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Post-Covid Meetings & Events: Some Things Old, Some Things New

As we reclaim our freedoms and get back to in-person gatherings, this summer might be an excellent time to assess what post-pandemic meetings and events will look like. A lot will remain the same but there will be noticeable changes … 

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Historically, summertime is a slower period for corporate meetings and events with family vacations, Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labor Day personal plans. Add to that this year’s pent-up demand to get out and about and there are likely more scheduling conflicts than ordinary.

Expect the back end of 2021 and early 2022 meeting calendars to fill quickly as companies seek a return to normal with more and more face-to-face [F2F] events. Let’s look at a variety of ways corporate meetings and events will be different.

The Hub-and-Spoke Meeting Model

Since we’re not entirely out of the woods just yet, companies are easing their way back into routines. As such, there will be an unusually high number of “hub-and-spoke”-style meetings. For example, if the main event happens to be in Atlanta, there will be simultaneous satellite events occurring in cities like Dallas, Denver, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles. Companies are doing this to accommodate those who remain wary of larger gatherings but are more willing to attend smaller ones. Some will be entirely in-person meetings [albeit in multiple locations] while others will be a hybrid with some in attendance and others watching a livestream from their homes or offices.

These set-ups will likely save money on airline fees [although fares are sky-high right now] as a percentage of the audience will choose to drive to the gathering versus fly. However, hub-and-spoke meetings require multiple production set-ups and onsite support staff which is not an inexpensive undertaking so the cost savings may be a wash, or more likely, non-existent.

A New Touch: Frictionless

More and more companies are turning to self-serve, onsite distribution of registration materials and name badges versus having a smiling event team member hand these items to the attendee. Also, amenity gifts will be staged at multiple tables so attendees can simply and easily pick those up at the same time while avoiding congestion. And expect the few remaining companies left that have not utilized online registration services or event-specific apps to finally get onboard. Speaking of online registration …

Safety First

You’ll likely see a detailed list of all safety requirements, protocols, and steps that will be taken onsite to promote healthy interaction at F2F events on the online registration website. In the past, it was assumed safety measures would be in place and there was little to no need to include this on the online reg site. That’s all changed. People want to know exactly what steps are being taken so they can attend the event and know their well-being is a top priority. And remember, protocols differ from state-to-state so don’t assume someone knows they must wear a mask if unvaccinated and traveling from another state.

And, yes, expect to see numerous sanitizing stations, posted CDC protocols in guest rooms and common areas, shower-mounted soap, conditioner and body wash dispensers, gloved hotel staff, and more opportunities to slip away and wash your hands built into conference agendas.  [But after the past 18 months, you probably already knew that.]

Meet you there!

Off-premise activities, tours, dining events, etc. that would typically necessitate multiple shuttles to transport attendees to and from the hotel to the destination will be less common for now. Many companies are giving attendees the option to drive themselves, take a taxi, or use a ride-sharing service like Uber or Lyft to avoid traveling in a crowded shuttle.

Extra scrutiny for suppliers and vendors

Because meeting and event professionals lean heavily on third-party vendor/supplier partners, extra steps need to be taken to ensure these partners are being as mindful of health and safety concerns as you are. Be sure you clearly understand the Covid-prevention plans and measures your event partner has in place. Many vendors are going the extra mile to secure certifications from government and healthcare agencies that assess and accredit their safety steps. Planning and executing meetings and events is stressful enough.  You’ll enjoy the peace of mind that comes with knowing your entire event team is in lockstep when it comes to safety. Your attendees will, too.

Food & Beverage 2.0

This is where you’ll really notice a difference. Most hotels, conference facilities, and convention centers are making a big move toward passed food or pre-packaged individual servings that can be picked up in a New World, reimagined buffet line. You can also expect to see multiple, smaller buffet lines to lessen the chances of guests crowding together. Mobile food carts that hold more than a traditional serving tray, will deliver food or beverage items directly to attendees.

Some companies are choosing to bypass the pre-packaged, individual servings in favor of single-sided buffet lines with attendants serving guests. They’re also using a deeper, wider table than usual to create a buffer between guests and food. Partitioned Bento boxes keep food selections separate [avoiding possible cross-contamination] and are becoming very popular as serving vessels.

Many companies are room-dropping branded brown bags containing an assortment of pre-packaged snacks [popcorn, trail mix, power bars, fruit, raw vegetables, etc.] or making bags available for pick-up on arrival day[s]. Attendees decide each day which snacks they will take with them for break time.

Raise the Bar

In order to reduce wait times at the bar, many meeting facilities are taking a DIY bartending approach and filling individual Mason jars with assorted fruit-and-herb-flavored “mocktails” with mini-bottles of assorted liquor nearby for attendees wanting more of a kick. Also, single-serving bottles of white wine or rose’, offered with colorful, eco-friendly paper straws, are a popular trend. Expect multiple bar set-ups to  lessen the chances of people bunching together.

As we return to F2F meetings and events, much will look familiar while other touches will be new to you. The bottom-line is: Corporate meeting and event professionals, as well as meeting facilities, are striving to be mindful of people’s Covid-triggered sensitivities. Some are comfortable with a full return to normalcy while others remain cautious. Both groups need to be accommodated and respected. The industry is gradually coming back to life and, barring any complications, should soon be back to its pre-2020 heyday.

I, for one, cannot wait!

Cheers,

Kenneth Jones