It feels like we have been living in a movie since March when the coronavirus was declared a pandemic and all of a sudden we found ourselves in a lockdown.
It was definitely hard not to lose focus as the situation was quite uncertain. However, when we started thinking clearly after the initial shock, we came to realize that tough situations create opportunities, and most importantly, keeping the conversation and communication alive should be prioritized at the moment.
What did you introduce to adapt to the ‘new normal’?
It is for the above reason that we have directed our attention towards digital means to keep connected with both our local and international partners, creating opportunities for all of us to share our concerns, news and how our actions will be shaped both during and after the pandemic.
Over the last few months, using digital means, we have connected industry players, association members, and stakeholders both locally and internationally to communicate about the current situation and talk about how we are preparing for the new way of hosting events.
How will event planners choose their host city now?
It is quite obvious that they will now look at two main factors:
- If all the necessary safety measures are in place.
- Whether the destination has venues prepared to host hybrid events, as they are our new reality.
I believe that the post-pandemic period will require convention bureaus to work with local partners on these two aspects to make their countries a successful business events destination before starting to promote their available infrastructure and services again.
Despite the fact that Azerbaijan is still under a quarantine regime, we have been actively working to make sure that we are prepared for when events are allowed to be organized again. As part of the countrywide measures to contain the spread of COVID-19, the Azerbaijan Tourism Board has developed the SAHMAN (Sanitation and Hygiene Methods and Norms) programme, founded upon safety, transparency, social responsibility and inclusivity.
The programme aims at raising health and safety standards, involving all the necessary public and private partners across the tourism and business events industries, focusing on accommodation, F&B and transportation providers.
What are your opinions on hybrid events?
During this crisis, we have seen that we can work from home and organize online meetings no matter where we are. Within a short period of time, we have adapted to the new reality and now digital meetings are a regular part of our lives. Some have even replaced planned future in-person events with virtual ones or will at least supplement them with digital content before, during and after the event, which paves the way for hybrid events.
However, I don’t think online events can completely replace in-person ones over the long haul. One of the main purposes of events is to bring people together and create an atmosphere where participants can exchange their ideas and experiences face-to-face.
In my opinion, online conferences, exhibitions, etc. can’t deliver the message needed as effectively as in-person events do. Besides, face-to-face meetings have long been seen as critical to building trust. It is natural that the current situation requires us to continue to live with virtual reality. But I think as the situation starts getting better, we will be able to get back to connecting in person, most probably combined with online sessions first, with new rules in place to ensure that the health and safety of participants are ensured.
What does the future look like for Azerbaijan?
Considering the points made above, I am proud to say that our local partners are also coming into line with this new reality and developing solutions for hybrid events.
One such great partner of ours is the Baku Convention Centre which was already a top venue before the pandemic with its ultra-modern amenities for putting on events at the highest international level. We can proudly say that this venue has been working hard to make hosting hybrid events possible and today it is a venue fully ready to do so with its technical solutions.
The Baku Convention Centre also holds true to our promise of creating a safe environment making sure that social distancing norms, room ventilation, observance of hygiene, etc. fully work. As soon as the government allows the hosting of events and gatherings again, we will be able to invite event planners to discover this venue and its services to have their hybrid events organized here.
I would like to conclude my thoughts with the fact that we are all in this together and the only way to get out of this crisis stronger is to connect, communicate and share using our available resources, which appear to be digital for now. We will continue to do so until we can meet again and share our experiences in person with a great atmosphere connecting us all.
Sevda Aliyeva, Director of the Azerbaijan Convention Bureau
The Azerbaijan Convention Bureau (AzCB), established under the Azerbaijan Tourism Bureau (ATB) in 2018, is the leading entity to attract business events to the country and has been mandated by the State Tourism Agency of the Republic of Azerbaijan to implement the strategy for business events industry development in Azerbaijan.
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