January 3, 2022

My Experience in Event Planning While Navigating New Challenges Presented by Omicron

Written by HFTP Publications

Written by:...Sabina Sljivo

I was so ready to go to my first in-person event just last month — but wait... Omicron!

Finally, it seemed that life would return to normal again, with events happening in-person and hybrid. To be honest, I am already so tired of online events. It simply doesn’t feel right. We are humans, and humans love to socialize — at least some of us do. Attending social events again after almost two years made me so excited, and I still can't hide it (you were singing this, weren’t you?).

People in the UAE were joking that by the end of 2021, masks would no longer be required. Then, the new virus variant hit just in time for the most wonderful time of the year (come on, you were definitely singing now).

In December, I worked at this big event called The Globe Soccer Awards, and I was so thrilled to be part of it. (I mean, who doesn’t want to see Cristiano Ronaldo live?) Because I was spending Christmas alone in Dubai, it did not bother me to work while everyone else enjoyed their holidays with their loved ones. It was nice for me to be occupied and to finally attend an in-person event after such a long time in the virtual world — and such a large event at that.

At Globe Soccer, we began working on the event with a positive attitude, believing that Covid would eventually go away and would not disturb us on the event day. How great it all turned out (except for me).

There is a lot to think about and take care of in these Covid times, especially with the numbers increasing by the day. "PCR tests" have been among the most used words in my vocabulary this past month. Hearing these words now literally gives me goosebumps. These days during live events, you must truly consider your personal safety and the safety of the visitors who will attend the event. For this reason, everyone needed to have a negative PCR test 96 hours in advance (or was it 72... no, wait 48... or was it actually 72? In the end, no one really knew since the guidance changes so much). On the other hand, we at Globe Soccer tested everyone 48 hours in advance, just to be sure. Better to be safe than sorry, isn’t it?

The easy pre-Covid times of planning an event are long gone, and I doubt they will come back any time soon. No test, no event: that is the motto and reality currently taking place, and I believe it is happening worldwide, not just in the UAE. As I was surrounded by hundreds of Covid PCR tests a day, I felt that it was only a matter of time until it would hit me and BOOM, did it hit me —...just one day before the event. Can you believe it? I absolutely could not. Wearing three masks and gloves, protected behind a plastic wall, sanitizing myself and everything that I touched did not seem to help. Omicron still found its way through to teach me a lesson. Days of sadness and sickness went by, and... wait, that isn't what you wanted to hear is it? I know you are curious about the event — so yes, despite me getting Covid, my team members did not, and the event turned out to be a huge success, without positive cases (at least, none that we know about). As for me, I watched the event from home on my phone. It was back to the virtual world, I suppose.

As these last two years have shown us, we are now living in a new era, surrounded by technology that will only grow and bring us more innovation. I am sure there will come a time when I will be able to attend an in-person event again. Nonetheless, I am grateful for the opportunity I had to be part of this incredible team, and that I was able to watch the event online, as many others did — proving that technology can be a very positive thing. I feel that hybrid events, which incorporate both virtual and in-person elements, will become the standard. And, who knows? Maybe with the new metaverse technology everyone is raving about, future virtual events will not be so dull.

For those who do not know what the "metaverse" is (like I didn't), it is a "combination of multiple elements of technology, including virtual reality, augmented reality and video where users 'live' within a digital universe" (Molina, 2021). In layman's terms, it provides you the sensation of being present at an event and seeing everything as if you were there — but from the comfort of your couch. (It is ideal for all of the antisocial people and slackers out there!) All joking aside, during a crisis such as a global pandemic, we should consider ourselves lucky to now have virtual options that offer immersive experiences to keep us occupied. It has allowed us to stay in touch with our friends, colleagues and families through difficult times, while ensuring everyone's safety. With that said, I wish you all nothing but love, health and safety for this new year — as I have realized there is absolutely nothing more important than this.

Reference: Molina, M.S. and B. (2021). Everyone wants to own the metaverse including Facebook and Microsoft. But what exactly is it? [online] USA TODAY. Available at: https://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2021/11/10/metaverse-what-is-it-explained-facebook-microsoft-meta-vr/6337635001/

Sabina Sljivo is a research scholar with the HFTP Middle East Research Center and student at the Emirates Academy of Hospitality Management in Dubai, UAE.

2022 Dubai education HFTP hospitality hybrid in-person large events metaverse Middle East Research Center research technology UAE