“A virtual/online event is still no match to a real one” – Tanja Bogdanov in an Exclusive Interview for KONGRES MAGAZINE

The effects of COVID-19 on the business events industry is fully exposed: we give you an exclusive interview with Tanja Bogdanov – Founder and CEO at Vekol DMC, done on request by editor-in-chief of the most influential travel magazine in New Europe.

Immerse into powerful insights of challenges and mousetraps of business travel industry in Serbia; find out about tricks we use to brand & sell Europe’s best hidden secret and learn what it takes to start your business from scratch – all through the eyes and mind of the very founder of the first ever Destination Hybrid Company concept. 

We appreciate being once again recognized as the leader in the field.

Read the transcript extracts of the interview below or visit kongres-magazine.eu for the full article.

Q: How badly has COVID-19 affected the meetings industry in your country?

The worldwide outbreak of COVID-19 has brought the entire world to a standstill for quite a while, and Serbia is no exception. We have seen almost 100 per cent of events either closed, rescheduled or gone virtual. Due to travel restrictions as well as a continuous slump in demand – a decreased willingness for non-essential travel among companies – a fairly young and underdeveloped MICE industry in Serbia faced devastating challenges. To be precise, foreign arrivals in March 2020 fell by 65.8% year-on-year. With most international flights banned, both business arrivals and spending in April 2020 have fallen down to zero. That was a knockout for the entire chain of MICE-related industries.

Q: How much damage has the epidemic caused for your company?

Luckily – thanks to our composure and loyalty of our clients – we’ve seen a lot of rescheduling rather than outright cancellations, as over 90 per cent of our major projects only got postponed to 2021. However, our biggest pride is that, in spite of the unremembered uncertainty, we managed to keep our team at the core of any actions and decisions, and we did not let go of any of the employees.

But now that we’re talking about switching everything to online, we keep forgetting that this is a major economic loss not only for us as event organizers, but also for our surrounding communities, meaning dozens of related jobs in the tourism “value chain” – from hotel staff to small local manufacturers. Each year world events generate $1.5 trillion in spending, including airfare, transportation, hospitality, venues, services and much more. What’s their future if we stick to the two-dimensional world?

Q: What are some alternatives to live events? Are live events a thing of the past or will we continue to meet in person after the coronavirus?

Ever since April, everybody’s inbox is constantly overrun with invitations to join virtual talks, networking sessions, panels and more. Now, many events will likely go back to normal and resume as they always have, but given the costs involved in travel and the capacity for online tools to offer a similar experience, it may well be that the event industry has changed forever.

However, there are some obvious drawbacks and limitations. There is a lot of noise in the online space today. Also, shorter attention spans will need to be taken into consideration when planning online gatherings. Remote attendees are also more likely to be distracted by emails, calls or children. And of course, giving voice to the online audiences and making networking experience feel natural might be the greatest challenge of all.

All of this being said, I still don’t see a decent alternative to live events, at least not in all important aspects. Mankind overcame many disruptions in communications, but nothing ever changed human nature and necessity for face-to-face interactions. The human element of connecting with others, having in-depth discussions and forging partnerships is still largely confined to the offline world.

Q: Do you think online events can replace the physical experience of live events?

Lockdown is over, but the grand experiment of remote work and online events might hang around for a while. Companies that shifted to remote will not just shift back overnight. But technologies such as Zoom that have people stare at disembodied heads of their colleagues through a screen are a very poor substitute for face-to-face interactions. A virtual setting is no match to a real one when it comes to random collisions between teammates that lead to new ideas. People often tend to evangelize new trends, but PRO’s don’t always automatically outweigh the CON’s. Remote today does look less scary and it might stick for a while once the pandemic ends, but personally, I don’t see the big gain. All these technologies that we’re discussing have already been in use for years, how come online-only hasn’t emerged before?

Q: How have you managed to connect the digital and analogue world at your events and in business?

At DMC Vekol we have gone digital way before it became a necessity – from advanced mobile apps that helped us virtually design event experiences from scratch to webcasts, live streaming etc. COVID-19 outbreak only made us go one step further and experiment with the full-online layout of events.

This summer we launched the first-ever hybrid fashion project OXYGEN in Serbia, hand in hand with our most iconic haute couture designer Verica Rakocevic, internationally known as “Serbian Coco Chanel”. The project premiered the Fall/Winter 2020/21 collection and celebrated the sheer sacrifice of medical staff during the pandemic crisis. What we did was morph the runway event into the TV show format: live performance, very limited live audience and strong tech infrastructure. This also showed one clear and steady tendency for all the upcoming events: AV will continue receiving incredible budget injections. Thanks to being already fluent in virtual event technology, we managed to attract diverse audiences from all over the globe and maintain a high level of energy throughout the process.

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