Preparing for the Big Return of Face-to-Face Meetings

A year ago, virtual and hybrid technologies reshaped meetings and events in a way that some experts predicted would result in sustained—and possibly permanent—damage to the industry. Now, as the number of travelers returning to the road surges and COVID-19 restrictions ease, in-person events are roaring back faster than expected.

With workers returning to the office, many are eager to reconnect with colleagues, participate in educational training, and network professionally. Face-to-face meetings provide an outlet for doing so that is often more engaging, more educational, and more, well, fun. Before your organization can plan for your next event though, it is important to understand how the industry has changed. To get you started, we’ve outlined what to expect when preparing for a return to live events and in-person meetings.

Anticipate Compression Challenges

While some meetings went hybrid or fully online in response to the pandemic, many organizations postponed their events for future dates. Others collapsed their multiple events into a single, larger event with hybrid components. This has led to a limited window of dates available for booking meetings and events, particularly with overall interest increasing and venues still struggling to reopen and meet demand.

Opinions on when and how long this compression will last varybut there is no question it will be a factor in both finding meeting space and the subsequent negotiation process. According to Sarahbeth Roberts, Vice President of Meetings and Events for Direct Travel, “Compression is intense not only for this fall, but going into 2022 as well. Even for our clients looking at 2023 dates, they’re finding it’s not as open as it traditionally would be.”

Changing consumer sentiment is partially responsible for the compression challenges ahead. As noted in the most recent Meeting Planner Confidence Index from iMeet, the percentage of planners expecting to resume face-to-face meetings in 2021 jumped an outstanding 56 percent, from 8 percent in March, to nearly 70 percent in June.

Plan Ahead

To counter this compression, it’s more important than ever to get started early and plan ahead. Meetings and events are traditionally a buyers’ market, but now the ball is firmly in the court of suppliers. New COVID-related clauses in contracts also mean contracting and sourcing can take longer.

Depending on the nature of your event, consider changing the location. In the U.S., some states have reopened at different paces, which means another area of the country may have more space available and be in a better position to host your group. Roberts says that warmer destinations are currently most popular, particularly as they allow for outdoor spaces that have become a top-of-mind factor in making COVID-19 considerations.

You should also assess if you want to incorporate hybrid components into your event to lessen the scope of facilities and amenities needed. While most people now favor live, in-person events, augmenting with hybrid technology offers three distinct advantages according to MeetingsNet:

  • Allows for an expanded geographic reach
  • Provides significant amplification of attendance
  • Delivers inclusiveness and diversity of perspective

For those attending in-person, plan for what safety restrictions your organization will require. Roberts points out that depending on the event size, you will want to align your policies concerning vaccination, proof of vaccination, and mask expectations to match your company culture.

Be Flexible

Perhaps most importantly, be flexible. While meetings are returning at record pace, it will take time for venues, vendors, and suppliers to catch-up.

On the lodging front, staffing shortages have forced properties to cut back on services and amenities. One hotel employee may be wearing multiple hats and thus take longer to respond and provide comprehensive details. Even 4-star and 5-star properties have not escaped unscathed, meaning you cannot rely on a hotel’s rating or past performance as a metric for future success.

“I cannot emphasize enough how critical it is to plan site visits and go to the actual location to take inventory of what’s there and in what capacity they’re operating,” says Roberts.

This includes destination assets like restaurants, shopping, and attractions. You may also find that vendors you worked with in the past for team building activities, entertainment, transportation, or catering are no longer in business. Check with past contacts to verify if preferred vendors are still operating and, if so, in what capacity.

Consult With an Expert

When in doubt, consult with an expert.

A professional meetings team can streamline your planning process with a better understanding of the current limitations and relevant restrictions in place. Additionally, they have the right connections to know which venues are fully functioning again and which suppliers can deliver the product and level of service you’re looking for.

At Direct Travel, our team is committed to guiding and advising you through this process of booking meetings and events in a rapidly changing environment. We can help make sure you’re aligned on timelines and deliverables to not only meet but exceed expectations. Contact our strategic meetings and events team to find out how.