Domestically and abroad, the expert advice for mitigating the spread of COVID-19 is now a part of daily life. Guidelines like frequently washing your hands, staying six feet apart, and wearing a mask are even mandated in most public spaces.
While this adjustment has not been without its challenges for industries across the board, how do these strict new standards impact meetings and events—a world which has traditionally been initiated with a handshake and is predicated on hundreds of individuals from different locations meeting together in an indoor space? To explore this topic, we’ve tapped into the insights of Sarahbeth Roberts—Direct Travel’s Senior Director of Meetings & Events, East Region—revealing the need for a strategic, centralized approach to your meetings program.
Amidst the uncertainty of the pandemic, a fine-tuned meetings strategy and the benefits of customized consultation have emerged as areas of renewed focus for many meeting planners.
The sheer number of cancellations (and subsequent logistics of rescheduling) have proven to be an unwieldy challenge to tackle if not managed within the framework of a centralized meetings program. Depending on your company and scope of meetings, you will likely need to tighten contracts and shore up future cancelation clauses. Rather than relying on multiple vendors, a single strategic partner is better positioned to assist you in mitigating the associated risks and provide you with a big picture view of your meetings. This support and consistency can be particularly useful if your company is operating with reduced staffing levels.
Centralizing your meetings program also allows you to customize your strategy to account for the unique goals and culture of your company. If travel and events are vital to the mission and success of your business, you may want to forge a creative solution to get your meetings back on track sooner. For example, a Direct Travel client who previously hosted their annual conferences only at all-inclusive resorts in Mexico was able to shift their strategy to find a property in Florida that could offer similar concessions and amenities for their upcoming meeting.
Sanitation & Safety Strategy
In addition to centralizing your meetings management, your strategy also has to take into account the new standards of sanitation. Just like airlines and hotels, which have implemented rigorous cleaning initiatives, event venues are rolling out their own processes for sterilizing spaces and minimizing touch points for food and beverage service.
For meeting planners, consider changes you will need to make to your registration desk, vendor booth placement, table arrangement, breakout spaces, and what level of PPE you plan to offer or require of attendees. Your strategic meetings partner should be able to help you with these logistics and forecast the challenges you may face.
Along with tackling sanitation requirements, it’s important to manage the variances in regional safety restrictions. In the U.S., each state has established its own process for when events can return and how large they can be. For instance, while a business hosting an event may be located in a state with guidelines temporarily restricting events to 200 persons, it may be subject to a lower capacity cap if held in another state. There also needs to be consideration for event attendees arriving from out-of-state or international locations, as they may be required to self-quarantine.
Forecasting for the Future
The flurry of event cancellations that first took hold in February 2020 at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic quickly avalanched into an industry-wide norm. Notably, the strength of meeting planner confidence in events resuming this year has fallen considerably as the effects COVID-19 have stretched, which is evident in a tracking of monthly polls from i-Meet.
The uncertainty may be unprecedented, but the good news is the rapid way the industry has responded. Many events are being rescheduled for 2021 with virtual components like online workshops and video meetings supplementing efforts until then. At Direct Travel, the meetings and events team has hosted virtual town halls with suppliers and focused on personally ensuring timely rebooking and refunding for clients.
Whether virtual or in-person though, the need for a centralized meetings program remains as relevant. Just like face-to-face meetings, you must vet technology providers, track and manage RSVPs, and measure event success. “Zoom fatigue” is a real challenge, and your meetings partner should be able to provide you with detailed analysis for audience engagement.
If your current meetings and events strategy does not follow a centralized management approach, now is the right time to make the switch. Contact us to learn more about our Strategic Meetings Management Program.