By Brad Foster

Despite seeing more than 50 events cancelled or postponed in 2020, PCO Arinex is remaining calm and continuing to do what it does best, explains CEO Nicole Walker.

On Friday, March 13, like so many in the industry, Arinex was instantly impacted by the Australian Government announcement to cancel events over 500 people.

With one of its first events of the year bumping in on Sunday, March 15, the team had to go into overdrive to cancel the event, working night and day over the weekend to liaise with industry partners to cancel the arrangements and negotiate fees to limit the financial impact to the Arinex client.

“Even in these very early stages of the pandemic, the industry was phenomenal, and the Cairns Convention Centre were very supportive of the sudden change in plans,” says CEO Nicole Walker.

“While we are well equipped and experienced to manage a risk like this for a single event, the following weeks proved challenging with postponement or cancellation of over 50 events in 2020. We saw a second round of postponements as the forecast pandemic and effects continue into 2021. This resulted in excessive work by the team with no return and in many cases further investment in events that will not be happening for a few years, or possibly not at all. It was incredible to see the team across our speciality business units come together and collaborate in a way that truly made us proud.”

Of the 50 events that were changed, 75 per cent postponed and the remaining 25 per cent cancelled.

“It was an exceptionally labour-intensive exercise postponing and cancelling so many events. We needed to create scenarios for each client, review the impacts on their objectives, and assess all alternatives prior to making a collaborative decision.

“For some of the international events it resulted in multiple countries shifting their event dates by at least a year to accommodate postponement in Australia.  We have seen postponements of up to three years given the rotations.  These delays require significant work to accommodate this change.”

Once the initial deluge of postponements subsided, Arinex turned its attention to its technology products and how they could facilitate virtual events.

“We quickly evolved our platforms to integrate with software such as Zoom and increased discussions with clients around transitioning their events.

“We organised a client webinar in which our scientific network of clients were incredibly supportive during this time in giving us wise advice to share with our clients and participated in a webinar panel that attracted a strong following from our wider client base to listen to and question these experts.

“We have a number of online events in the coming months and have been working with our clients to create online member engagement opportunities. For these to be successful one needs to understand the key objectives and financial position of each client. Depending on the objectives for their initial face-to-face event we need to analyse the relevance and financial viability to transition their events online.”

Arinex has also been heavily focused on professional development and reviewing processes and systems to enhance its operations.

“One positive is that we were able to address the ‘when we get a minute’ list! More recently our attention shifted to managing events in a COVID safe environment. The team have just completed and launched the Arinex COVID Safe Event Guidelines and distributed these to our clients providing them with reassurance when they are ready to deliver face to face events again.”

Arinex has even made time to hold its own internal conference using its own online technology. The three day meeting utilised internal expertise along with support from partners including Be Challenged, Tourism Australia and SongDivision.

“The wider team also had the opportunity to hear first-hand from some of our long-standing clients and their experiences working with our team over the years. For members of the team who rarely go onsite to events, it was powerful to hear how their hard work contributes to these inspiring experiences. The whole team gained valuable virtual insight from this event and this was rewarding to see during such a challenging time. To be able to come together, share knowledge and ideas and celebrate the best of our business events industry, we are now more prepared and educated to help our clients after this pandemic.”

I asked when that might be and what their clients are saying? Ms Walker said their clients were asking them that very question.

“Every event is different, and every industry is impacted in different ways. We need to collaborate with our clients, understand their industry and the impact and appetite for risk, assess the situation, the event objectives and the overall circumstances to make informed decisions and recommendations for the future of their event.  We are able to do this from our depth of experience and longevity.

“Our Wise Counsel has over 50 years’ history of living through crises of serious recession, terrorism and a range of impact from Mother Nature, disease, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, bush fires and floods to name a few.

“Most people are experiencing online fatigue and whilst virtual events are serving a purpose for now, we believe there will be a significant shift back to face-to-face events when the time is right with an ongoing focus on technology to grow participation, and development of online platforms and engagement to expand reach.”

As to when the sector may start again, like everybody Ms Walker is uncertain.

“Some businesses, venues and providers are reopening already and this is brilliant and encouraging. For us there is a very long road ahead.  The real question is when will the business events sector return to pre-COVID levels? We have a feeling 2021 will not be the year we planned and forecasted.”

What she is certain is that Arinex will be there when it does.

“Arinex has survived through many crises in the past and each one has created new opportunities and areas for development.

“Arinex manages clients’ funds through a trust account which is acknowledged by the bank as an untouchable account, established with professional help from our lawyers and external accountants.  The money is protected, reconciled daily and clearly separated by the trust accountant from Arinex operating funds.  In times like this it is extremely reassuring that these quarantined funds are available for refunds and paint a clear picture to clients of exactly how much remains in their account and that they do not have to fear their PCO partner’s business having a negative effect on their operation account.

“Our owner is adamant about the clarity of funds reporting both to clients and the Arinex management team.  It is a transparent system that enables clients full understanding of their financial standing and enables clarity to increase or decrease expenditure depending on influencing factors.

“The Arinex reserves and the government’s contributions and rebates combined are what we hope will get us through this debilitating era along with measures taken to conserve our funds.  We expect it will be a challenging and hard road ahead to recovery and tough for all businesses in our sector.”

Ms Walker said the company’s international partnerships with organisations including INCON (International Conference Partnership) and IAPCO (International Association of Professional Congress Organisers) was assisting.

“The sharing of knowledge within the global community is invaluable. Understanding the impact of the virus on each country and the measures put in place to combat the impact on our industry has assisted Arinex in making globally informed decisions for our clients. We have also shared our knowledge with our colleagues in these countries and provided and shared thought leadership pieces on managing the pandemic and the plans for reopening our industry in each of our respective countries.

“Our local industry associations played an integral role in lobbying to government and harnessing support for the business events industry. We have assisted in these lobbying efforts and provided input and feedback to MEA and EEAA to ensure shared knowledge to our industry colleagues and we are looking forward to participating in the first virtual MEA Evolve Conference.”