Toby Kenyon, partner and creative director at Spanish DMC Factor3 Events, gives his take on impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and why respect and sustainability are now at the top of his personal and business agenda…
Is it over? Can I open my eyes, yet?
Countries and families in lockdown, tourism in a coma, companies folding just weeks into the pandemic, national health systems on the brink of collapse, millions of workers on furlough or joining unemployment lines, airlines demanding massive bailouts… the list goes on. We have all been deeply wounded by COVID-19, with DMCs a major casualty.
The emergence of COVID-19 has revealed just how fragile our wellbeing is and how a spanner in the works, however microscopic it may be, can grind the system to a near halt.
In Spain, we were hit relatively early on. Along with Italy, we were publishing daily mortality rates of over 1,000 people before the virus took hold in many other countries. We were Zooming with family, friends and colleagues as early as mid-March.
We all spent the spring at home, entering lockdown in jumpers and emerging a few months later in shorts and flip flops to squint at the sun like timid bears emerging from hibernation. On those occasions when we did venture out during confinement, the roads were completely deserted – the opening scene from a post-apocalyptic movie. However, paradoxically, the air was also fresher than ever, the trees and bushes in full bloom and chattering birds reclaimed the streets.
In Spain, we have now entered the phase known as “the new normal”. Shops, restaurants bars and museums are open, and people are free to meet with friends in small groups. Social distancing is still largely practised and the traditional greeting of two kisses on the cheeks has, for some, been temporarily ousted in favour of the somewhat phlegmatic elbow-touch.
Some of the larger chain hotels are also opening this month while many of the independents and smaller chains are waiting until September to pull up their shutters.
All in all, our daily 8pm applause for medical workers, virtual quizzes and wine-tastings and the frantic cleansing of supermarket items brought into the home seem strangely, long gone. A bit like a bizarre dream.
But some things remain.
Looking back over recent events has made me realise even more just how fragile and interconnected our natural and corporate worlds are. What has become ever clearer to me is that the health of the former is vital for the success of the latter.
My eyes have been opened. And, what do I see?
Well, I see a world that, in order to provide for us, requires balance and respect, not just for the environment but also for society. The brutal killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis was a cruel reminder of the entrenched racism that still exists in the US and beyond. In the wake of his death, the Black Lives Matter movement was quick to respond, reminding us all that inequality is everywhere, running through the veins of our society. The scandals involving Harvey Weinstein and Jeffrey Epstein only serve as further examples to illustrate a horrific misuse of power that still pervades business and relationships the world over.
So, for me, the events of the last few months have been food for thought. I am convinced more than ever that it is time to put respect and sustainability at the top of my personal agenda and at the core of Factor 3 Events ethos. Along with creativity, they will feed into everything we do as a Destination Management Company, both internally and in terms of the services we provide for our clients.
Some of our new goals will be easier to achieve than others. Yes, we can reduce the use of transportation on our programmes; and yes we can recommend locally produced organic food. We can also suggest a portfolio of activities to support local communities and forge alliances with clients and suppliers who share our values. Doubtless, all of this will be a huge step towards creating greater local support networks and reducing our mutual carbon footprint.
In the longer run however, I believe we will need to go further. We will need to redefine the very notion of luxury. As agencies and DMCs it is our job to provide unforgettable and luxuriant experiences for our clients. But, how can we recalibrate our perception of the luxurious: delivering an extraordinary experience while incorporating the values of sustainability and respect?
Can “less” ever be “more”? That is the million dollar question.
Can we imagine a world where the appreciation of simple things becomes the new luxury?
Perhaps we need to rethink the MICE experience to marry fun and enjoyment with a broadening of horizons in more ways than simply expanding collections of giveaways and accumulating consumer experiences.
Of course, it’s horses for courses and we need to meet the requirements of a wide range of clients with different needs but that is where creativity comes into play; finding the right fit without forgetting the importance of sustainability and respect.
In many ways this time has offered me – and other DMCs in my network – the chance to consider our legacy; one which I hope will be more than just an ephemeral experience in a foreign land.