The region’s appeal stems both from its unique location at the point where Switzerland, France and Germany all meet – with direct access to all major transport routes and the world’s oceans – and from its long tradition as a science and research centre. This is doubtless one reason why so many life sciences companies have settled in the area, the best-known being the two pharmaceutical companies, Novartis and Roche, which are headquartered here. Their presence has generated a veritable boom in business tourism over the past few decades.
Of the 1,423,486 overnight hotel stays registered in 2019, an estimated 65% were for business. And the many meetings and trade fairs staged in Basel during a normal year also add to the count. With venues like the Congress Center Basel and Messe Basel, the city is able to host major international congresses with more than 5,000 participants, including the European Aids Conference EACS and the OSCE Ministerial Council.
How is such a pivotal destination handling the current situation? We looked into this question with three insiders. As Director of Basel Tourism and the Convention Bureau Basel and President of Switzerland Convention & Incentives Bureau SCIB, Daniel Egloff has dealt extensively with the impact of the corona pandemic. Silvia Decker, Director Business Development & Marketing at the Congress Center Basel, has similarly seen major changes in her day-to-day work over the past few months. And we also spoke with Christian-Claus Roth, Co-President of the International Pharmaceutical Congress Advisory Association IPCAA. He lives in Basel and is in constant contact with representatives of companies and organisations that stage conferences.
After a relatively relaxed summer, case numbers are rising again throughout Europe. What does this mean for you and your customers?
Daniel Egloff: Since none of us know how long travel restrictions and limits on participant numbers will last, uncertainty in planning is the biggest problem for conference organizers. In Basel, we are compensating for this with our partners by minimizing or neutralizing the extra space requirements, the cancellation and rebooking conditions and the additional costs for protective measures.
Silvia Decker: Most of our customers have mastered a steep learning curve in adapting to the new situation, and the entire industry is undergoing a phase of creative discovery and development.
International travel has been vital for the city and the companies based here. How is teamwork functioning with people working from home and Zoom meetings?
Christian-Claus Roth: The current development is certainly positive viewed over the short term. I was amazed at how flexibly people reacted and how well everything is working out. But, over the long term, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to maintain the team spirit. I think that the solution in future will be a mixture of the two forms – home-based and office working.
How do you rate the opportunities offered by virtual congresses? Are they a viable alternative to analog meetings?
Christian-Claus Roth: Basically, it’s the same as for working from home – while many things work well digitally, the human component is lacking. Physical meetings will remain important in future because humans are social beings who need contact. Live conferences will most likely take on a new significance, necessitating higher-quality content and emotions. Technology can connect up those who cannot attend in person, and this also helps solve other social problems, including the reconciliation of work and family life.
Daniel Egloff: The event industry was poised for tremendous change prior to corona, due to sustainability issues and digital developments. While the current situation has accelerated this change, I feel that we are still only at the outset. The future will also bring enormous growth in interactivity and the transfer of emotions via digital channels. I don’t think that virtual formats will fully replace live events, however. After all, the theatre didn’t entirely disappear when television was invented.
What is set to remain of hybrid and virtual event formats in future?
Christian-Claus Roth: Once we have the pandemic under control, I think that hybrid formats will become established. Technology can provide certain types of learning content with a greater reach. We won’t want to dispense with this in future, and will combine it with on-site conferences.
Silvia Decker: Content on demand will certainly be retained, since this makes for more relaxed networking. People can spontaneously decide to continue their conversations and catch up on the conference session they have missed in their hotel room afterwards.
What do you think business tourism will look like in future?
Daniel Egloff: We must be realistic. We won’t achieve the record figures of 2019 again so quickly, because people will travel less. But our region’s overall economic development also plays a role. If new companies arrive or existing ones expand, this can generate a clear boost.
Silvia Decker: Greater emphasis will be needed on networking and interaction in the congress business. The live component will become a multi-layered experience. This is a major opportunity for a destination like Basel with so much to offer.
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