The Covid-19 crisis has created enormous challenges for event agencies across the globe, particularly those operating in multiple territories, each of which is at different stages of the pandemic and subject to differing lockdown restrictions. We caught up with inVOYAGER Angélique Eriksen, founder and CEO of Egg Events, which has offices in France, Italy, Belgium, Switzerland, Dubai and the US, on how she’s found managing this crisis from a global perspective and the future outlook for events…
When we spoke back in January to discuss trends for our inVOYAGE report, it was under very different circumstances. You were predicting a strong year in 2020 and planning for your 20th birthday celebrations. How have things changed as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic?
Unfortunately we had to postpone our birthday celebrations. We were planning to do something really big and special, but it’s certainly not the right time and preserving my staff is now more important than anything else. So, we’re planning to celebrate our 21st anniversary next year instead.
What have the past few months been like?
I actually started speaking to my staff about coronavirus back in January and I think they thought I was a bit crazy because it was just in China. By the end of February, we were having conversations with clients about postponing events and the first big wave happened at the beginning of March. We had a lot of high-end incentive trips, including one for 850 in Athens, that were moved from May and June to September and October.
We had clients panicking and venues weren’t available anymore, but we did everything we could to support hotels and suppliers and make sure they were treated fairly while helping our clients to move their events. Then a few weeks ago, all those events that were postponed till later this year slipped to 2021.
2020 is now looking like a very bleak year. But on the positive side, we have had some nice victories turning live events into virtual events especially in the pharma sector, and now have quite a few virtual events in the pipeline.
We’ve also had some nice success stories with live events. For example one of our clients that was due to host an incentive trip in May, is now going to host both the 2020 and 2021 events back-to-back next May. We demonstrated that it would be more cost-efficient to move the event to 2021 rather than cancel it, and that if they were to host two incentives with the same programme back to back, they could leverage costs.
We have got the awards components taking place in the Autumn virtually, and were able to salvage both physical events, making the hotels happy and us happy. It’s a win win situation for everyone. We are maintaining that business and the client is letting us keep deposits for 2020.
You have multiple offices worldwide. What have been the key challenges managing this from a multiple territory perspective?
The challenge has been keeping up with all the different legislations in each country we operate. At the beginning, I was talking to the entire team together, but very quickly I had to break it down by geography as the restrictions and support packages available from the government are not the same.
What I have been able to conserve across the board is the employees. In the US, we moved out of our expensive offices in New York and down to Atlanta to save on costs. We got lucky with our Dubai office as we were in the midst of moving and our lease had just ended, so we currently have no physical office in Dubai and have been able to save on rental costs while staff are working at home. In Italy, we had just opened an office in Florence this year, so that wasn’t the best timing.
How have you found lockdown from a leadership perspective?
It’s pretty much taken up 90% of my days. I have been an HR and finance machine, but HR first and foremost. We tried to leverage almost anything we could in terms of government support, and I have been communicating a lot with staff.
Transparency has been the key thing. We transparent about everything from the outset and made decisions regarding staff depending on the location and what has been available from a government support perspective. Our US team is still full time and we have had some aid from the government, our Dubai team are working half time and our French, Belgian and Swiss teams are all part-time.
My main goal has been to keep as many staff as possible – not only for us but also for the governments who are supporting us.
It’s been exciting too. We have had to reinvent our model and learn new things. I am very proud of how some of our teams have really been able to adapt to the changing environment.
Has it been easier to manage in some locations than others?
In France, the government stepped right in, and the French people expect that. But they have totally stepped up to the plate in terms of support for the events industry – it is the first time in all the time I have been doing this that I have heard ministers talk about the events industry being affected, and France has tried to put measures in place specific to our industry.
It’s been more challenging in some locations. The Dubai team has had to make some sacrifices, and the US is getting there – things are gradually being put in place. I have learned a tonne to be honest. And I am all the more thankful for the governments, they have really been there, and our clients too.
Where do you expect business to start coming back first?
What we are seeing from our clients is there will be a lot of virtual solutions between September and December.
I think Dubai is going to really try to kick start physical events again soon – they have outright said it.
In France, there is going to be some business coming back. We recently won a physical event for September – a five-week event for a client that wants to onboard their sales team. It’s 30 people for five weeks and we have pitched five different locations, so they change location every week.
Clients are reacting very differently – some are saying January, others are saying nothing till the end 2021. In our Swiss office, our second largest office – most business gas moved to 2021. In the US, we will have to see how things play out – there are 50 different states that all have different rules and restrictions so it’s a much more complex situation.
What I do see as a trend is clients asking for larger scale events and making them hybrid. So for example, 100 people in one location and the other 400 will will be regional and connect in so you still get 500 people face to face.
How will Covid-19 change the luxury events and incentives industry?
I see a huge trend in more local events, which is the same trend we saw both after 9/11 and the financial crash.
This crisis more than any other will have changed the world. I do think it’s going to have a long-term impact on our industry. We are going to come into a new era of bringing people together. I don’t think companies are going to do as many face-to-face meetings and there will be more hybrid and virtual meetings, and those that are physical will be more regional The business is not necessary going to disappear – it’s just going to shift.
The phenomenon we were starting to see before Covid-19, which was flight shaming, also has a part to play. We’re hosting a virtual event for a pharma client this year and they already decided before Covid-19 that the wanted the event to be virtual. They had a meeting last year for 700 face-to-face but they didn’t want to fly 1,000 people for this year’s meeting from a sustainability perspective.