Rob Davidson: “Things will never be the same after this”


The meetings industry guru has talked with Event Point about the current situation.

Rob Davidson, MICE Knowledge managing director, was in Portugal for a masterclass but the event, as it happened to so many events, got postponed. But he did talk to Event Point International.

What's your take on the impact that the Covid-19 is having on the meetings industry?

There is no doubt that the impact of the virus on our industry is already devastating, and it will continue to be so in the short- and medium-term. The challenge is that we have no idea how long the short- and medium-term will be. The destiny of the whole world now lies in the hands of medical professionals in every country. Their level of knowledge and ingenuity will determine how soon this terrible new threat can be overcome. In the past, such professionals have gained much of their knowledge from attending conferences. We are now waiting for them to use that knowledge to enable us all to return to something like normality. 

This global health crisis has triggered a global economic crisis of immense proportions, with unprecedented disruptions to supply and demand. Among the worst affected are the self-employed and those running small businesses - in any industry. The meetings industry includes countless examples of such people, from independent meetings planners and destination management companies to interpreters and conference facilitators. In common with colleagues in the tourism and hospitality industries, such people have seen their income evaporate overnight. It is my opinion that there needs to be a coordinated effort on the part of governments worldwide to ensure that any working person affected by the virus, economically or medically, should receive a certain minimum income until the global economy returns to functioning as before. Drastic times call for drastic measures.

You did a report every year about the meetings industry outlook. How do you compare this latest crisis with other in the past?

I no longer write the IBTM Trendswatch report, but I keep my eye closely on all kinds of trends in our industry, and I have lived through a number of previous global crises that have decimated the meetings industry on a temporary basis. But this crisis feels different, as it has been precipitated by a formidable new virus which spreads rapidly with devastating results for its victims. The way in which we, as the human race, deal with this challenge will tell us a lot about who we are. Will compassion and cooperation or selfishness and secrecy set the tone worldwide over the next few months? Only time will tell.

What's your message for the event organisers, meeting planners, destinations, during this difficult time?

Obviously- stay safe! Protect yourself and those who are close to you, because no-one is immune. Apart from that, I would recommend my colleagues in this industry to use the time wisely by preparing for the period of recovery, whenever that may be. Use the extra free time to improve your own professional skills and knowledge. Read those books you have been meaning to read for a long time. Read blogs, read the professional press, read ANYTHING that can improve your knowledge and give you ideas of how to work more smartly in the future. Get to know your clients and suppliers better by visiting their websites. Get ready to compete in a post-Coronavirus world.

As any other crisis, this will pass, but how do you see the future of events and live communication after this?

There is no doubt in my mind that things will never be the same after this. There will be changes in the behaviour of corporate clients and individuals - and some of those changes will  not be in our favour. For example, I predict that many companies will get used to using videoconferencing for some of their meetings and will continue to do so. They may also question the wisdom of sending managers on long-haul flights for a short meeting - something they were already reconsidering in the context of environmentalism. The onus will be on the meetings industry to demonstrate more clearly than ever that business events add considerable value to those companies and individuals who invest their money and time in meetings.

What are your advices for people who are studying to become part of the meetings industry?

My advice to future professionals in our industry is to continue to work hard in building your own skills and knowledge to make an important contribution to the meetings industry. Remember that the meetings industry is a vital enabler in bringing professionals together to improve their knowledge and their ability to solve problems. Human beings are gregarious creatures, and the need to gather together to share ideas and enthusiasm will always exist. This industry needs young people with energy, imagination and creativity to take us into a more promising future. So, if you have those precious qualities, welcome to the meetings industry !