The quick answer is of course they will.
Right now while you are reading this story COVID-19 vaccines continue
to arrive in doses by the millions almost everywhere on earth. At the
same time eager cargo events are reaching out entreating us to join a
webinar or attend a trade show convention or a regional meeting. The voices,
like crickets in summer, will only continue to rise and fall on the wind
with greater urgency, as populations reach herd immunity and life thankfully
drifts back to normal. So where do you go to make sense out of all the
conflicting information out there about getting back to normal? Commercial
businesses charged with putting on events for air cargo while struggling
to get back to business, may not be the best single source for that information.
While we have utmost faith in the fine people
who provide the trade events in air cargo we have been thinking that in
a world turned upside down for the past 14 months it’s good practice
to follow what USA President Ronald Reagan once said: “Trust but
verify,” declared the 40th POTUS.
We decided to get some expert advice on
trade shows and meetings: Anette Palm is a Director at Worldwide
Convention Specialists (WCS) based in Krichenbach, Germany. Anette
Palm moved to Australia with her parents and brother when she was nine.
She had to leave her German school and willingly embraced Australian education,
and soon developed a passion for the hospitality industry.
worked in Paris and Geneva in different UN positions and continued her
studies in tourism. In the meantime, a brief return to Germany, Cupid’s
arrow was waiting in the hands of her husband to be, Ulli, who was in
service as policeman. After her marriage to Ulli, Anette wanted to get
back to Australia and the couple went to live in Canberra in 1987. This
is where Anette’s family was living and where Lisa, Anette’s
daughter, was born in 1996. With the acquired experience in Hotel &
Convention Centers, Ms. Palm bought into an established Professional Conference
Management (PCO) company in Canberra, where she was Director for international
conference organization. In 2000 Anette Palm moved with her husband and
daughter from Canberra, Australia to Germany, where she set up Worldwide
Convention Specialists (WCS), a dynamic global company specializing in
research, telemarketing and international representation for the convention
and meetings industry.
Anette is one smart cookie when it comes
to the straight scoop and a perfect parallel partner who is driving big
time gatherings and has words to share about conventions today and tomorrow
that every stakeholder in air cargo needs to read and absorb. One simple
fact upfront: the rules for trade shows and conventions in the COVID-19
Year of 2021 are all the same, no matter the industry.
We are lucky to have Marco Sorgetti pick
up the story.
When Meetings Were a Bonanza
When I worked at FIATA there was much travel
and many meetings were on my menu. On May 2nd 2017, just four months before
retiring, I was still jumping from one plane to the other. On that day
I arrived in Vienna to attend the three days’ conference organized
by the Association
of Association Executives (AAE), where I had been invited to speak.
AAE was holding its World Congress at the Austria Centre Vienna, a magnificent
congress venue in the former capital of the Austro-Hungarian empire, a
city that has historical and artistic treasures capable of attracting
millions. It was the very place to be for me, considering FIATA was holding
a different congress in a different continent every year and specialized
information was always welcome.
Anette Palm Expertise & Passion
Among the many initiatives in Vienna, a
full day had been devoted to digital related content, looking at member
engagement strategies, successful online communities and “tribal”
marketing. All this sounds more familiar today than it did then, for good
reasons. Among the many experts in Vienna, Anette Palm captured my attention
with her expertise and passion. She was my muse into this journey: it
was a pleasure to meet her and to learn some of the tricks of the trade
from her. Here we reveal some further thoughts as all of us roll up our
sleeves for vaccine shots and getting back to work.
I asked Anette in this difficult period in her
work, could she perhaps tell us something about the way WCS has reacted
to the COVID19 constraints and what her plans are for future business?
“What happened . . . we felt the impact
shortly after the first wave a year ago, on two fronts: starting in March
2020 some clients ‘froze’ their contracts and others reduced
their requirements. The quality, accuracy and availability of our research
was drastically reduced because the target organizations’ staff
were sent to work from home, furloughed, and in some unfortunate cases
even retrenched. Our representation and convention research falls within
the knowledge economy, covering all social and economic sectors represented
in various associations and other entities both in the private and public
sectors. We look at how they decide where to hold their events and what
are their requirements; information we collect and share with our clients,
which alas suddenly became unavailable. The organizations’ uncertainty
regarding their future was making it difficult for us: very few organizations
were making any decisions.”
Focus on a Wider Approach
“Then our focus shifted towards building
on our existing relationships and supporting our clients. We started doing
regular virtual meetings with our clients to ‘check-in’, provide
updates and even just to stay in touch. We thought this approach could
add value in the long run and decided to continue with these calls post-pandemic.
During the early stages of lockdowns and restrictions we started to receive
requests that went outside of our normal scope of work.”
What Was Happening?
“Our interlocutors wanted to know
what was happening in the world and how venues, governments and associations
were responding to the crisis and what changes were to be expected. Our
own mini-response team was actively collecting and sharing a different
type of data, almost completely new for our industry: cancellations, postponements,
health and safety protocol changes, legal implications of cancellations,
postponements, etc. With such information our contacts could form their
own new health policies and procedures, and stay on top of events within
The Change Has Come
“With our industry seeing major events
like IBTM and IMEX cancelled, along with our own sales calls, destination
educational visits and other partner-related projects, we had some extra
time on our hands, so we could cope with the explosion of online webinars
and virtual network opportunities: we now had time to build new relationships,
in a way we had never done before, and forge new partnerships in the process.
That strategy turned out to pay off in the longer term.”
