What will the future hold for meetings and events?
By: Kathryn Gleesing, MBA, CMP, DMCP
President & CEO – Dm-Connection & Events
I have thought a lot about this since the pandemic hit and the only thing, I am confident about is that there will never be a ‘normal'. This devastating virus has forever changed the world, some ways for the worse, some ways for the better.
Its forced business owners to make very tough decisions that ultimately meant people lost their jobs. Hotels and restaurants closed their doors, hopefully only temporarily. Most states imposed stay at home orders and face to face meetings were either postponed or canceled. Zoom and Skype became ways to stay in touch with family members, co-workers, clients and friends.
The pandemic has been compared to 9/11 and the economic crisis in 2008 in both instances the meeting industry suffered. According to DMAI, It took 54 months after 9/11 for hotels to regain occupancy and 48 months after the economic crisis in 2008.
According to Oxford Economics, for the week of April 4, 2020, the nation suffered an $18.6 billion loss on travel compared to 2019.
If a vaccine is found which will eradicate the virus, then the economy could rebound sooner. In case this is still 12-24 months away, then we must be prepared for a shift in how we plan, prepare and host meetings and events in these unchartered waters.
The Switch to Virtual
The first reaction to staying relevant for companies in the meetings industry was to still stay in touch with employees and clients in addition to their family members. This was accomplished through platforms like Zoom, Skype, GoToMeetings, etc.
Webinars have become the best way to provide information in short bursts to online audiences. MPI held it is first ever GIRD conference and set a world’s record for having over 13,000 people on a webinar. People are craving for information in these times of uncertainty and they want to stay in touch with people, although virtually right now.
What will come back first?
Leisure travel is expected to come back first, people would rather drive a short distance to visit with family or friends. According to Longwoods International survey, 88% are planning to travel within six months. 64% are planning leisure trips. Weddings and leisure travel will resume which will drive hotel bookings. Individuals traveling for their company will also resume. Large meetings and conventions will take much longer to rebound.
Companies are all scrambling to assess how to do business once stay at home orders are lifted. Time will tell, once thing is certain, people will crave face to face interaction and will use meetings to learn, network and stay educated in their industries.
What will face to face meetings look like?
Meetings will look a lot different, more space between attendees and hand sanitizing stations being very visible.
Air travel may look different, some airlines are considering not filling the middle seats and others may require passengers to wear masks.
Ground transportation will also be impacted, loading buses at 50% capacity, which could also be like restaurant seating.
Hotels are outlining their cleaning protocols to include a more intense deep cleaning between guests. Machines that emit UV rays to kill bacteria will be used more frequently also ionizers. Cities will continue to offer virtual site visits for planners to make the best use of your time.
Planners will need to be creative when it comes to exhibit halls, this could be done virtually or in-person through pre-set meetings, so attendance is limited in the booth area. Incorporate a health and wellness component to the hall, including infrared temperature scans for all attendees.
No more food buffets in the near future, either box lunches, plated meals or custom food stations where food is served to attendees by gloved servers. Its coffee to go stations where its poured upon demand or ordering online to have it delivered to your seat in the convention hall. That feature is currently in use in arenas through a mobile app.
Evening receptions and parties where guests have space to roam and not be confined within four walls will be the norm, more use of outside spaces is what I predict.
Appetizers maybe displayed behind plastic shields where guests no longer can graze, rather food attendants will select their food and hand it to the guest, again customizing and providing the attendee a different experience.
Virtual team building sessions are already being promoted for companies that would like to engage their staff. Virtual cooking classes or hands on activities where attendees can watch and grow could become an attractive option for tours. Some tour companies are already offering virtual tours to showcase a city.
Your local DMC professional will be your best resource when navigating face to face meetings again. We have been in contact with vendors to find the best solutions that will keep your attendees safe and your meeting successful.
How long will this go on? It is unknown, at least until the virus is contained or a vaccine is found. There is a lesson we can all learn from this and that is how quickly we adapted to change and found work arounds to continue conducting business. This is short term but necessary to get us through the pandemic.
The one item that remains constant is that people need human interaction and face to face meetings will return.
It is no longer thinking outside the box that applies here, its thinking beyond four walls and the safety of attendees at future face to face meetings.
something to think about...
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