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Karen Tocher, Business Events Manager at Dundee & Angus Convention Bureau

Article Published 26/11/2021

In the second interview of the Meet the Convention Bureau series, we spoke with Karen Tocher, Business Events Manager at Dundee & Angus Convention Bureau who provides an overview of the organisations' event The Path Forward and its future development plans.

Supporting partners

As we all began to grasp that a global pandemic was sweeping the world, it was obvious that international meetings were going to be heavily impacted. Few of us could have estimated just how disruptive and destructive COVID would be for our industry.

Survey results issued by MPI (Meeting Professionals International) on 13 February 2020 - exactly two weeks after the first positive cases were confirmed in the UK - showed that more than half (56%) of meeting professionals felt only 'slightly concerned' about the impact COVID would have on meetings. A third of those surveyed expected there would be no impact on their business; with 12% optimistically thinking that COVID would increase their meeting business in 2020.

But it was going to be far worse than that.

Our first priority was to be supportive for all of our partners and to be a trusted hub for information - sketchy as it was in the early days - and we created partner communications which we sent out regularly to our pathfinders, venues, event organisers and associates.  We worked with conference organisers to find ways for them to continue the planning of their events in 2020 and 2021. We were aware that everyone's recovery challenges would be different, but we were blissfully ignorant at that time of the actual timeline for that recovery.

We facilitated the creation of a recovery roadmap with our partners using information supplied by VisitScotland and other global organisations and regularly updated everyone via email. With the Business Events Development Group and Pathfinders Committee resuming meeting virtually during this time, we aimed to provide a supporting voice for business events and recovery planning. 

Paving the way forward

In March 2021, we held The Path Forward - our first regional business events virtual conference. We wanted to share global industry intelligence, reflect on the changes and look forward to how these would impact business events and establish and convey confidence amongst all of our partners for our region's ability to host national and international meetings in 2021 and beyond.

High calibre international speakers joined our speaker line up - a line up we never could have achieved if the conference had been a live event. This showed everyone involved that, despite the devastating impacts on business events - there were some distinctly silver linings with virtual and hybrid events.

We produced a best practice guide for virtual and hybrid meetings covering everything from meeting formats to the design and scope of the programme. This was free to all of our partners.

The conference was the first time our team had run a virtual event - and not everything ran as smoothly on the day as we would have liked. But it gave us valuable experience of the time commitment and resources required to run a virtual event successfully and gave us plenty knowledge to pass onto our conference organisers.

This event was uplifting and for many of our partners the first opportunity for them to see the capabilities of a digital platform. For us, as a convention bureau team, we are now in a position to advise and educate on virtual and hybrid events and this was one of the most constructive of our undertakings since March 2020.

Future focus

Our current key focus going forward is on bid development and progression, and we continue to hold Business Events Development Group meetings to align the work we do through a regional approach to our Pathfinders Partnership Programme which we believe will utilise and unlock the full benefits of business events as they return to our area.

We understand that levels of nervousness remain around in person events, and we continue to work with our partners to mitigate against this. A regional approach to this is important for organisers' confidence so we've been encouraging everyone in the supply chain to gain recognised accreditation such as the Good To Go scheme.

As part of The Path Forward conference, we also produced a Duty of Care template which our partners can use to show event organisers their commitment to the safety and well-being of all delegates.

For many associations requests for proposals from venue locations are changing, with the most common mentions including changes to cancellation options and force majeure clauses, hybrid meeting requirements and flexibility regarding delegate numbers and dates. We're here to support our partners to adapt and conform to the new normal.

Prior to COVID one of our focuses for the future was to align our business events with United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. VisitScotland's Journey to Change provides a framework for us all in Scotland to realise that business events can be a driving force for global change. We want our events to change our communities for the better and we want our events to play a role in global solutions.

We remain committed to driving community legacy from the hundreds of events and thousands of delegates which visit the region annually. Our social media strategy involves spreading our message using the wider networks of the world-renowned academic institutions on our doorstep, the globally achieving academics and the ever-innovating businesses.

Discover more about Dundee & Angus Convention Bureau here.