Bring back the Musketeers – united we stand, divided we fall! I’m a great fan of storytelling and this morning I woke up with the heroic stories of the Musketeers of Alexandre Dumas in mind. In the early Noughties, when Lex Granaada, Roger Tondeur and Yours Truly organised the ESNEPs for SITE in Europe and the Middle East, participants called us the 3 Musketeers because we were the team, the squad that made it happen. But today, I’m not referring to these 3 adventurers. What I have in mind for my story is a vision of recovery for the live events industry, the revival of face2face, the return to live destination experiences. And so we need to call in our present day heroes: Athos, Porthos, Aramis and d’Artagnan.
So what does storytelling consist of? A great story has some ‘must haves’. First of all, a hero, or a group of heroes and their allies. These are the main actors. Whilst we had a lot of casualties in our troops over the past 9 months, our main characters are still there. In my story, Athos plays the role of the Convention Bureau. As you all know, he’s the ex of Milady (Cardinal Richelieu’s spy) which does not make it any easier. Athos is the father figure of the team, taking care of the integration of young d’Artagnan with the Musketeers and a man who takes great solace in wine. Did I mention the wife? Then we have Porthos, the dandy figure who in my story plays the role of the hotelier. Quite fashionable and trendy of course! Thirdly we have Aramis, a handsome young man/woman (you choose) with a fondness of men/women (you choose) and who loves a good (verbal) fight representing a unique event venue and finally we have our future leader, d’Artagnan; young, foolhardy, brave and clever, obviously a type casted DMC.
Secondly, there must be a theme, a ‘why‘ to the story and I believe that is clear after all the suffering we have suffered and still endure in pursuit of recovery at the light at the end of the tunnel! Reason why we better call in the Musketeers to draw a recovery plan and make the process happen smoothly, strategically and firmly. The nemesis of my story is obviously Cardinal Corona (aka special agent Covid-19) and as you may have guessed, my story is set in the Year of Our Lord 2021; the year following 2020, a year to forget.
Thirdly, good story telling needs a setting, a journey, a path. As in the yellow brick road or chocolate factory. Where are we and where do we go from here? What are the alternative routes one can take. What else is likely to happen on the road to recovery? Will there be any new obstacles that may require adjusting our plans? A third wave? A pivot back to live events or a marriage set in time for hybrid events? Anyway, we expect to see a lot of ups and downs happening here. But I also expect to see heroism, adventure, romance, discovery and a touch of nostalgia. A combination of reminiscing of how things were before the virus hit us and what we have learned over the past year in terms of re-skilling and up-skilling. One of the bigger challenges will be how we will solve the brain drain that hit the events industry. As a colleague mentioned recently, we are experiencing a diabolical drain of vital experience. People with years of gut-feel and instinct lost to our sector for good. And how will we convince people to meet again? There will be even more drama and plot twists! But each of our stories will be unique.
“The cat sat on the mat is not a story. The cat sat on the dog’s mat is.” – John le Carré
And finally there will be a solution, a conclusion, a happy end. One thing is for sure, we will not make it alone up to that point, only working together will give us a chance to succeed. All for one, and one for all!
So what is it that we can do together to promote our business, our city, our hotels & venues and other destination services? In each of our destinations we have one constant: the destination itself, our location. Be it one of the leading convention cities, an incredible resort or a surprising third tier value destination. For all four of our characters the one constant is the location and so we will all need to sell the destination first. Together! As I have always said in my trade show classes, until the client sends us an RFP, we all have the same duty, including our direct competitors, and that is to sell our destination first.
Athos, the convention bureau or DMO, has a complicated role to play. But before they can come to the task of selling and marketing the destination, they need to put a unified brand in the market place, play the character that communicates and unites all parties and suggests the road ahead in the long term. The Athoses of the events world play an important role to clarify the position of our industry to the local community as well with a special focus on policy makers and destination ambassadors from 3 major influencing parties: the institutional, the corporate community and the academic sector who is present in the destination. In order to do that, they also have a role of quality control and education to play and in times like we are, that includes a big chunk of health and safety measures being put into place, communicated and controlled. Athos will need to be a good communicator. Both within the community as towards the potential clients. Measures of security that were put in place, schedules for reopening, sharing health and safety information and even creating a local accreditation scheme.
