I was chatting with a client the other day and casually mentioned we were producing a 100% face-to-face meeting for another client this coming June. It was obvious by her facial expression and tone this was a genuine surprise …
“Really?” she responded.
It was also obvious she was thinking, “Hmmm, maybe it’s time we do the same.”
Believe it or not, there are businesses and corporations willing to dip their toe in the water to test matters before taking the big plunge. After all, someone has to be the first. And that’s so encouraging!
Perhaps the biggest question on the minds of event marketing professionals these days is, “What time is the right time to get back to doing live meetings?” Is it spring, summer, fall, maybe 2022 …? No one can say for sure, that we can all agree on.
The urge to merge
A recent industry article reported U.S. productivity spiked in June of 2020 — a robust +10.1%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics [USBL&S] — as people became more and more accustomed to online meetings and were actually enjoying their new work-from-home scenarios which afforded them more time with family, less time commuting or traveling, and flexibility to get their work done at varying points during the day.
But by the end of 2020, that productivity dropped significantly. The USBL&S reports a -4.8% decline in non-farm worker productivity in Q4 2020, the steepest quarterly decline in 39 years! [-5.1% in Q2 1981]. People had become mentally fatigued and motivation had plummeted, according to an Associated Press report.
It’s also becoming apparent that people are growing weary of 100% online meetings. Going all virtual worked in the short-term out of necessity but it won’t work in the long term when sunnier skies appear. Just like ordering the same item off the menu night after night, it gets old and loses its appeal and enthusiasm.
As such, most companies are busy planning hybrid meetings – a combination of F2F and virtual – and that’s a model that I believe will sustain itself long after we’re able to once again shake hands, slap backs, and hug good friends.
But when the coast is clear and in-person meetings more fully resume, don’t expect things to revert entirely to pre-pandemic conditions. A lot has changed over the past 11 months and it’s important to be aware of, and in my opinion, sensitive to these changes.
The New Reality
Obviously, topping the list is safety. We all know about that so let’s move on. The next thing you should brace yourself for is pricing rigidity among all involved in business meetings, events and conferences – airlines, ground transportation companies, hotels, décor houses, floral vendors, production companies, foodservice, etc. That doesn’t necessarily mean higher fees, it simply means service-providers will be inclined to stand firm on price quoted.
Unless you’ve been selling N95 masks or peddling hand-sanitizers the past year, it’s likely your bottom-line has been hit hard and it’s time to backfill some of that lost profit. The price-window flexibility of the past doesn’t exist right now – and for understandable reasons. I think it’s very, very important for people to be reasonable and also a bit empathetic. The term “We’re all in this together” rings hollow after so many months of hearing it but the truth remains – we are all in this together and, together, we all need to find ways to simultaneously rebuild business and return to days of healthy prosperity.
Another challenge as we begin to toe the waters is competition for hotel rooms, not necessarily from other businesses or organizations but families and groups of friends. We have a client looking for a conference away from a city center, Thursday-Saturday pattern, ideally at a resort property. Problem is, so many families and friends across America, cooped up at home for so many months, are taking mini-vacations at nearby resorts and luxury hotels. I saw one resort property with weekend room rates hovering around $800 per night [and not in the warm desert or at a tropical, winter getaway destination, either].
As we move deeper into the year and vaccinations increase, this trend will likely pan out. Having said that, demand is greatly outpacing supply so expect hotel pricing, for the foreseeable future, to be firm and availability challenging.
Fly the healthy skies …
Another thing that has changed is air travel, in a good way. It’s safe to say passenger cabins and cockpits have likely never been more hygienic than they are today. Delta Air Lines recently announced it will keep middle seats unoccupied through April [except for parties of three traveling together].
In late-January, the airline also announced the hiring of Dr. Henry Ting, its first-ever Chief Health Officer. Dr. Ting comes to DAL from Mayo Clinic with the express mission of optimizing health and personal safety while delivering a comfortable flight experience. Don’t be surprised if the other major carriers quickly follow Delta’s lead. This is a very, very good change coming from a very, very bad experience.
“Happy days are [almost] here again, the skies above are clearer again …”
The key point is: People are starting to get back together. We’re connecting again. We’re making plans to be together before long and work around a table and build stronger bonds. A late-January PCMA Convene survey revealed 22% of event professionals and event suppliers say there is a pent-up demand to meet face-to-face. Further, 26% of planners and 47% of suppliers anticipate smaller local and regional events will thrive before ushering in larger national and international groups.
Think of the meetings and events industry as emerging from an extended winter’s hibernation. We all have to get our feet back under us, stretch a bit, reacquaint ourselves with our surroundings, and re-engage with the familiar. That process will play out over time but at least current signs are hopeful and promising. Though it may not feel like it in most parts of this frozen country right now, spring is indeed around the corner – in the literal and metaphorical sense.
We’re getting there, everyone. We’re getting there.