In the period when tourism industry stopped, I began to talk more about its back side with professionals. I am an amateur, so I devote a lot of time to learning and to exploring. Perhaps now it is the first time you will learn about the existence of such a segment of tourism as MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions) - business tourism. And if you work in tourism, you will be interested to know what is happening in The Netherlands. Agnum Event is one of the leaders among MICE companies working in the Benelux countries with Ukrainian, Russian and Belarusian companies. And the founder and CEO of this event agency - Tata Pomuran - is my personal inspiration both in life and in work.
It is obvious that the tourism industry in general and MICE segment in particular have felt the consequences of quarantine measures around the world the most. Do you look into the future positively or with fear?
Before moving on to the topic of business, I would love to mention that we really miss our groups, our client - agencies. Both me and the entire team of Agnum Event love drive so much, the usual crazy rhythm, possible only "in the fields", when we have guests, that we truly lack this feeling of creating a holiday for people, sometimes making the impossible possible, and getting happy smiles after. This exchange of energies turned out to be at the top of the pyramid. Some clients have come so often that they became so dear to us, if this word can be applied to business relations.
The world is expected to experience an economic downturn caused by the consequences of the epidemic. Do you have your personal forecasts for the industry?
When discussing the future among colleagues, we give good forecasts. After all, nothing fills you more than emotions that traveling and new discoveries give, and this taste of freedom will be so important for each of us after forced isolation. See for yourself: it has turned out that an expensive bag or a car cannot make people happy if they cannot leave their homes. Suddenly, simple human joys took center stage, and nothing can replace the happiness from an opportunity to fly to the other end of the world and drink a glass of white wine in a pleasant company overlooking flower fields.
What is the situation in the tourism market in the Netherlands?
I think it differs little from the "average temperature in the ward." Hotels in the country closed already in early March. Some of them were temporarily converted into hospitals, while the most persistent ones are offering to locals a package “Hotel room for work instead of an office” because not everyone can work comfortably in an apartment with several children. Boat companies, guides and, in general, all services related to tourism also stopped working. Many cafes and restaurants have closed, but some continued to do take away and home deliveries.
It is important to understand that no one gives the exact dates of the resumption of work of all these companies due to the unpredictability of the situation - we are all in limbo. However, partners are now responding to our work letters much quicker than usual. Postcards from contractors with touching supportive handwritten texts come to my Agnum Event office and my home address. I sincerely want to wish colleagues in other countries the same solidarity in difficult times that I feel here in the Netherlands.
Did you have any difficulties in communicating with contractors when it became clear that the groups would not come?
Dutch people are very humane and value regular customers, so all our partners are meeting us halfway. Large events were not cancelled, but rescheduled, and hotels are willing to change dates of the reservations even for a year in advance. We had reservations prepaid up to 75% at 4 * and 5 * hotels – all of them offered a change of dates instead of a return of only 20-50% stipulated by cancellation policies. Of course, if the group wants to completely cancel the tour, the last option is available.
I cannot but mention a sad moment: unfortunately, a wave of reductions took place in the country, what significantly affected tourism segment. Managers of companies with whom we had excellent working relationships are sending farewell letters. This means that after quarantine, intensive work on renewing existing communications and establishing new relations is awaiting us. Even a market giant such as KLM has terminated temporary contracts with nearly 2,000 employees.
How did customers react to the situation?
When speaking of customers, I am full of optimism. We had confirmed tours until September, and they were not cancelled - they were postponed to later dates. We had 17 tour requests during football matches within the Champions League, four of them confirmed. Those will come next year. It seems we all see the situation as a science fiction movie that will end someday. Clients, like me, are waiting for the final credits, after which we will leave the cinema and plunge into the whirlwind of familiar life.
How is quarantine going in the Netherlands? What is going on in the country?
In the Netherlands, the quarantine regime is milder than for many neighbours. We have closed bars, restaurants, cafes, hairdressers, gyms, cinemas, educational institutions and casinos, all events have been cancelled, many people work from home. But we are lucky - we can go out, to the parks, enjoy the fresh air and nature. Masks and gloves are not necessary, so only a rare resident of Amsterdam wears them, but the distance between people is strictly controlled: in a number of chain supermarkets, customers are given large trolleys that help keep 1.5 meters in queues and police cars drive along the streets and parks.
The weather spoils us with a piercing blue sky and bright sun, so the locals, being natural aesthetes, take beautiful glasses and drink wine even near the playgrounds while their kids are playing. Sometimes my observations seem a little surreal. How about a birthday for example, where guests stand at a great distance from the celebrator’s front door, and gifts are placed in turn at his doorstep? I experienced a whole range of emotions, witnessing this scene.
The love of Dutch people for volunteering reveal itself in these difficult times especially vividly: they help sick and low-income people, united in groups share things in house chats and come up with flash mobs. My favourite is teddy bears in the windows of apartments which passing children can look at. Very touching! Everyone is optimistic, smiling, not panicking, and waiting for the end of quarantine. It is important that the state also does not leave us alone in troubles, but financially supports entrepreneurs whose business has suffered from quarantine.
Agnum Event is also waiting for quarantine end on pause?
Personally, I, as an entrepreneur and manager, wanted to use this time for a little respite, but there is a lot of work. We use quarantine as a time for great changes and opportunities: we develop new programs, actively maintain a page on Facebook, where we publish a lot of useful information, news and interviews, shoot beautiful videos, maintaining the fighting spirit and mood of our partners and clients. Due to the lack of strict quarantine, I can move around the country by car: every weekend - a check-tour of new destinations and places. It is very filling and inspiring! When the borders are open, Agnum Event will have a lot of surprises.
Entrepreneurs are still considering the summer season with caution - most of the large events cancelled in the spring, have been rescheduled for the fall. Therefore, I feel that September and October will be for MICE industry as “hot” as ever!
Your answers are very positive! Do you manage to share this attitude with your team? How do you motivate employees during this difficult time?
I am often asked this question, and I really had to look hard for my way. I think I found a great solution! Firstly, many members of our team develop and improve their skills, taking advantage of this pause. Someone became interested in production and is learning how to edit videos for our social networks, someone is studying graphic design. Why hire freelancers for this job if you can pay your own people for it? Secondly, if your team members work as project managers, and all projects are temporarily frozen, the lack of income can be compensated by tuition. So, I paid for one of my employees French courses, which she had long dreamed of, since the main region of her work is the Francophone Flanders. Win-win!
Name 3 places you will go after the quarantine ends?
I’m definitely going to a party at A'DAM Toren, to a noisy picnic in the park with friends and to my office, which I miss!