It’s Still Early Days in Beating COVID-19
Anette added: “Yes, there were ups and downs,
but we remain cautiously optimistic. If anything this virus has taught
us is that nothing is certain . . . The industry is known
for its resilience as it has demonstrated before in other international
emergencies. It is still early days with the vaccine roll-outs and there
is still scepticism and resistance to travel, even though everyone is
eager to meet in person again. Social interaction is missing: a cup of
tea, a pint at the bar sometimes lead to a struck deal more promptly than
a day’s on-line dialog. That is everyone’s experience. I think
it will come back, we just need a bit of patience.”
Face to Face Is Gone into 2022
For the time being COVID 19 has switched
off nearly all public gatherings in the area of airfreight, cargo and
forwarding, has the same happened in other sectors or is it different,
we asked Anette.
“Places of gathering, i.e. venues/churches/arenas/stadiums/etc.
were the first to be immediately and reluctantly obliged to shut their
doors: these measures almost hit all industries at the same time. This
went hand in hand with countries enforcing travel restrictions. With nobody
being able to travel or gather, all major international in-person meetings
in March and April 2020 were either cancelled or postponed in all sectors
and regions. Later on, as the technology became available, with a bit
more time to plan, meetings pivoted toward a hybrid mode and in some cases
became completely virtual. However, most gatherings were, and still are,
either cancelled or postponed well into 2022.”
Suffering Is Universal
Anette added, “so your sector is not
the only one suffering, it is pretty common experience everywhere. Association
meetings cover industries from medical sciences, constructions, mathematics,
human sciences, social sciences, agriculture, finance, transportation,
law, etc. For almost every industry there is a federation, society or
association, at different levels, be it local, national, regional or international.”
A Glimmer of Local Resilience
“In my view the impact was initially
across the board, now we are seeing some resilience, starting at local
Which Side Are You On?
We know some forwarders say they miss the
travelling and personal connections of the trade shows and conventions,
others seem to think their companies are better off without these costs
in their budget. We asked Anette, who would you side with and why?
Anette responded saying, “our industry
is closely associated with the hospitality and tourism industry and as
such connecting in person is in our nature. What we have seen over and
over this past year is the same message: people wishing to return to trade
shows and conventions, but the reality is indeed budgets . . . Most had
to take cost cutting measures for the current financial year. We see the
attendance at live events returning to normal levels very slowly indeed.
If budgets come back, so will attendance at our own events, and this forms
the foundation for all our networking and business activities. Companies
are now looking to amend travel and insurance policies, which will affect
future travel as well.”
Winners & Losers in the Swamp
The assumption is that digital and web based
companies are making record profits, whilst convention centers are becoming
deserted, we wonder, is this actually true, is this what is actually happening
in this market?
Anette said, “the meetings market
is currently swamped with so many virtual offerings available for people
to meet. Those who were early to establish and roll-out their offering,
or better, had an existing one, were the first to benefit from the situation.
“Convention centers in their own right
have benefited from this by partnering with some AV companies and providing
virtual studios. Virtual studios are now found in almost every major convention
center, some dedicating as much as up to 4,000 sqm. While some association
executives and planners have seen a record number of attendees to their
virtual events and the profit along with it, others indicated that it
was not worth the time or the expense, and would rather use the resources
to plan live events. While most convention centers were and still are
deserted, others have rented their spaces out to local and national government
as hospitals, treatment and testing spaces, and now for vaccine roll-outs.”
Upgrading The Action
Anette reiterated, “convention centers
are all getting ready to return to business, now that the vaccines are
becoming available, and upgrading their virtual solutions, while ensuring
new health and safety policies and procedures are implemented. While most
are ready for a safe return, it is all subject to when international travel
and traveller confidence will come back. The return to ‘normal’
or before COVID-19 era will be gradual, starting with small national meetings,
then get back to international ones.”
Virtual Goes Permanent
“A planner we met recently indicated
that the virtual element will now be a permanent part of their future
Inside The Global Convention Market
We asked Anette to weigh in on how the market
ownership is reacting to the COVID-19 tsunami? Is there any reshuffle
in the market, mergers, conversions?
She said, “for the most, our market
has been able to withstand the impact this emergency has had on the companies.
At first it was internal restructuring, then furloughs, followed by some
retrenchments. Centers and Bureaus are now starting to look at more cost-cutting
exercises, as the knock-on effect is and will be felt for a long time
still to come. So far there has only been one association that has closed
down completely that we are aware of, and a couple of Professional Conference
Organizers that were bought out.”
Convention Business Slow to Recover
We wondered, how will these changes impact
prospects for convention operators, moving past the pandemic? We wanted
to know if there is a difference between her expectations in her area
and her prospect regarding the wider areas of society?
She said, “the convention industry
will be the last to recover, as it is based on the principle of gathering
in large numbers. For us, our clients are now starting to look at future
years and reinstating their sales and marketing activities; associations
alike are rethinking their decision-making responsibilities, which means
that our research work is also starting to improve. How long it will take
to fully recover is unsure at this stage, because we operate in so many
countries and they are all differently affected.”
Waiting to Exhale
We noted in talking to shippers and carriers
recently, cargo moved anyway, perhaps with more volatile prices. Switching
to her sector, had Anette detected a novel appetite for more face-to-face
interaction, maybe at a more select level, or is there a different approach
in her area?
“We are holding our breath and waiting
in anticipation for the first time we are able to meet again. Our clients
and associations have expressed the same. It all depends on how movement
and gatherings will be restricted in the future. It is too early to talk
prices right now,” Anette said.
What Tops Your Wish List?
Anette, if you were given a magic wand and
you were able to use it three times, what would you like to see?
Anette's response was immediate, “my
family in Australia first, then my friends, clients and colleagues at
the next trade show and thirdly that travel resumes quickly, so that new,
safe business may resume for the benefit of all. My parents now live in
Launceston in Tasmania and are elderly, so this is why I wish to get back
to see them. I try to do this every second year, but with Covid-19, this
is not possible right now.”