Mother of Invention: Rethinking Business Events in Light of COVID-19

'Necessity' is a mild way to describe the impetus for invention brought by COVID-19. We’ve learned in 2020 that creativity is, as business strategist Natalie Nixon argues, 'incredibly practical and crucial to survival' — in the business events industry especially, where the pandemic has forced us to go digital or go dark.

Author: Convene Editors       


COVID-19 has caused the business events industry to rethink everything. (Illustration by Malisa Suchanya)

We cannot minimize the loss of life and suffering caused by the virus, which continues to profoundly alter our world. What we offer on the following links are curated examples of how our industry and its supporting sectors have responded to this massive health and economic crisis. The coronavirus may have rocked the very foundations on which the face-to-face events industry is based and scrambled its business models, but those challenges have been met with scrappy resilience, experimentation, improvisation, and entirely new ways of reaching and providing value to communities and audiences. You’ll also find some fresh perspectives on what we have accomplished, where we stand now, and what opportunities lie ahead. So go ahead, read on, and start taking stock.

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ReThinking Creativity

Creativity Is Imperative and Wonder Is Not a Luxury

As the pandemic demands we find new ways of doing things, business strategist Natalie Nixon offers a strategic and tactical map to becoming more creative. Read More.

Rethinking Destination Marketing

Business Events Australia reminded planners about the country by sending a limited-edition line drawing by Sophia Mary Mac with a QR code that sent them to an immersive experience.

Wish You Were Here

How do you keep your destination top of mind when planners can’t visit and groups can’t meet during the pandemic?

Business Events Australia offered planners and the media both a physical and digital reminder of what makes Australia compelling and unique —while providing them with a welcome reprieve from houseatosis.

In my mail in October, I received a small package — a framed limited-edition line drawing by Sophia Mary Mac, a young Australian artist. At first glance it seemed a lovely black-and-white, intricate illustration of Australian flora, but upon further inspection, a QR code was hiding in a corner in plain sight. When the code was activated on my phone, the drawing became a portal to an immersive experience — and I was watching skydivers drift over the impossibly aquamarine Great Barrier Reef and swimming with the iridescent fish below, complete with the sounds of the wind in my ears and warm waters lapping around me.

“Our doors may be closed for now,” the card accompanying the framed print read, “but we have sent you a little window so you can take a peek into our backyard to remind yourself why there’s nothing like Australia.” With the portal on my desk and my iPhone always beside me, I’ve made a few return trips already. — Michelle Russell

Visit KC — and Des Moines, Sioux Falls, Minneapolis, and Omaha

Kansas City’s American Jazz Museum

Collaboration is emerging as a top strategy for leading us through the challenges brought on by the pandemic. For example, in the race to create a COVID-19 vaccine, the British company Glaxo-SmithKline, the world’s biggest vaccine maker, offered rivals a proprietary ingredient that is designed to boost a vaccine’s power and shared research study results.

Closer to the meetings industry: Five CVBs in Midwest destinations — Des Moines, Kansas City, Omaha, Minneapolis, and Sioux Falls — teamed up earlier this year to gain strength in numbers. In a promotion launched during National Travel and Tourism Week in May, destinations used their own websites and social media to share one another’s images, videos, itineraries, and other digital offerings with their own local communities and audiences. The result is that visitors to the Visit KC website can watch a video featuring Sioux Falls musician Denham McDermott introducing his favorite spots to find music in his South Dakota hometown. (“Sioux Falls is a little piece of heaven,” McDermott says on the video.) And on its website, Catch Des Moines — Greater Des Moines Convention & Visitors Bureau links visitors to cooking tutorials from one of Minneapolis’s best-loved chefs, Sameh Wadi, along with other experiences.

“While it’s unusual for a city to promote another destination,” said Visit Omaha Executive Director Keith Backsen, “this pandemic has encouraged a spirit of collaboration in support of the tourism industry.”

Travel “possesses an unmatched power to connect cultures and expand horizons,” reads the Visit KC website page, which featured links to its competitors more than six months later. “While travelers (and the destinations they love most) are facing a challenge unlike any we’ve seen before, the curiosity that drives them is still alive.” — Barbara Palmer


Québec City Business Destination re-created a live educational tour of the city online for event organizers.

Online Education

In early June, Québec City became one of the first destinations to launch a completely virtual education tour for business event organizers, successfully pulling together a three-day experience for more than 80 participants in under a month. The goal, according to Renée-Frédérique Aubert, marketing advisor for the Québec City Business Destination, was to re-create a live educational tour but in a way that felt authentic, easy, and fun.

“Our sales team … wanted to do something that would bring a smile to people’s faces, because the industry was basically at a standstill,” she said.

The online itinerary, conveniently laid out alongside a map, balanced on-demand webinars and content with live experiences — including quizzes, cocktail receptions, and yoga sessions — that let participants virtually interact with the DMO and other partners. The experience nabbed the bronze designation in the 2020 Summit Creative Awards, which awards excellence in the marketing and communications field. Québec City Business Destination won in the Coronavirus Response – Single Entry category, beating out nearly 300 other entries — the most for any category. — Jennifer N. Dienst

Bringing a Destination to Life for Planners During COVID

When the Netherlands Board of Tourism & Conventions invited meeting professionals to an online event, they were hoping to provide a little bit of disconnection — in a good way. Read more.

Rethinking Destination Assets

How Hybrid Is Taking Center Stage in Convention Centers

To meet the evolving needs of the business events industry in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, convention centers and other meeting venues are adding broadcast studios to their list of options for event producers. Read More.

Rethinking the Event Experience

The 4 Phases of Virtual Events

Beth Surmont, CAE, CMP, director of experience design at 360 Live Media, reflects on what she’s learned about virtual events. Read More.

Finding Balance Between Scale and Serendipity

Large digital meetings have scale, while smaller in-person meetings can deliver serendipity. Hybrid meetings of the future have potential to deliver both, said futurist Mark Pesce. Read More.

Getting Personal in a Digital Crowd

A group of Georgia Tech students, and the event technology company they founded, have created a platform that allows for flexible, self-selected conversations in the digital space. Read More.

Why Virtual Events Require More Planning Time

The American Society for Radiation Oncology’s 2020 annual meeting offers a case-study example of how giving yourself enough time to plan a virtual event is critical to its success. Read More.

‘We’re in Completely Different Territory’

We have to stop thinking that we are creating online events, says event producer Heather Mason, and reimagine them as broadcasts. Read More.

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