Dublin Convention Bureau offers free and impartial venue finding services and expert local advice to meeting planners, associations and incentive organisers, in the Irish capital. Research shows that before COVID-19, Dublin saw an increase of 10% on delegate numbers for international association conferences due to destination appeal. Plenty of reasons to speak to Sam Johnston, Bureau Manager, about business commitments in the coming months and the involvement in the European Cities Marketing continuity checklist for sustainable recovery.
1) How is your city containing this whole situation in order to get back on track?
Ireland has had a cautious approach to managing the current crisis and that has resonated with customers in our key markets. Ongoing consumer sentiment research shows strong positivity to Ireland in that regard and we believe that will stand by us when we open up again and begin to welcome international visitors and business events back to Dublin and the rest of the country.
For now, however, we currently have a 14-day period of quarantine in place for anyone coming into the country through our ports or entry and a restriction on no more than 50 people gathering indoors. At the start of May our Government produced a roadmap for reopening society and business, set out in five phases each lasting three weeks. Due to the progress made in Ireland, some of those phases have been accelerated, to the point that our own hospitality industry reopened at the end of June under certain restrictions.
The acceleration of the phases was brought about due to the ability to contain the spread of the virus through a national lockdown that took effect in mid-March. Citizens were restricted to not travelling over 2 kilometers from their homes, businesses closed their offices with employees working from home, kitchen tables became the classroom, long queues formed as supermarkets had to restrict numbers shopping at any one time and life in general became very different for many of us. Our hotels only welcomed frontline workers, sports stadia became mobile testing sites and the largest hotel in the country was turned into a health facility in preparation for a surge in Covid-19 cases – thankfully that was not needed. All this as we were continually reminded in advertising to wash our hands, not to meet with others and to socially distance at least two meters.
That two meters distance remains in place still as we fight to eradicate the virus from our society. We have introduced a Covid Tracker app that has been hailed as the most successful of its kind anywhere in the world due to the level of usage it has.
In the next number of days the Government will publish a ‘Green List’ of countries where we can travel without quarantine on return; this will also reciprocate in return for citizens of those countries.
Dublin Convention Bureau is a unit with Fáilte Ireland, the National Tourism Development Authority. When the crisis struck we set out a three stage process to help and support our industry. The first was ‘Shutdown’ and involved direct engagement with our industry ascertaining the impact it was having on the businesses and the individuals employed by them. This allowed us to develop a suite of online practical supports such as ‘Managing Temporary Closure’, ‘Business Liquidity’, ‘Human Resource Risk’, Temporary Lay-offs and Redundancy’, ‘Safeguarding Future Revenues’, ‘Business Relationship Management’ and many others. We pivoted our budgets to help fund different activity by our industry to provide some cashflow while wider Government supports were put in place for employers and employees.
The second stage was around ‘Survival and Prepare’ and focussed on helping our industry and its employees with a further range of supports but one stands out to me and that was targeted on the employee and their mental health and wellbeing.
The final stage is ‘Planning for Recovery’ by stimulating demand and supporting industry to convert that. At present we only have a domestic leisure market but we still work on some enquiries for future conferences and meetings.
As we opened up society, and crucially our tourism and hospitality sector, colleagues in Fáilte Ireland worked extensively on reopening guidelines for each type of industry within the sector while others delivered a Safety Stamp programme designed to provide consumer confidence. That programme entails training for all employees in tourism and hospitality enterprises before an accreditation is awarded allowing use of the official badging. We are currently using the G3 document as a basis to develop our own reopening guidelines for business events and they will be finalised by the end of July.
We have a Tourism Recovery Taskforce in Dublin (and over 20 more across the country) made up of representatives from the public and private sectors. The Destination Continuity Checklist that was developed by European Cities Marketing in association with Toposophy, has been adapted to Ireland and each local Taskforce is using it as a blueprint for actions.
2) What will be your top priority when resuming activities?
As we resume activity and reopen our focus is supporting our industry through that and ensuring as many as possible survive this crisis – without and of them our product is weakened when we welcome international events and visitors back to our shores. This will all be done in a very safe way, under guidance from our public health agencies.
We presently see that the domestic visitor prefers to visit non-urban areas and Dublin is not on their ‘to do’ list. Our Dublin taskforce grouping is looking at six specific topics as a priority to support businesses: public realm and mobility; destination marketing; sales and marketing with industry activation; night-time economy and festivals and events; capital investment; and, medium term which focuses on international visitors and business events.
At the same time we have a new business tourism recover taskforce for the country; their focus will align on some elements of the other groupings but with a very specific focus on what we need to have in place to welcome back international MICE business. Included is not just our own industry, products and safety protocols but also a focus on our clients – associations, PCOs, DMCs, meeting planners, etc – on what supports they will need to deliver their events in the future.
As mentioned, our Government has had a cautious approach and continues to do so, focussing on opening up the economy in a very structured way. Our time will come when we can return to proactive business development again, when we can host meetings and conferences with attendees from around the world. As we get closer to that point we will undertake a wide-ranging programme of virtual events with our clients across markets as we wait to get back into markets and meet our clients at our own events and headline events like Imex and IBTM.
Getting back into market will be difficult for many of our industry suppliers as they have been burning through cash reserves just to survive through the crisis. We will have a fund in place through our colleagues in the Meet in Ireland team to support that mobilisation. We can present the destination as much as we want, but we need our private sector colleagues with us as they are the ones who sign contracts.
Dublin Convention Bureau has been a member of the Global Destination Sustainability Index since 2017 and we have seen our scores improve each year. As the virus took hold across Europe we were finishing a piece of work for Meet in Ireland on carbon offsetting that developed into a wider look at our actions and opportunities around sustainability across our industry. As we develop a new roadmap for growing the international meetings industry in Ireland, sustainability will be stitched throughout our actions.
3) How do you see the future of events in your city after this pandemic?
The positive on this is that we are still bidding on new business and still winning it for future years adding to the strong pipeline of business we already have. We are very confident that we can deliver not only safe events but they will deliver for our clients and their attendees regarding the wider experience that they need.
When will they return, that is a question we keep asking and I think the answer keeps moving. We still have international events on books for later this year but, honestly, they are very unlikely to take place. Beyond that we have events that we hope to welcome early in 2021. Currently talking to our industry partners and listening to other thought leaders it is potentially 2022 when we will begin to get back to levels of international business events as witnessed in recent years. The key is that we are ready – we have plans and structures in place which include an increase in our activities to generate more opportunities. A key element of that planning is the development of our programme around association conferences and the supports we offer to them directly, to their PCOs, the conference ambassador and crucially how we can help build legacy from their events.
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Caption: Sam Johnston
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