Kelly Gallagher, partner and director or marketing for Canvas Meetings & Incentives

Knowledge-Sharing: How One Company Teamed Up With Competitors to Survive COVID

Meeting Spotlight recently spoke with Kelly Gallagher, partner and director or marketing for Canvas Meetings & Incentives. She told us that her conference and incentive-planning company started a tour and travel division in 2020 and even teamed up with competitors to make sure everyone made it through the pandemic. Here's what she had to say:

How has your segment of the industry changed over the last year?  

Canvas has made a lot of changes in the last year!  While we’ve been working with similar clients, we’ve really expanded our offerings to those clients.  Not only are we producing full-scale virtual conferences, but we are also now a promotional products distributor.  We can order swag, pack attendee gift boxes and get them all shipped out.  

Another huge change? We’ve started a tour and travel division of Canvas that works with both individuals looking to travel with others, and existing social groups that are looking for high end, curated group travel for their members.  It’s been quite the ride, but we’ve found so much success in these new avenues!   

Of the strategies you developed last year to adjust to the crisis brought on by COVID-19, which ones were the most successful?  

I think the top strategy that we implemented right away was to pair up with several of our competitors to knowledge-share.  As a team, we learned every aspect of virtual events, which allowed us to all present comprehensive solutions to our clients so much quicker than had we been doing it just on our own.  We all worked together to survive COVID, and we could not be more thankful to have each other.  In fact—we’ve decided to continue our unique “think tank” going indefinitely!

What are some new trends in the industry that you think will have staying power in 2021 and beyond?    

I think the ability to connect people virtually has been such a wonderful solution for our industry in the short-term, but we really are seeing our clients want to get back to live events as soon as they can safely.  What I see having staying power is the ability to supplement live events with a virtual component—whether that be in a hybrid solution or, perhaps, an added virtual only event for those that don’t have access to travel.    

What are some ways technology has been helping you through this crisis?  

While I know we are all Zoom-fatigued, I also can’t imagine how this last year would have been without it. I am now doing Zoom calls with clients that I used to only see once a year at their events. I love the ability to get that level of socialization on a daily basis with people who, before, may have been only emailing me occasionally.  And, of course, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that the tech is the reason we are surviving the crisis as a company.  All the virtual platforms have allowed us to provide conference and event solutions to our clients, when getting together in person halted so severely.    

Given the impact of COVID-19 on the MICE industry, which regions of the world do you think will be ready to host meetings in the last quarter of 2021 and first quarter of 2022?  

From what we are seeing now, we are getting the most activity in the U.S., Mexico and Caribbean for the latter half of 2021. I think that each region of the world will primarily see their own region’s demand for the next year.  While we hope that we’ll be able to get back to planning events in any country in 2022, right now we are in a wait and see mode.    

What is the most valuable thing you learned in 2020 and how will you apply it to your business moving forward?                   

The most valuable thing I learned in 2020 really has to be to never take anything for granted. I don’t think anyone has ever seen something so extreme happen to our industry, so there was no playbook for how to get through it as a business that relies on people traveling. I truly believe that we are now prepared to actually know that it’s okay if we aren’t prepared.  There are so many people in our corner that will do anything to help us, and I couldn’t be more thankful for this industry and the relationships that have allowed us to still be standing today.   

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