Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, you have decided to host the Congress of the European Society of Radiology, which was supposed to take place in Vienna, Austria, virtually. What sparked the decision to host an online event instead of postponing the in-person Congress to a later date?
We have a responsibility towards our participants and at the moment it is not possible for us to offer a definitive date when an onsite meeting will be possible again in 2021.
In addition to that, ECR has, for many years now, been held in March. This is a tradition we wanted to maintain, as last year already saw the need for us to move our congress to July, given that the pandemic hit Austria just a couple of days before the initial ECR 2020. We would all love to have an onsite meeting, but our participants’ safety is the ESR’s first priority and we will strictly follow all decisions and recommendations made by local authorities. What we can and will do this March is deliver all the latest advances in radiology from the world’s foremost experts, as we do every year.
As this is your first virtual event format, how has the planning and organisation changed?
It is very different, but at the same time very exciting and sometimes even challenging. Virtual meetings offer a great opportunity to present scientific content and information to participants in a rapid and simple way, while at the same time the networking aspect provides a big challenge. The ESR, which already had a lot of experience from live streaming its congresses in previous years, has made a spectacular shift towards organising all of their meetings, not only ECR, virtually. The in-house streaming and on-demand platform ESR Connect is the most advanced and impressive one of its kind that I have seen in this last year, where I have participated in many virtual congresses. Where I personally experience the most change is when I am standing in an empty room recording a speech in front of a camera, instead of being in a conference hall feeling the atmosphere and seeing the faces of my colleagues.
Can you give us an impression of what the virtual congress will look like for attendees?
One of the ECR’s trademarks has always been its style and we are applying this same style to our virtual congress. Many online conferences offer what look like out-of-the-box solutions and this is where ECR 2021 is different. Attendees can expect the scientific quality of our onsite meetings, but also a unique online platform, developed completely in-house, that is tailored to the participants needs and lives up to all expectations of a state-of-the-art online meeting, offering the highest possible level of interactivity and excellent usability.
Going back to large in-person events will take some time to get used to. Are you concerned this may affect the number of attendees in the future?
What we should not forget during this pandemic is that there was already a strong shift towards online and hybrid meetings before Covid-19, fuelled by concerns for the environment, changes in political situations and other factors. The ESR and its meetings have been pioneers in this field and our goal will be the same as before - to provide the best experience possible onsite and online. We have stopped differentiating between online and onsite attendance a long time ago. Since we started streaming the entire congress programme back in 2013 our meetings have not been bound to one place but are a global experience. Attendance will be the same, it might even grow, it is simply the balance between the number of onsite and online attendees that might shift.
The MICE industry has been heavily affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. How do you think this will change our industry, and what measures can be taken, in your opinion?
In my opinion, one big change is that the virtual parts of meetings will be here to stay and that those will need to be organised to give the same attention to quality and love for detail as onsite meetings. Before the pandemic many organisers treated the online parts of their meeting as a negligible aspect, which is an approach that will definitely not be accepted by participants in the future. We at the ESR are focusing on the positive aspects of this change and are embracing the challenges and opportunities that come with it to offer a more holistic congress experience.