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Resilience is a Plan, not a State of Mind – Insights from the UFI Congress 2020

Now the virtual dust has settled on this year’s inaugural online UFI Annual Congress, we’ve all had a little time to contemplate where the event was pointing us for the year ahead.

The need to focus on Resilience – the theme of the congress – may well have been thrust upon us by the coronavirus, but few would say it was a deviation for our industry. Several speakers used their time in the spotlight to point out it had simply accelerated down the current paths towards an increasingly digital, more connected future for events.

In his speech on scenario planning, Global Exec VP Corporate at MCI Group Oscar Cerezales painted three outcomes that we could prepare for:

  1. After a year of craziness, we’re back to normal.
  2. The opposite. The recovery takes longer and we move towards a “low-touch e-planet” in which we consume everything digitally.
  3. The “omni-future”. Marketing takes the lead, we go full omni-channel with an overspend in terms of marketing.

The intersection of all these futures is where the magic will happen, he suggests, adding that our personal bias and preference must be set aside when it comes to planning.

“We are all biased, we tend to stereotype, we tend to pay attention to what we want to pay attention to. Are you thinking ‘I don’t like the first one, I like the second’? We’re putting up plausible, feasible scenarios of the future so be neutral, and then test, prototype and go fast to market.”

General Director at GL Events Milena Palumbo said the likely outcome is one that was already being shaped before most of us had even heard of a coronavirus.

Without the pandemic, we were going to spend “maybe 10 years” arriving at a place where we would register the degree of digitalisation we are seeing today.

insights from ufi congress 2020

The crux of the digital issue, she claimed, lies in how we retain the benefits that digital brings while returning to our physical events.

For the present, digital is really good. Our book show is every two years, and the digital provides a good presence for our clients when they don’t have the physical show … But I believe that digital is always in our lives, that it is going to increase a lot and that we need to take the benefit of this.”

“Companies may not have enough money to send their sales staff or employees to events, or maybe they don’t have enough money to promote their brands at these shows,” she explained.

President and CEO at the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), Gloria Guevara Manzo, made the point in her keynote that true resilience lies in her industry’s ability to take matters into our own hands.

We need to learn from the past. We can’t wait for a vaccine to be widely spread around the world; we need to be able to resume international travel before,” she said.

Gloria’s industry feeds our own of course, and we are certainly dependent on its recovery in order for our own fortunes to improve, as UFI MD and CEO Kai Hattendorf pointed out throughout the congress.

But the tools exist to help us build resilience into our industry’s future, to progress our offering and ensure some degree of independence from global events beyond our control.