectors currently struggling to mitigate heavy losses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and restart face to face events under new health protocols and safety rules.
It is estimated that a total of 10,000 exhibitions have been canceled throughout the world since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in approximately 80 billion euros of revenue loss for directly or indirectly related businesses.
According to Kyriakos Pozrikidis, CEO of TIF-Helexpo, Greece’s national exhibition body, revenue loss in Europe’s exhibitions industry has reached 29 billion euros with a total of 250,000 jobs lost until today.
Pozrikidis revealed data by UFI, the global association of the exhibition industry, during his participation in the recent 3rd Destination Update Webinar held online by the Greek National Tourism Organization (GNTO) and the Central Macedonia Region with the support of the Thessaloniki Convention Bureau and the tourism organizations of Halkidiki and Thessaloniki.
From live to online
In efforts to stay afloat, the MICE industry and particularly the congress and exhibition sectors have turned to online events.
Industry experts say that this new way of conducting conferences has offered organizers flexibility and economies of scale.
“This is actually the new normal and will stay with us for a while… So, now we need to think of ways to keep offering amazing experiences when hosting an event and conveying our destinations through virtual meetings,” said International Congress & Convention Association (ICCA) Regional Manager Europe Tamara Bernstein during the webinar.
However, as agreed by the webinar participants, virtual events cannot replace the face-to-face experience nor the networking opportunities offered during live events. Furthermore, they do not promote destinations or generate revenues for related businesses such as hotels, catering services etc.
According to Bernstein, cities and venues need to prepare for the restart of the MICE industry. “We are going to need more space for delegates, more health and sanitary measures, checks and government regulations. Now is the time to prepare our cities, venues, transportation means and hotels. This is already happening in many cities around the world,” she added.
Exhibitions to gradually restart
This week, UFI announced that governments around the world have reexamined policies towards exhibitions. Over the past few days, New Zealand decided to allow events of all sizes to take place again beginning the second week in June.
Germany announced event logistic companies and companies connected to trade shows and events are eligible for funds from a €25b fund set up to assist with COVID-19 related revenue loss. In the US state of Texas, it was declared that exhibitions and convention centers can reopen now at 50 percent of their usual occupancy.
Greece has also announced that exhibitions can restart as of July 1.
But most international exhibitions and conferences have been canceled or postponed for late 2020 or 2021.
“Most organizations have rescheduled their events for May 2021 or later, hoping that a vaccine for COVID-19 will be launched in the meantime,” said Vicky Papadimitriou of Symvoli Conference & Cultural Management.
Conference organizers are not that much concerned about holding events as new safety protocols are expected to be put into effect. According to Papadimitiou, they are mostly worried about the unconfirmed new dates, as well as the unstable traveling costs and schedules.
Furthermore, delegates from countries that are still confronted with the COVID-19 crisis including the UK, the US and Brazil, cannot make long-term travel arrangements.
Health & safety protocols
Another key issue touched during the webinar for the restart of the MICE industry, was the adoption of health protocols. The World Health Organization recently issued a set of key planning recommendations for mass gatherings in the context of COVID-19.
UFI has also bublished a global framework for reopening exhibitions, noting however that exhibitions are different to other types of large events, and must be prioritised for reopening to kick-start the global economic recovery.
However, many countries including Greece have yet to issue specific safety guidelines.
“We’ve been trying to develop a certification system for professional event organizers in collaboration with Greece’s public authorities that would ensure the safe operation of events from starting to end,” said Dimitris Paliouras an executive of Global Events and member of the Board of Directors at the Hellenic Association of Professional Congress Organizers (HAPCO).
Meanwhile, TIF-Helexpo, Greece’s national exhibition body, has announced that its major annual event, the Thessaloniki International Fair (TIF), will take place as scheduled during September 5-13. The organizers said TIF will run this year under strict COVID-19 health measures to be announced in due course.