By Brad Foster

Lisa Hopkins would never have thought the business event sector was about to fall off a cliff when she assumed the chief executive role at Convention & Incentives New Zealand in February 2020. But she’s been standing strong and can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Brad Foster spoke with her this week.

Kiwi Lisa Hopkins has been around the world and back over her decades plus time working in the business event sector.

Like every other long-time practitioner she has never seen anything like the impact COVID-19 has had on business events.

It has been shocking but she is a pragmatic woman and continues to steer a strong path through the pandemic shake-up alongside her 460 members.

She says while members are now thrilled to have the opportunity to secure domestic business the industry as a whole has really felt the hardship during the lockdown levels.

“Particularly because it hit us before others when the Prime Minister announced very early on that mass gatherings were prohibited. Many used this time to review and restructure their business,” she tells micenet.

“Now, with all gatherings available, there is a greater sense of optimism, but the industry will still need support during this time as customer confidence rebuilds.”

Rather than sitting quietly in her own isolation, Ms Hopkins – and the entire CINZ team – have been hard at work.

“My strategy has been to advocate as loudly as possible on behalf of the industry, and support members, whether it’s simply being at the end of the phone to talk, to brainstorm, just being present for them.

“Communication has been really important during this period, so the CINZ team put in place a variety of different ways we could stay in touch with members. Each week, our coffee morning on Zoom was well attended as well as our Friday newsletter, The Hui, which focused on some of the activity such as new innovations and what we called `Silver Linings’, good news stories to keep morale high. Also during this time, it was vital we remained transparent on conversations which were being held with government.”

Business now is about to pick up.

“Our domestic market is up and running. Three days after the Prime Minister announced all restrictions were off, one of our members was delivering an event for a client for 300 people, which shows how much our customers were keen to re-engage. Internationally, I can see that happening in phases over the next 12 – 18 months.”

She is also excited about opening borders between Australia and New Zealand and is confident that will happen shortly.

“It is too important for both countries which was one of the catalysts for BECA and CINZ to come together as a sub-regional alliance.

“Australia is our largest market for business events, outside of domestic and vice versa. Welcoming back our Australian customers and visitors is critical to our business starting to regain its footing economically. But also socially. Our industry impacts broadly across the country in terms of jobs and support, so we have an important role to play in New Zealand’s over-arching economy and our Australian friends are a vital ingredient.”

In terms of a world view and when business events may get back to some new normal, she sees a longer game panning out.

“I would like to think that within a couple of months we will see our Trans-Tasman border open, followed closely by the Pacific Islands. By the end of the year, selected Asia Pacific markets will be through the pandemic enough to start moving groups into the country and by mid-next year, we will see a global opening, thanks in part to a vaccine, increased air capacity and more stringent controls from some countries to manage the tail of the pandemic.

“But we will see permanent changes as our new normal. Governments will insist on higher assurances of individual health before allowing travel across their borders. Business events will continue to follow codes of practice when it comes to track, tracing, health and hygiene. These will become standard processes for all events.

“Previously, destination criteria included analysis on impacts of terrorism or natural disasters. This will now include biological threats, which is interesting considering we have for many years travelled into areas where mosquito borne diseases are common. But there will be heightened focus on this. The countries that manage this well from a public health perspective will see greater success when hosting international events.”

She also sees a growth in hybrid events although only in the shorter term.

“I think there is a desire or an inclination for hybrid events, both online and offline – but I also see this waning over time. What will be left is a greater understanding and skillset in this area, giving customers more choice and options. And of course if we ever see another pandemic, we will be better prepared to continue the art of engaging large groups of people for the purpose of a business event.”

New Zealand does us proud

New Zealand was one of the few countries that quickly decided to go into total lockdown. And, now that it has emerged, it seems as if the right choices were made.

“New Zealand has been lauded globally for the way we have approached the pandemic and there is no doubt that our government’s strategy of “`go hard and go early’ saved lives and has enabled us to be one of the first countries in the world to allow events to happen without number restriction.

“What needs to happen now is for business to be allowed to move forward to support the economic recovery through their leadership, innovation and driving confidence back to the market place. However our industry continues to fight for `bridging support’ from government to enable companies to come out of hibernation.

“Lead times are still an issue, and given we are an industry which correlates delivery with revenue, there are still many in our industry struggling to keep highly skilled people employed, the lights on and the rent paid. So while I think our team of 5 million did an incredible job in getting to this stage, the next phase is critical for ongoing sustainability of the industry, and the government has a significant role to play in that.”