I’m a 90’s kid, a fully-fledged millennial, but those words from the Fresh Prince of Bel Air never felt so meaningful as they currently do, living through 2020.
In late December 2019 we had all heard the word Coronavirus, but it was stuck in China and no-one here felt it would affect us. I started at Focus on the 13th January, employed to run the events calendar and to get stuck into lots of other ideas that this young but powerful company were planning. I had worked with Focus on their events previously, so I was luckily enough to already know the Focus TMC partners and preferred suppliers, as well as the team that I was joining. There wasn’t an awkward ‘get to know you’ stage and I felt part of the Focus family before I had even joined.
I was dropped right into the deep end with Focus, and I loved it. Straight away I had to find a venue for our March Focus Leaders Lunch, something classy, stylish and fitting. We found a venue, signed the contract and we immediately started planning some amazing content. Adrian Parkes, our Chairman, was to be welcomed to the Partnership for the first time and speak of the new future of Focus. I met with suppliers and planned those little touches which make each event memorable.
The Focus Champions Conference is our biggest event and takes place annually in June. Luckily, before I had joined Focus there were already a few options being held at venues, so within the first few weeks I made sure that I had visited most of them. If you’ve ever planned an event, you will know the importance of recce trips – the ideas start flowing and you actually visualise your sessions coming to life. I was 110% sure that this event would take place and we would be able to pull it off to be bigger and better than any previous Champions Conference.
The Business Travel Show was held in late February and whilst we sanitised our hands more often than we would normally do, we brushed it off with the thoughts; ‘it’s not as bad as the seasonal flu’, ‘if anything, it won’t affect us for a couple of months’ and ‘we’ll be back to normal by June’.
The Focus Leaders Lunch was scheduled to take place on the 18th March, and right up until one week before, I was adamant it would go ahead. These are travel people and I felt that they would still want to travel … and then the cancellations started being received – the ‘we’ve changed our travel policy’ reasons were rolling in and we sadly did have to cancel the event. I can tell you now that it would have been one amazing event, and I do hope that one day, we can deliver it to you.
I felt scared, I had been employed to run events and suddenly they were being cancelled before my eyes and the thought ‘last one in, first one out’ crossed my mind several times, and in the process of becoming a first time home buyer, it’s safe to say there were quite a few sleepless nights. However, I don’t give up! We changed our priorities and helped our TMCs with their daily struggle. We would answer question after question, look and ask for answers wherever we could as the bookings stopped, and the cancellations rolled in thick and fast.
We immediately set up an online communications platform. The Focus central team are all homeworkers anyway, so we already utilised the likes of Zoom for our team calls etc, but now we were bringing that to our partners, looking for the tiniest signs of happiness in one of the darkest hours of travel. Oh, how an unusual Zoom background would cheer us up!
We brought our partners together virtually and have never looked back. The number of attendees on our weekly calls continued to climb, and it allowed our partners to come to a safe and reassuring place to listen, learn and share information. This was a place where they could hear the highs, lows, triumphs and frustrations of other TMCs, and know they weren’t alone.
I was soon given the task of moderating this weekly call and I was petrified. As an event planner you are all about ‘behind the scenes’, you aren’t the face of the event, you might go on stage to check the AV is working or move the lectern but you rarely speak. But I did it and after a few weeks, my confidence grew, and I know that is down to our wonderful TMC partners. They own this partnership and want both it and everyone involved in it to succeed. We have had technical problems of course, and my answer to that is always ‘this wouldn’t happen if we were face to face’.
As we move out of this crisis and the travel industry recovers from one mighty hangover, we will see changes. There will be more awareness of course, but I also believe we will value that personal interaction which we took for-granted before. I cannot wait to see my colleagues, our TMC partners and suppliers as well as meet those who we have formed great relationships with over this time.
One thing I want to add is a thank you to the amazing central team at Focus. Focus has a magical power of hiring people who have a common goal, who want to help, support, and never give up. Abby, our CEO, has been an amazing support to me, she doesn’t hide anything, everything is on the table and she has reassured us all time and time again. She has kept us updated throughout and ensures our priorities are right all along the way.
So, I don’t know about you, but things are looking up for me! I passed my 6-months’ probation this week, without running one physical event for Focus! I am moving into my first ever owned property next week (sadly not in Bel Air), and the week after I turn 30 – a hat-trick of achievements for me personally.
I plan to have a long and meaningful career with Focus but 2020 is certainly a year I will never forget.