As indoor space is a lot under stress, primarily in terms of capacities, the ability to use public or alternative space (beyond the walls of the hotels or convention centres) plays an important role. CVBs, with their links to the local authorities need to be the driving force here. Relations with local businesses and partnerships should be strengthened too. Within their marketing role they must create tools, for the entire destination, to use so that we can employ them with a higher quality and branding in mind. Many years ago this role included making bid books and creating an image gallery but those days are long gone. With a technology sensitive audience most of this now needs to be digitalised as well.
Working together to boost new business will require communication of re-opening schedules and health and safety information put into place. CVBs can help a lot to serve as a hotel and DMC lead source. And here we need a lot of innovation from what we have seen in the past. Digital site inspections will play a major role. Some destinations have understood this already and are rolling out great destination showcases.
One fine example is what The MICE guru (a d’Artagnan) is doing in Stavanger. They are reinventing the way a destination is presented and showcasing their own virtual skills as an innovative DMC. The Digital Trip is a 2-day immersive experience that is both exciting and educational. The MICE guru is supporting their destination and entire community by shining light on all Stavanger Musketeers (or should we call them Vikings?) and showing everyone in the event industry the incredible opportunities available in their destination in a fun and interactive way. They have understood that building community is the way forward and creating joint initiatives delivering one theme, one message and one destination brand is the only option ahead. Especially for second and third tier destinations this is a valuable lesson. If you have not registered yet for the Stavanger digital showcase on 20-21st of January, you can still do so now: The digital trip . They MICE Guru also offers an educational track for other destinations wishing to do the same.
What is important here is that it is not a hotelier, a DMC or a CVB or Venue presenting its own case. It’s the entire community coming together under one theme, one message, one brand. Especially for second and third tier destinations, this may be an interesting option to consider. In this project, it is the d’Artagnan who took the initiative but it could also be a major hotelier, a conference venue or the CVB championing the way. As long as you all move together under one flag.
In the mean time, we all need to continue sharing destination teasers to our target audiences. Because when the time comes, things will speed up and lead times will be even shorter than they were before Covid-19. With the brain drain on top of it, teams are stripped to the bear and lean minimum. Sales teams will even consist of operations teams and risk to have a lot of work on their hands. So the easier and faster your (digital) sales tools will be, the more chance you will have to confirm business to our destinations. For that reason a constant flow of communications will need to be in place between all actors in your destination. No time to wait for content!. As there will still be competition amongst multiple destinations, the quicker ones to respond to an RFP will make the fairest chance to win new business. Response time will be critical. In my opinion it is more beneficial in the short term to develop close relationships within your destination between CVB, DMCs, Hotels &Venues than to go out hunting for business at trade shows. We all need to know our strengths and weaknesses and discover our combined powers and uniqueness.
If you are an event planner, what’s in it for you?
First of all, you will save a lot of time for yourself when talking to a member of a team at such an integrated community. Forget about Google or DIY, you don’t have the time for this! To be honest, you can never be a destination specialist if you have not organised multiple and different events in that destination. You are buying know how and experience for a small fee from people who have tried and tested similar events to yours multiple times well before you rang their bell. You will only need to concentrate on your needs and communicate these with your counterpart at the destination. Which can be each or everyone of these integrated Musketeer teams. As for hybrid events, each destination will have their trusted partners too to help you with digital solutions, A/V choices, studio space or app vendors.
Destination specialists will be able to tell you more about value seasons or days to avoid organising your events avoiding major public events, city wide conferences or trade shows. They will all be able to hint what ‘couleur locale’ you can give to your event by tapping into the local culture, customs and cuisine. Any immersive, interactive or Covid-free features that destination teams will showcase will be to your benefit during the sourcing process.
Many industries and trades have suffered immensely during the pandemic, some have thrived. But what we all have in common is the wish, the urge and dream to meet again in person. Teams have lived and worked in solitude and getting together again for an event is both motivational and rewarding. It’s time to write a great story for yourselves now!
Lights, Camera, Action!
(PS with the picture above: as gender balance was not an issue yet in Alexandre Dumas’s time, when four men were challenged by a female spy, I had great difficulty finding a fairly balanced and politically correct picture. You will have to do with the one above for the moment.)