How Indy is moving forward from the pandemic to a prosperous future.
Going into 2020, few would have forecast a historic pandemic disrupting business on a global scale (OK, maybe Bill Gates). But this year of crisis reminded us that there is no single crisis plan for all situations and organizations must be prepared to adapt to a broad range of unexpected challenges in many different ways — from team culture, to tech tools, to financial planning.
Like all convention and tourism destinations, Indianapolis found its business suddenly and dramatically impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. But the country’s top convention city was prepared to respond nimbly and effectively, with safety and flexibility top of mind. Here, Visit Indy’s President and CEO Leonard Hoops summarizes his group’s top takeaways from a profoundly challenging year.
1. Flex your flexibility.
Businesses must be prepared to adapt to change quickly and without resistance—whether that change is necessitated by an emergency or something else. “Flexibility is a common strength for organizations that have delivered sustained success and the pandemic only elevated its importance,” Hoops says, noting he believes Indy is well positioned to capture meeting business even now by swiftly adapting to the new climate.
“Over the past nine months, the Visit Indy team continued to book future group business, move groups when feasible, work with tourism and hospitality businesses to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on their bottom lines, and serve as a catalyst for new product development and enhanced visitor experience,” he says.
Holding onto old ways of doing business amid change is unsustainable, even if those ways had been successful historically; only flexible organizations will thrive amid chaotic circumstances and whatever “new reality” carries over from those circumstances.
2. The accelerated use of virtual doesn’t mean the end of face-to-face.
Virtual programs continue to provide a very viable alternative to live events in the age of masks and social distancing, particularly if the primary reason for the event is delivering or sharing content. But just as 2020 has helped organizations rapidly adapt to these digital offerings, it has also revealed the deep craving—even necessity—for in-person connection. And Hoops strongly believes live events will not only rebound, but that demand for them will (eventually) be stronger than ever.
“The biggest overreaction to the pandemic has been claims that face-to-face events will never recover,” Hoops says. “And admittedly it can feel that way during the darkest days of event cancellations. But there are fundamental reasons why live, in-person events will always be relevant when it is safe to have those events.”
He explains that most major events exist to deliver one or more of what he calls “the four Cs of citywides”: content (education), connection (networking and relationship building), commerce (such as tradeshow sales), and competition (sports, marching bands, even tabletop gaming).
“Virtual events only deliver one of these anywhere near as well as face-to-face events, and that’s content,” he notes. “But it can’t compete in the long run with in-person events against the other deliverables. So yes, face-to-face meetings and conventions will most definitely, eventually, be back.”
And he believes they could come back stronger than ever as many businesses and organizations permanently shift to more remote work. “For people shifting from what had been a daily office environment to weeks on end of working from home, getting on a plane, checking into a hotel, and walking into a convention center might be the most human connection they might get in a post-pandemic world,” he predicts. “They’ll be volunteering to work a trade show or lobbying to attend a conference with their peers.”
3. Relationships always matter.
When organizations move forward from this year, it will be with the help of all of the industry and community partners that helped support their efforts. Practicing gratitude, and expressing it, helps maintain and foster these essential community ties.
“The Visit Indy team is full of diverse and talented people who share one thing in common: They love Indy and want to contribute to its economic success and quality of life,” Hoops says. “I heard someone note early on that we are not all in the same boat, but rather we’re in different boats in the same storm. It’s important to show appreciation and give thanks to the community that has kept us all afloat.”
In short, Hoops says, “Despite the misery that is 2020, I feel more thankful than ever.”
4. Dream new dreams.
This year was set to be huge for Indy, as the city celebrated its bicentennial and was forecasting a record convention calendar—so the pandemic was an especially tough blow. But “instead of focusing on the losses, our team has been uplifting every win, no matter how small or large, and focusing on the future,” Hoops says. “Learn from the past but don’t stop dreaming about tomorrow.”
And in Indy, there’s plenty of reason for optimism. For example, Conde Nast Traveler and Travel + Leisure named Indy one of the best places to go in 2021, noting the opening of the multi-use Bottleworks District, the expansion of the Cultural Trail public space, and the 105th running of the Indy 500. “With all the pent-up demand for travel, 2021 is a pretty good year to make two global lists of best places to go,” Hoops says.
His final takeaway for all meetings and hospitality industry professionals: “There is light at the end of the tunnel, and for the first time in a long time it’s not an oncoming train. Our industry will prove to be more resilient than many expect and there are better days—much better days—ahead.”
Visit Indy proudly serves as the official destination marketing organization for USA Today’s “#1 Convention City in the U.S.” Learn more at VisitIndy.com.