Instant, on-demand, nearby and hygienic – Joonas Ahola, founder and CEO of MeetingPackage, outlines the new best practice for your future meetings
Perhaps you’ve forgotten what it’s like to meet someone in real life. To create a connection, brainstorm ideas, really listen. Not to have to worry about how you look through your webcam, if your nod seems genuine, and if they can tell I’m on my email in another tab. “Zoom fatigue” is taking its toll and many are feeling they are missing simple, real life, face-to-face connections.
“Digitization in meetings is important”, suggests Joonas Ahola, founder and CEO of MeetingPackage – and one of Forbes’ 30 under 30 in Europe Retail and Ecommerce, who discussed digitization and the future of meetings, specifically from the perspective of those who run them.”
“Right now, more than ever, we see the value of digitalization, automating the booking process, the check-in, packaging that all into one digital experience. The more we digitalize, the venue has more time and space to focus on customer service and the actual meeting.”
MeetingPackages is a Finland-based company offering a centralized API solution that connects to customer-facing platforms. It allows them to instantly book meeting rooms and related services online. “I try to ask myself – will this be here in the next 5 years, and if not what can we do to allow this to transform?”
How will the crisis transform the type of meetings we have?
“Some areas in the hotel and hospitality industries are still in the stone age. There are so many areas that are half-digitized, half-automated, that don’t think about the customer journey from the customer’s perspective but rather from the supplier’s perspective. The biggest trouble with hotels and venues that are not 100% online is that they have no one replying to emails because their staff is laid off; they can’t even take bookings for January 2021 because they have no digital channel to allow that. And even when getting back, they won’t be able to keep up with the demand. Right now we see that everything that is e-commerce based or digitalized is only growing.”
What is the role of digitization in surviving this crisis?
“If our assumption is correct, and people will be meeting on an ad hoc, on-demand basis, the offers will need to keep up with this. If someone decides ‘I’m going to have a face-to-face meeting with a client in New York tomorrow’, they are not going to wait 24-48 hours for a venue to reply. The ones who are not ready to offer a completely digitized booking process will suffer the most. The biggest value will be coming from the venues and services who can offer availability, transparency, simplicity, and of course cleanliness on an on-demand basis. We are using this time to lower the digital barriers at MeetingPackage so that anyone can enjoy this technology before deciding to take that step forward and create a seamless user experience for the venues and suppliers as well.”
Considering all of this digitization, what is the importance of the human touch?
“Hospitality has always been focused around human interaction, that’s why I do still believe that face-to-face interactions will play an important role in the future and even more so in terms of the quality and the way meetings are handled. If you have a 5-star hotel but your customer experience is not there, the staff is not smiling, people don’t feel welcome, it means nothing. From booking, getting onsite, catering, what matters is what kind of experience you get, the human touch is what will make the difference.”
How will this affect large conferences and events?
“Large conferences will suffer, and the event industry needs to adapt. We are seeing more products for events that are mostly virtual. They have all of the elements: an auditorium, lecture rooms, face-to-face meetings. The problem is, most of the time, people don’t go to events for content, it’s more about people and networking. This also changes the challenges and preparation for event organizers. The emergency protocol is now not about a fire, but if a customer doesn’t hear me or the technology is down. On the bright side, if an event is fully digital you can follow the customer experience and customer journey much better.”
What about business travel?
“The domestic market will increase significantly. People will be traveling within their country, trying to find new locations, and this is good news for local tourism. I believe the same will apply on a corporate level. In addition people will look for ways to a hybrid model that will combine the virtual side of business with local face-to-face gatherings. For example a Company such as Nokia could have an offsite in Helsinki for 20 people, another offsite in China, and another offsite somewhere in Europe at the same time. So the event will be for 60 people, but instead of 60 people traveling to one location they will do it with both a virtual and face-to-face model. A lot of the meeting spaces will need to start coping with virtual demands, having great speakers and video conferencing facilities.”
Do you think small meetings will stay online even after the crisis?
“From an industry perspective, I don’t think the demand for small meeting rooms will decrease. I think it actually will increase, and we’ll have more small meetings for remote teams, or a few small meetings instead of one large one using the hybrid model. What used to be one large meeting in one location will now be three smaller meetings, in three different places. So three locations will get the benefit of this client for one single event. I do believe the hybrid model is here to stay.”
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