The hospitality, travel, meeting and event industry has been hit hard by the Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. Will it rebound? Yes, it will, and when we do resurface, what will our industry, and meeting setups, look like, and what will change?
What we know as normal will no longer be post COVID-19. New normals will emerge and take effect with meeting setups and more. There are many unknowns, and in speaking with other planners, there is a great deal of uncertainty about what things will look like when we are back fully operating.
Meeting setups most likely will look different with more space allocated between seats. What about dining? How will it be different so that all feel safe partaking of the food? Trade show and footprint spacing? Will it go back to the way it was, or will it change? Will attendance be limited?
I suspect meeting setups will change at least through 2020 once meetings and conventions resume. How can we get more creative with meeting setups and still ensure the safety of our guests as well as achieve the desired objectives? Once we get over the hurdle and the worst of the coronavirus, I believe it will be a while before travel is ramped up again. Most planners are projecting that their meetings and events will start back again in October or November. Airlines may not be back fully operating as well as hotels and convention centers. Space likely will be limited, so then how can we incorporate social, physical distancing? Will those spaces being used as makeshift clinics or hospitals be ready and thoroughly disinfected? Will we feel safe booking and using them? Will those centers and hotels that do open be inundated with conferences, limiting available space, and how much additional space will they be willing to provide to incorporate distancing in seating?
When it comes to room sets, we are going to need to be more creative and resourceful than ever before. How can meeting setup incorporate some distancing, provide safety, and still engage our attendees? I doubt hotels and convention centers will be able to connect and lock together their chairs in theater style sets, at least for a while. Folks will not be comfortable seated shoulder to shoulder together. And, will we use 72” rounds but only seat 6-8 instead of 10-12? And, then if this is the case, the room capacity and limits will change. Will we simultaneously have a live meeting in one room and broadcast in other rooms to accommodate everyone? Will we combine live meetings with virtual meetings?
Other questions to consider – What will be the acceptable distancing in room sets? One foot? What about having some meetings outdoors where there is more space? Feasible in some locations?
What will it take for attendees to feel safe and comfortable? What about how we greet each other? Will buffets no longer be a standard? Will silver all need to be rolled in a napkin? How, as meeting and event planners, can we enforce the distancing, or can we? Do we limit the number of people on the trade show floor and in meeting rooms or on tour buses? So many considerations once you start to think about it. It is rather mind-boggling.
Cleanliness will also be a factor. Will planners need to add to their contracts a provision for cleaning and disinfecting room sets between uses or when one breakout ends, and another begins. Will face masks, Clorox wipes, and hand sanitizer become part of breaks? What will breaks look like? Will we once again be able to set food and beverage out for guests to self-serve?
In a recent article on CNN.com, Christopher Anderson, Professor of Business at Cornell University’s Hotel School feels that many businesses will get more comfortable with conducting meetings virtually. Still, he does expect the desire for in-person dealings will expedite the industry rebounding and perhaps even return by 2021 to things as we knew prior to the pandemic.
There will be numerous considerations as we move past the pandemic and get back to business. Meeting setups, incentive tour bus capacities, and even flights and seating on airplanes will all be under scrutiny as we move forward. Will we take group photos at our events? How will domestic and international meetings be affected? Will there be standardized processes, and how will they be incorporated? How will this all affect our bottom line and revenue generated on both the planner and supplier side?
As we move forward into uncharted territory, I encourage you to talk with your teams, boards, executives about this and have discussions on what meetings and events will look like once we start meeting again. Will you hold a combination virtual or hybrid meetings in conjunction with face-to-face meetings? Will you change your current seating arrangements? Have the conversations now. You have the time and get a game plan in place. Maybe devise Plan A, B, and C.
The borders will again open, airlines will resume flight schedules, and hotels will again book group business. It is uncertain what that will look like, but I do believe we, as planners, have a voice and can determine what our own meetings need in order to provide safety to our attendees and still achieve the meeting or event objectives. Let’s start thinking about this now, so we are prepared and have thought through various scenarios. Every planner and supplier I know in this business is not only resilient but adaptive to change. We will re-emerge, moving past this, learning new ways of thinking, and making our industry stronger and better than ever!
Julie Martinez, CMP, CMM is a long-time member of the hospitality and event planning community. After a long-term career as a corporate meeting executive for Lennox International Inc., Martinez began meeting and event consulting. She also contracts for on-site meeting management. Martinez also works with third parties on large conventions including registration, housing, and other project management processes. Additionally, Martinez blogs for the I-Meet.com website. She also devotes time to mentoring other planners and has a life coaching business where she does motivational speaking engagements, coordinates, and hosts her own programs, mentoring others, especially women through transition.