How the Event Industry Can Bounce Back


As the economic fallout from the Corinavirus continues to decimate the event industry the world over, Nermeen Negm, Senior Consultant at The Tantalus Group, offers some positive insights on the industry’s most viable options in order to flourish and become a global force once again.

  • 26 million people have direct or indirect jobs in the event industry
  • 1.5 billion people worldwide participate in business events annually
  • $2.5 trillion is in direct and indirect spending as a result of business events
Nermeen Negm – Senior Consultant at The Tantalus Group

It is safe to say that most nations, governments and people are ready to pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and get moving in a post Covid-19 world.

We are talking about living with the virus, and balancing safety measures with renewed economic activity. And while every crisis presents us with both a challenge and an opportunity, some opportunities are harder to come by, simply because we do not know how to tap into them. That’s why now more than ever, we need to discuss how we can resuscitate the event industry.

Current state of events

The strategy du jour is to avoid events altogether. Global giants such as Microsoft have announced plans to suspend all live events until July 2021. Similarly, Facebook cancelled all meetings above 50 attendees until June 2021. The recently launched website’s much celebrated ‘Festivals and Events’ page is eerily empty.

This raises the question of whether or not we will have to rely on other ways of communicating without event planning and attendance. Or if events can make a strong comeback now that economies are reopening.

I am a strong believer in the latter. I think marketing professionals should look forward, reinvent their event strategy, and ready themselves for an inevitable revival.

We are social creatures after all. Our intrinsic need to interact and exchange information, share ideas and stories, and create fulfilling, life-affirming experiences will undeniably see us through to innovation and creativity in events.

Good examples of immersive experiences

Therefore, we need to examine how we can create immersive experiences while upholding public health and safety guidelines. We need to ask: How can we generate engagement and revenue through events? How can we monetize digital events, or drive sponsorship sales within new event formats?

Undoubtedly, certain industries will be at the forefront of reimagining these new dynamics. The “One World: Together at Home” two-hour, star-studded virtual live concert held in April drew in nearly 21 million viewers, and raised almost $128 million in funds to fight Covid-19.

It also generated 4.9 million interactions about “Together at Home” across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Fully digital concerts are now old news. The Middle East’s entertainment industry should look for inspiration beyond exclusively digital events.

UAE best practice is Majid Al Futtaim

Majid Al Futtaim, the regional pioneer in lifestyle experiences, brilliantly converted the upper level of their flagship Mall of The Emirates parking lot to a drive-in movie theatre. I envision this space to be a fantastic venue for live drive-in musical concerts and theatrical events. Other venues should follow suit; what about Dubai’s Global Village 23,000 capacity parking lot?

The British Fashion Council has created a new digital platform which will host London Fashion Week for fashion designers to showcase their collections. Spokesperson Clara Mercer likened it to a “Netflix channel for fashion”.

Chanel made history recently by becoming the first luxury fashion brand to deliver a fashion show staged solely online. The fashion industry certainly needed to shake things up prior to the pandemic; Covid-19 undeniably fast-forwarded the process.

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Fashion industry moves to “phygital” 

Young and upcoming; small and local fashion designers are now presented with a golden opportunity to utilize technology to participate in the global fashion dialogue. Fashion weeks reserved exclusively for established brands will no longer be their principal medium to showcase their collections internationally.

By moving into the “phygital” realm, fashion brands (in fact, all brands looking to showcase their products and services) can create hybrid events by tapping into technology using real models and clothes to secure an audience of buyers, media outlets, and influencers without the burdensome cost of travel and set up, unlikely to be afforded by smaller fashion brands.

I am certain “phygital” will be the new buzz word.

Google’s ‘Cloud Next’ annual event which drew in 30,000 participants last year, has been announced as a free, digital, nine-week event series to start in July and will include keynotes from industry leaders and learning opportunities with Google developers. Keen event organizers who realize that budgets are also tightening should offer compelling virtual participation options.

Hub and spoke strategy

Organizations wishing to host a mega-scale conference could look into hosting smaller satellite events to complement larger gatherings. So, if the main event is in Dubai, smaller hubs can host in Cairo, Riyadh, and Beirut. Live streaming between locations, as well as for an even larger audience at home/office when relevant, will not only tackle limitations on gathering restrictions, but also cut costs significantly on travel and accommodation.

The caveat here will certainly be high production value in order to keep audiences engaged. Production teams will have to be deployed to ensure the highest quality of virtual experiences.

Best practice from the sports industry

The pandemic has also disrupted many planned athletic events worldwide. From the Tokyo Olympics, to the Boston Marathon, which has been cancelled for the first time in its 124-year history.

Some cities are now organizing fully virtual marathons. Runners can complete a solo run whether on the treadmill or anywhere in the city, and report back their results by a certain date to receive their token of participation.

The very popular ADNOC Abu Dhabi Marathon scheduled in December, and the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon scheduled in January, may need to look for inventive ways to proceed.

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Virtual runs can be optional, however the excitement of competing amongst others on the city streets, can be preserved by considering extending the number of hours of the marathon or including additional routes to avoid crowding. Having multiple stations for the accompanying community engagement activities will be a welcome alternative for Emirates residents hoping that the much-loved marathons will not to be cancelled.

Large scale sporting tournaments are resuming, albeit without an audience. Just as the American NBA has announced it will take over Walt Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida, the UFC’s much anticipated “Fight Island” has just been announced to be our very own Yas Island in Abu Dhabi.

UAE innovates in hosting ultimate fighting on Yas Island

Multiple events will be hosted in July by sealing off the nearly 25 km square island. It will accommodate approximately 2,000 people who will enjoy Yas Island’s arena, hotels, beaches, training facilities, and dining establishments. Yas Island and other attractive remote destinations in the UAE will continue to reaffirm the UAE’s position as a regional leader, capable of reinventing itself to weather any storm.

Exhibitions are demonstrative and offer opportunities that unfortunately can’t be replicated electronically, even with the most sophisticated virtual reality tools. Nevertheless, what these circumstances have taught us is that technological developments in VR and online will offer enhancements and added value to any live event.

In conclusion, the 2018 Global Economic Significance of Business Events study, commissioned by the Events Industry Council and conducted by Oxford Economics, reveals that 26 million people have direct or indirect jobs in the event industry, and 1.5 billion people worldwide participate in business events annually. Moreover, $2.5 trillion is in direct and indirect spending as a result of business events. Consequently, we must begin to contemplate all creative scenarios for getting the event industry back on track.

The shared event ecosystem must recognize what has changed, and what will be the industry’s most viable options to flourish and become a global force once again.

Written by Nermeen Negm – Senior Consultant at The Tantalus Group

Nermeen Negm is a senior marketing and communications professional with over 18 years of experience in the Middle East and North Africa. Having worked in shopping mall development and operations, luxury fashion retail, advertising and the telecommunication industries, she developed a passion for conceptualizing and executing marketing campaigns and events that build memorable brands. 

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