COVID-19 forced the events industry to chart a new course with virtual shows. However, they seem to work well in small groups. As the pandemic is subsiding, the appetite to meet again is incredibly strong on the back of much higher satisfaction ratings, opines Juliette Losardo, Exhibition Director, World Travel Market (WTM) London.
How has the exhibition space evolved since the pandemic?
The event and travel industries have been adversely affected. We examined how business interactions might take place in the absence of face-to-face events. We found new ways to bring our community together that were not in our standard practices. We held virtual events and launched online portals. We considered how we might measure, value and track leads in a more centralised manner. We analysed how we can invest in the right areas to ensure that relevant shows are delivered in today’s environment. We developed event technology and explored strategies to ensure that our customer interactions are no longer reliant on people handing out business cards. Thus, smart technologies are in development, and the pandemic has enabled us to capitalise on this. People need to do business, and they are concerned about what business continuity will look like amid such a crisis. As we ease limitations and return to normal life, WTM will serve as a meeting point for people. So far, our exhibitors and buyers have shown a yearning to be onsite.
How will technology impact travel exhibitions?
The ability to capitalise on technology and test virtual channels has shown that they can also work. However, these are effective in small groups. Hence, face-to-face will be the way to go, and event technology will play a key role in exhibitions. This year, we are looking at technologies that will allow you to track who you meet and how you connect with them in a smart way, as well as enable visitors to collect brochures and information from exhibitors with one-tap technology.
What new can the sector expect from WTM this year?
Many facets of the show will be slightly different this year, but our major focus will be on what value looks like for our audience. Real business issues are vital since our sector is struggling with infrastructure, recruiting and consumer confidence. Thus, we want to support the industry in overcoming these challenges. Development of a conference programme is also underway. The focus will be on experience and remapping all buyers globally who purchase travel and ensuring we know who and where they are, what they are responsible for, and encouraging them to use WTM as a channel to purchase travel.
When will you reach the pre-pandemic numbers?
Bookings are still being made at a lower rate than earlier, but they have been robust so far. Will we be bigger than 2019? I am not sure. Will we be bigger than 2021? Definitely. We will eventually creep up to 2019 levels. Due to high demand, we hope to be back in full swing by 2024 with all the bells and whistles.
Will the WTM portfolio continue its virtual events?
We have decided not to go virtual for WTM London this year. We get much higher satisfaction ratings for face-to-face events than for virtual events.
What will be the COVID-19 safety protocols?
By November, we hope to be in a better position. Cleaning and sanitation stations will be installed across the exhibition floor and conference rooms. We will go above and beyond what is necessary. We are learning to live with the virus and must make sensible decisions.