As I pen this reflection of my first year with SAACI, I remain mindful of the impact that COVID-19 has had on all of us personally and professionally. I am eternally grateful to all the frontline workers and their families for the continued sacrifices they make in fighting this virus.

The best part of my first year at the Association, will be remembered for the immediate transformation we, as an Industry, had to go through due to the restrictions and how we all continue to think on our feet. Instantaneously we embraced technology and very soon we found ourselves ZOOM…ing in between meetings, webinars and family gatherings before fatigue set in. Importantly, we remained connected, and that allowed us to help each other through this life changing experience.

At times we needed a moment to pause, look around, appreciate what has happened, and consider what’s next….

Look back to look ahead….

A year ago, words and phrases like “social distancing”, “pivot”, “new normal”, “webinars”, “working remotely” and “COVID-19” were not in any of our thoughts or even spoken about. Are these words and phrases here to stay? And what will our industry look like going forward?

We are still yet to see the full impact of this crisis on the economy, and I know we have a hard road ahead as we move towards the end of the year but I do hope that we continue to help each other and work collaboratively. Many insights and tools have been shared by us, and many industry colleagues to keep some forward movement. The impact of the virus has allowed the Board to reflect and work on improving our member value, and the future of association, as we move into the next stage. Our Association is fortunate enough to have a diversity of representation and knowledge, who have all lived the experience at various levels of the impact of COVID-19.

So, on reflection what lessons, operational changes and practices will we continue to keep after COVID-19?

Safety Comes First. The Events Safety Re-Opening Guidelines is a key planning document that we all need to use when we plan our events. The hosting and delivery of the hybrid 5-city SAACI “Proof of Concept” event held in July 2020 demonstrated that we can meet safely. Each stage of the meeting and travel journey was accounted for, from ground transport to visits at conference venues and hotels.

We understand that not all organizations are in a position to host in-person meetings at this time. Our aim was to provide members with information and options, particularly those who do essential business and are in a position to continue operations through the pandemic.

Advocate and Lobby. Let’s not take our foot off the pedal just yet. Having worked to get the permission to re-open and operate since June 2020, we continue to lobby and advocate on behalf of members and the Business Events Industry. We are currently in discussions with Stakeholders at various levels of Government and Industry to request an amendment on the guidelines for capacity restrictions. We believe an amendment to allow for the use of 50% floor space capacity, as opposed to 50 pax per venue will stimulate more activity. Working towards and with Government is an aspect of our advocacy that will be with us for a while and the relationships built during the lockdown period will continue to strengthen.

Agility. This crisis has highlighted the ability for our Association to be agile, adapt to innovative, and quick decision making and execution. We have been forced to make decisions quicker than we are used to, and the Board has stepped up during this time to enable us to respond to our members and their needs. This has been achieved through our weekly Board meetings. Our branch AGM’s too, took place virtually with new Branch Chairpersons and Committees being elected.

Our webinars focused and will continue to focus on assisting members; while the industry wide webinars have presented me with the opportunity to share the Associations’ work and our learnings during this period. We have lived the move from webinars, to virtual events to hybrid events. We hope in the coming months, as confidence builds with demand, we will see the return to in-person business events.

Continued Industry Collaboration. It is more important than ever to be collaborating with other associations and leaders as we move into the next stage. SAACI’s instrumental role in the formation of the SA Events Council should not be underplayed and if any good came out of COVID-19, this surely should be a watershed moment for the industry in Southern Africa.

Collaboration with Corporate Leaders is Evolving. Our engagement has indicated that meetings and travel policies are being shaped directly by the C-suite, with input from a growing cohort of safety, security and wellness experts. Partnership between the meetings and travel industry and other influential business sectors has never been more apparent or essential. We encourage members to work across industries and align on processes, protocols and policies that will be creating a safe meeting and travel experience for all.

This week’s PCO Alliance event is evident that the conversations have started. As SAACI, we will be sharing some plans on how we aim to continue this work on behalf of members, to build demand in a responsible manner.

A huge thank you to the SAACI Board for allowing me to lead the Association this past year, and finally an enormous amount of gratitude to all our members that have worked with us, engaged with us, and have continued to support us during this period.

To our partners, stakeholders, and greater industry community – we look forward to pursuing the work we are doing with you, to bring information and knowledge to our industry.

Stay SAFE,
Glenton de Kock

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