The Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic has changed meetings and conventions forever, and we reached out to Brad Dean, CEO of Discover Puerto Rico, a country known for its resiliency about his predictions for a post-Coronavirus COVID-19 world.
Andrea Doyle (AD) asks Brad Dean (BD): How will Coronavirus COVID-19 change the MICE Industry?
(BD): While the long-term impacts on both the MICE and travel industry are still unclear, we have seen some immediate changes in the industry and Puerto Rico is adapting to this shifting environment, with safety and security as our top priority. To start, we are taking significant action in the areas of increased sanitization and encouraging our local partners to do the same, within meeting spaces, hotel properties, and beyond. Since the start of the virus, we’ve seen enhanced cleaning procedures in high contact areas and additional hand sanitation stations in key facilities like our Convention Center in San Juan, which is the most technologically advanced in the Caribbean.
We’ve also increased communication with stakeholders, another critical aspect in prioritizing safety. Clear and constant communication is particularly important, including that with planners – both from us to them and vice versa. We ensure lines of communication remain open, for all to be aware of the latest information that may impact an event, including government regulations, as well as screening procedures at our airports. We are keen to understand the concerns and needs of planners in order to best accommodate them in the future when permitted to travel and host groups again. While more will become clear with time, a trend we anticipate as we slowly enter our new normal, is a decrease in international travel and a focus on domestic travel, with regional travel as an immediate option. Puerto Rico remains an ideal MICE destination offering all the commodities of the U.S., with no passport or currency exchange requirement, and the appeal of an international destination with unparalleled culture and nature offerings for groups. In a post-COVID world, it will also offer the security of traveling domestically.
(AD): What will the new normal look like?
(BD): We anticipate hybrid forms of connecting and flexible booking policies, as those traveling will be apprehensive considering the climate. This, together with the enhanced implementation of sanitation practices, and cleanliness will certainly be an increased priority across the board. This includes destinations and facilities, ensuring these tactics are clearly communicated to planners and visitors.
Discover Puerto Rico has learned from experience that there are immense benefits to preparedness planning. Our DMO, for example, has invested heavily in crisis preparedness and developed a preparedness playbook, which included airborne pathogens, pre-COVID. We anticipate seeing this type of planning as a priority when we emerge into a new normal following this experience to ensure a plan is in place to react quickly and set a foundation that allows for a smooth recovery.
(AD): When do you predict all meetings and conventions will come back?
(BD): Ultimately, this depends on when the current travel restrictions are lifted, and air service resumes. While we are seeing some groups maintaining events that were booked for the summer months, it appears that most of the events postponed during March and April have been rescheduled to Q4 of 2020 and beyond.
(AD): Will the physical attributes of a meeting change? How?
(BD): Obviously, safety and security will become a hot topic, especially as it relates to cleanliness protocols. Airports, hotels, and venues will have to demonstrate that they have strict protocols related to cleanliness. Social distancing will likely translate into less people in larger spaces. From what we know thus far – when starting to emerge into the new normal – hybrid communications and virtual connectivity will likely continue.
(AD): Will there be more space allocated between seats?
(BD): From what we are hearing so far in our industry, most likely. In Puerto Rico, we have taken guidance from trusted organizations such as the World Health Organization and will continue to do so. This may very well include increased personal space as we enter a post-COVID world.
(AD): Will buffets be a thing of the past?
(BD): This remains to be seen, but certainly a possibility. We are already seeing local partners changing food and beverage practices in order to ensure safety and will continue doing so, to ensure the security of our communities and visitors.
(AD): Will disinfecting of meeting rooms and conference centers increase?
(BD): Just as we’ve done at our Puerto Rico Convention Center and many other facilities, enhanced sanitation will be integral in ensuring the safety and security of both local communities and visitors. And, communicating the actions taken in this realm will be just as critical as the actions themselves, given groups will require this information to feel a sense of security to book meetings in a post-COVID world.