Tourism Businesses and Organizations Connecting Online: Lessons on Better Learning and Networking
At TrainingAid, e-learning and online courses have been a key part of our business since day one. As such, when the pandemic forced everyone to switch from face-to-face meetings to Zoom calls (or from in-person gatherings to virtual events), the transition has not been as painful as it could otherwise have been.
Nevertheless, 2020 was a year of learning for us too, and we continue to find inspiration from many other online learning and networking programs, as well as from our own.
Here are some key takeaways we'd like to share. Whether you are an event planner, business leader, or destination manager, we hope you will find some relevant lessons for your own work.
The Most Important Question
Whether you’re offering a free educational webinar or organizing an online conference, make sure that you've first asked yourself, and really spent time understanding, WHY you are doing what you’re doing.
Why are you gathering? Why is it important for your participants to learn about or discuss the particular issues and topics you’re covering?
Often, organizers tend to spend more time and energy on the "how" (e.g. which app is used, which platform the session is broadcast) and not enough on the "why". Before you consider specifics on the technology to be used, be sure to have a clear understanding of your purpose, which should guide your answers on other questions like when, how, and who.
What Do You Want to Achieve?
As a result of having your online course, seminar, or event, what are the outcomes you envision, and what impacts do you hope to achieve? What change do you hope to see as a result of your event?
And define those goals and objectives in terms of the benefits to be gained by your participants, so that you’re not just checking off items from your to-do list, but actually creating value in a meaningful way.
It's not just major events and high-level conferences that need clearly defined objectives. Even for low-stakes gatherings that may seem "not important enough" to set such expectations for, it's helpful to know what you aim to achieve as a result, so you are not just gathering for the sake or gathering. That way, you are also respecting the time of everyone involved, and avoiding contributing to their "Zoom fatigue".
Will It Stick?
As the famous saying goes, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn." The experience you’re offering needs to be engaging, so your participants will be able to actually remember what you’re sharing, and to gain useful knowledge. Review your content from the participants’ perspective, and think about ways to involve them in the process of achieving your gathering's collective purpose.
By involving your participants and helping them become an active contributors, rather than passive observers, you can make sure that the key outcomes of your meetings and events will better "stick".
This may mean, depending on your audience and the type of your gathering, sending personal messages to participants before and after the event to help frame their experience around the key purpose you set out to achieve; or creating a safe space within your gathering for participants to share their views openly and honestly; or focusing on facilitating conversasions among the participants rather than on one-way presentation of information given to them; or, all of the above.
It’s (Still and Always) about People
Participating in a meeting or any kind of learning experience online is fundamentally different from connecting with others face-to-face.
So much of what makes learning memorable is thanks to human connection - whether that be interactions with a presenter, small group discussions, or small talks during coffee breaks. And just because your event is virtual, or your meeting via Zoom, does not mean that this human connection aspect should be neglected.
Be sure to incorporate opportunities for your participants to network, exchange ideas, and learn together with and from each other.
Learn from Other Examples
Although we all miss being able to safely meet with our friends and colleagues in-person, one good thing about the pandemic forcing us to get used to socially distanced gatherings is that we have more flexible and accessible options to be part of events, festivals, meetings, conferences, courses and everything else that now takes place online.
Whenever possible, take advantage of the opportunities you have to be part of educational programs, networking events, and social gatherings, and learn from good examples of what others are doing to effectively engage their audiences and to bring people together (even if it's just virtually for now) for common goals.
Below are some good ideas and useful examples, based on various online events and gatherings held recently:
- "Indigenous Tourism Forum of the Americas" by The George Washington University (October 2020) gave participants the opportunity to contribute to a key goal of achieving Indigenous representation, by providing a scholarship (for each paid registration, the forum sponsored the attendance of one Indigenous person to be nominated by the participant).
- "It's Time - A Festival of Climate Action" by Ecologi (November 2020) made the WHY of this virtual two-day event cristal clear, stating "COP26 is postponed but the climate crisis will not wait", and bringing change-makers and innovators from various fields (including many tourism industry leaders) togethers to discuss solutions and actions.
- "TOTA Virtual Summit" by the Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association (November 2020), in addition to inspiring talks and panel sessions on how to make tourism more sustainable, regenerative and resilient, focused on supporting the health of those working in tourism, so that tourism recovery (when the world can travel safely again) can be led by healthy and happy people.
- "Inspiring Sustainable Tourism", a virtual one-day conference by Sustainable Travel Ireland (January 2021) kicked off their event with a humorous talk by an "award-winning broadcaster, author and comedian with a strong passion for the environment."