‘Everything stopped’, how Congress Rental rebounded from the Covid-19 crisis

CIM spoke with Congress Rental Australia managing director Jeremy Ducklin about the impact of Covid-19 on the business and what steps they took to manage the crisis.

How quick was the drop in business when the shutdown began? Off a cliff. Our March figures don’t look too bad, but this was really the invoicing for events in late Feb and early March. The reality was that everything stopped. April and May figures are close to zero. Thank goodness for the cash flow boost and JobKeeper.

At what point did you see an opportunity for Remote Simultaneous Interpretation (RSI)? We have been promoting RSI for about 2.5 years, as it was an opportunity to save money on Interpreter travels costs and particularly useful for remote locations. There are no conference interpreters in Darwin and only a few in Perth, so for any event they needed to be flown in and accommodated for the event. The problem was that few people wanted to hear the story.

When Covid-19 hit there was the almost immediate cancellation of all events through to June. This was followed by a complete silence from the events industry (and pretty much everybody else). Almost like everybody went into shock, went home and battened down the hatches.

We then decided to run a webinar for interpreters who might want to use our RSI platform. This was a huge success, suddenly everybody was interested to find out what it could do for them and their clients.

This was followed by a second webinar that covered many of the questions raised in the first webinar and the third webinar involved using the platform and providing interpretation for nine languages. This led to lots of enquiries and a significant increase in interest for the platform as well as many confirmed jobs.

What did the interest in RSI show you about the current state of events globally? People are still nervous about large-scale events. No one seems to have a clear idea when they might come back. So we are seeing a lot of planning for virtual events through to the end of the year. But gradually we are also seeing a small increase (from zero) of interest, enquiries and quotes for hardware to support onsite events from September onwards.

Many conferences decided early on to keep things virtual for all of 2020 – do you think that mindset will remain into 2021?  Some events will remain virtual, especially when the meetings are short and the cost to attend are high. People now, will ask the question, do we need to meet or can we do it virtually? There is an overriding desire of people to attend meetings. The statistics show that only part of the reason people attend an event is the content, other really important factors are networking, the location/venue, to meet people, to share your own ideas and give feedback.

How did you find an opportunity for thermal imaging cameras? I have a colleague in the same business as ours, also in a slump due to Covid-19 who was asked by Rotary International to source thermal imaging cameras for Rotary to gift to hospitals in Croatia.

They did they investigation of all of the cameras in the marketplace and sourced 20 for Rotary, they also purchased 10 for renting to event planners.

There is a wide variety of thermal imaging cameras some of which just don’t work, the key element to a good solution is a ‘black body’ – this is a fixed temperature source that is compared with the person passing and in our case delivers accuracy of +- 0.3 degrees C.

The other compelling feature of the camera that our partners sourced was that it can support the measurement of 30 people per second.

Our partner shared his knowledge which gave us a quick start, knowing that we had an excellent solution and that we would not be making an expensive mistake.

How important is it for planners to reassure delegates about safety in a Covid-19 environment? I think it’s very important planners do everything to reassure delegates. This is just one tool of many that event planners will need to implement to convince people that their event is safe to attend.

How long do you think venues will be using this type of technology – will it be permanent? I’m not clear if the responsibility for this type of technology will be with the responsibility of the event planner or the venue for their event with the venue. In corporate offices we are seeing landlords and building managers stepping back and not taking this on, leaving it to corporate tenants to install for the safety and security of their staff.

We have invested in these cameras for the Singapore market as well, and their market is much more mature, with cameras situated at every gate in Changi, left over from the SARS crisis 2003 and very quickly implemented in many shopping centres during this crisis. So there is much more awareness of the usefulness of these solutions.

I think this technology will be useful in the short term, but once people feel that Covid-19 is passed they will not continue to use it, but it will be useful to have the infrastructure available, since experts believe that outbreaks like this are more likely in the future.