For Marco Oelschlegel, head of the Berlin Convention Office (BCO) of visitBerlin, personal encounters are the heart of the event sector. In this interview, he discusses the importance of communication and safety in the times of Covid-19.
Since January 2020, Marco Oelschlegel has been the head of the Berlin Convention Office (BCO) of visitBerlin. In this interview, he considers Berlin’s current situation and meaningful strategies to support the MICE sector, and looks at ways to continue making personal encounters possible.
Under #RestartBerlin event planners find all information about the current regulations and a safe event management during the Corona pandemic.
How would you describe Berlin’s event sector at present?
Marco Oelschlegel: Many people are saying the MICE sector was first to be hit, first to close down, and will be the last to emerge from the crisis again – and that’s because so many aspects of the crisis impact our sector in particular. Before the corona pandemic, our credo was simple – meet up personally, exchange views, eat and celebrate together. But all those things could now represent a risk.
Even before Corona - Maro Oelschlegel at the 3rd Berlin Mice Summit in January 2020
How are event planners and partners reacting?
The MICE sector is shaken and uncertain how to move forward, a response also significantly influenced by psychological aspects. From participants to event organisers and trade fair exhibitors, many people are alarmed and apprehensive. That’s what we find most worrying. After all, it is precisely this fear which is our biggest enemy – both in the short-term and long-term.
So which strategy is the most appropriate now?
We have to respond to this situation by communicating transparently in detail what we, as the city of Berlin, the sector, and the visitBerlin Berlin Convention Office, are already doing.
Since the MICE sector still lacks a lobbying body such as the DEHOGA for hotel and catering, our first priority has been to disseminate information and to act as an intermediary between the event sector and the city authorities. In this first step, it was crucial to communicate widely – not just to make Berlin’s complex administrative regulations transparent, but also to convey information about the sector’s needs, difficulties, and hardships. This approach ensured the Senate authorities could take that information into account in developing specific measures and programmes.
No one can say ‘we are safe’, but we can say ‘we are doing everything to ensure your safety’!
What concrete measures could help the sector?
At the moment, the most important thing is to establish a feeling of security so that, despite corona, event organisers and guests feel well looked after in Berlin. Here, the legal and conceptual frameworks are a key factor – for example, the Guidelines for hygiene planning and the federal state of Berlin’s Infection Protection Ordinance. These detail the rules and regulations for this situation. Our task is then to communicate these legal provisions in clear and comprehensible terms so everyone can see quite clearly just how well positioned Berlin is – that’s the way forward.
Providing financial support for the sector is another crucial measure. With event organisers facing even tighter budgets, we have worked with the city of Berlin to develop various programs and support measures to help everyone who brings an event to the city. We have also designed a special funding in future for sustainable events attaining a set point score on a Sustainable Event Score Card.
Talking of ‘sustainability’, what opportunities could this crisis offer the sector in the long term?
In the long term, Covid-19 may actually prove to be a driver to more sustainable approaches. Moreover, we can already see how hybrid events or decentralised congress formats are not only the order of the day now, but also offer a chance for the future.
With hybrid events, organisers can react flexibly and, depending on the situation, bring together a larger or smaller number of guests in person or via digital channels. When it works properly, a hybrid congress can reach people around the world and be leveraged to attract participants to the next live format.
In that same spirit, we are now developing a prototype for decentralised meetings or congresses – an opportunity we can also use for major events after the crisis. One thing is for certain – we want to help in the short term, but we also have to think ahead. Together with the Senate authorities, we have to offer programmes enabling the sector to emerge from the crisis stronger in the long run.
Next online event of the Berlin Convention Office
On 04 November 2020 the Berlin Convention Office of visitBerlin will host the next online event. #BerlinReopens & Best Practices: further information and registration can be found here.
Not an easy task...
The challenge is to communicate quickly and effectively. Since we are presently having to cover many new information streams, the MICE sector needs a flexible, situation-related approach. No one can say ‘we are safe’, but we can say ‘we are doing everything to ensure your safety’!
Is there a feeling of solidarity in the sector?
There are two tendencies we can identify. On the one hand, many MICE businesses fear for their existence. They are worried about whether they can survive at all and their focus is on saving themselves. On the other hand, many also have the feeling that we are all in this together. Everyone is suffering equally – no one is more successful than the others. That feeling creates a bond, evident in initiatives such as #AlarmstufeRot, which brings together participants from across the entire event industry.
What is your personal view and prognosis?
We believe it is crucial for people to meet in person – after all, that’s why we are called the Berlin Convention Office. Every meeting, every event, congress, and convention have many positives for the city of Berlin, something impossible to replicate digitally. For all of us, the last months have strongly underlined just how much we are people who want to meet and exchange views on a personal level. Getting to know someone via online platforms is no substitute for a face-to-face meeting. That’s an important insight, and it is also central to us and this sector. We believe in the power and magic of personal encounters – and that’s what we are fighting for.
Planning safe events in Berlin – our tips:
The Hygiene Framework Concept, drafted by the visitBerlin Convention Partner and visitBerlin and agreed with the Berlin authorities, provides guidelines for safe events during the corona pandemic.
FAQs: Can I provide catering for those attending? Do the personnel have to wear a face mask? Under /#RestartBerlin you can find answers to the most pressing questions for planning and realising events during the corona pandemic.
Berlin Meeting Guide: With this digital planning tool, event organisers can plan tomorrow’s events today – just browse online to find your perfect locations, service providers, incentives and speakers.
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