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The Future of Greek Community Events and Conferences in COVID-19 Era

Photo courtesy: The National Hellenic Society

The local and worldwide conference industry has been largely shut down during the county-by-country lockdowns that sought to prevent the worldwide spread of the coronavirus.

The Greek community has also been hard hit, as conferences in Greece, America and Europe have had to be postponed or canceled, having a serious impact on fundraising.

However, some Greek organizations are attempting to transform conferences from physical gatherings to virtual online conferences, offering speakers, classes and seminars over the internet.

Symeon G. Tsomokos, founder and chairman of the Delphi Economic Forum, foresees changes for Greek conventions in the near future.

The Delphi Economic Forum holds gatherings, seminars and lectures, bringing people together, in a bid to “influence the national and regional agendas and promote sustainable and socially responsible growth policies for Greece, Europe and the wider Eastern Mediterranean region,” according to its website.

Regarding Greek conventions in the near future, Tsomokos said, “My assessment is that they will be partially physical and partially online. I don’t think, until there is a vaccine, we are going back to the same situation we had before February.”

He also thinks attendance will sharply fall for all conferences, including  Greek-related conferences and online gatherings. “It will affect them, there is no doubt about that. At Delphi, we were planning to have 3,000 people at a conference this past March. I would say for next year, 2021, I don’t think we’re going to have more than 15 percent of those,” Tsomokos added.

However, if a vaccine is developed, he thinks attendance at conferences in 2022 could begin to approach what had once been normal.

Photo courtesy: The National Hellenic Society

Also, by July 1 The National Hellenic Society might decide regarding how they will host their annual conference, scheduled for October.

Drake G Behrakis, chairman of the board of the National Hellenic Society and President of Marwick Associates, an investment and development firm based in Lexington, MA, says the next few months remain uncertain for his organization’s conferences, along with other Greek organizations.

The National Hellenic Society’s annual Heritage Weekend is scheduled to be held October 8-11 in Laguna Beach, California. The event normally attracts 350 to 400 Greek-Americans, along with speakers. While it is not known whether the association’s members will be comfortable coming together for conferences in the fall, Behrakis says no decision has yet been made about the October conference.

“At this point we have not made any decision. We still think it’s a little bit too soon… We have a board meeting June 10th. We won’t make a decision at the board meeting, but we already have begun thinking conceptually about the best-case and worst-case scenarios, so we can be prepared……We haven’t sent out our registration information yet. We’ve held back on that, even though people can contact the hotel and make room reservations,” he added.

While online conferences are being held during the ongoing crisis, Behrakis has seen problems with them. “I’ve spoken to some people in the conference business and they’re not too impressed by the inability to network and the inability to hold a group’s attention.”

The practice of conference participants to network is often lost during online conferences. “That’s the biggest challenge. The social aspect of any of our organizations, as well as our culture, is such a critical part of our DNA and our makeup. Being able to to sit down with folks in all different types of settings has been a challenge, and I think everyone is trying their best to keep folks connected again via technology,” he added.

While the National Hellenic Society has ten chapters throughout the United States, they have had to put on hold plans to open new chapters. “We’ve got a couple of newer chapters that we’re looking to launch this year. But unfortunately, everything has been put on the back burner.”

Among the concerns the National Hellenic Society has about their October convention, is whether attendees will travel to California from throughout the United States. “You have people coming from all over the country and they’re coming from different places. Will they be comfortable enough by October to to travel? Will your attendance be affected by that decision?” asked Behrakis.

While he cannot predict what the future of conferences will look like in the Greek community, Behrakis said, “I don’t think by the time we get to September or October that everything will be completely back to what was considered normal in January or February. So, we just have to be as flexible and committed to our mission as possible and try to find ways we can keep people connected and make sure that our programming continues in the future.

“We have to you know how to adjust, but again, it’s still very much unknown at this point, as it relates to our activities in the fall. We’ll have to make a tough decision at some point with regards to our own conference. But hopefully, in certain areas that will allow for smaller gatherings for some of our chapters that we have across the country. And so, hopefully, that will be a good alternative for people to at least get back together,” said Behrakis.

“The other challenge which I think a lot of organizations are facing is due to everything that is now back-loaded. Organizations held pretty much everything in March, April and May, such as a single event, banquet or fundraiser, or weekend conferences or board meetings. A lot of them have been pushed into the fall, but the falls is going to have a very chaotic schedule, assuming you can get back to normal,” said Behrakis.  “It remains to be seen what people are going to be comfortable with. Are they going to stick to local events? Are they going to travel far distances? That remains to be seen.”

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