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Rapid ‘antigen’ testing key to Vienna’s hybrid success

Viennese tourism chiefs have made the shift from virtual to hybrid with a meeting format they are calling ‘the new normal’.

The Vienna Tourist Board has been trumpeting the success of the Vienna Tourism Conference 2020, which welcomed more than 200 guests in-person and more than 1,000 virtually at the end of September.

It is the first time the organization has included a physical component in its meetings since the start of the pandemic, and strict health and safety protocols were put in place to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

“The successful holding of the Vienna Tourism Conference 2020 in the Vienna Hofburg, represents an important signal for Vienna as a meeting location,” said Christian Woronka, Head of the Vienna Convention Bureau. Adding: “Compliance with strict security precautions and the use of innovative measures will enable physical meetings to be held, even under the current difficult conditions.”

The board worked closely with Prof. Hans-Peter Hutter, Deputy Head of the Department of Environmental Hygiene and Environmental Medicine at the Medical University of Vienna, to devise a comprehensive prevention and safety model.

With participants’ welfare at its core, the central element of the strategy was rapid, on-site covid-19 antigen testing, requiring detailed preparation and well-coordinated logistical measures. Two test lanes were set up facilitating testing before admission, with results revealed in under 15 minutes. Within three hours, all 200 guests had undergone medical testing and had been granted safe access.

Rules of conduct ensuring a safe, shared environment were also present throughout, including the usual social distancing measures, demonstrated with floor markings, as well as plexiglass partitions, mandatory face coverings, hand sanitizer stations and additional air filter systems. Once in the conference centre, guests were allocated individual seats providing physical space and mental reassurance. To guarantee a minimum distance of one metre, seats were arranged in a chessboard pattern, with the empty seats ‘reserved‘ for the virtual attendees.

Equally central to the safety strategy, was ensuring strong communication at all levels on-site. A dedicated covid-19 representative was present, as well as employees and contractors specifically trained for the event. Attendees had been fully informed of all precautionary measures taken and in turn, what was expected of them. Interested parties were also able to follow the conference via live streaming and could exchange views in the virtual version of the ballroom using a digital avatar. Around 1,000 people joined virtually, with the opportunity to network digitally as well.

The events and meetings industry will continue to adapt and develop throughout this crisis and the Vienna Tourist Board has showcased that there is a future in which hybrid events can successfully function during these difficult and challenging times. Its success in hosting the Vienna Tourism Conference 2020 provides a strong foundation on which to build the industry, giving hope and optimism for the future.