The U.S. is ready, willing and able to return — safely — to holding in-person business meetings and events, says Roger Dow, President of US Travel.
The benefits of attending in-person professional meetings and events are numerous, from irreplaceable spontaneous networking conversations and connections to learning about, and buying, the latest products and technologies. While everyone made do with Zoom out of necessity as the U.S. struggled to maintain their businesses while the authorities figured out how to keep people safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, the economy suffered, Dow wrote in an article posted to LinkedIn.
Spending on in-person events decreased 76% when in-person conferences were put on hold, and business travel spending dropped 69%, he says. This caused a raft of unemployment, underemployment due to reduced hours, and financial hardship. According to Let’s Meet Again, the return of corporate travel, professional meetings, conventions and events is expected to take four years or more.
But it doesn’t have to follow that timeline, according to Dow. “The U.S. is ready to return to professional gatherings and enjoy the accompanying career invigoration, occupational well-being, and expansive business and economic benefits.” That’s because, now that we know more about how COVID spreads, we can mitigate the risks and safely hold in-person meetings again, he added.
Dow cited scientific modelling by the Exhibitions and Conferences Alliance (ECA) and Epistemix that found a near-zero risk of COVID-19 transmission at professional meetings — even large, well-attended events.
“A factor contributing to the exceptional safety profile, business travelers have a higher vaccination rate than the general population,” Dow writes. “Organizers of trade shows and business events also implement stringent precautions and seek third-party input, validation and certification of these measures. The science tells us that ventilation systems, masking, attendant screening, social distancing, and other evidence-based mitigation protocols are, in combination, highly effective. Policymakers have reviewed the studies and met with the experts as well, and the results of their investigations have led most jurisdictions to lift restrictions and limitations on gatherings.”
He also cited large events that were held without spreading COVID, including the 60,000-attendee World of Concrete in Las Vegas; the 3,000-attendee Jewelers International Showcase in Miami; and a Mecum Auto Auction that safely hosted 2,500 attendees. “With each success, the confidence of the business community in professional meetings and events will grow and with it our economy and jobs,” he says.
While he acknowledges that the decision to attend remains up to each individual, “the evidence strongly indicates that most fully vaccinated Americans can go to a meeting, attend a trade show, and personally interact with colleagues and customers, when appropriate care is taking by organizers.” In fact, according to Let’s Meet Again, the top barriers to the resumption of business travel are companies whose policies continue to restrict travel, not employee concerns. According to Let’s Meet Again’s website, “In fact, 86% of business travelers are looking forward to getting back on the road.”
And they can do it safely, adds Dow. Thanks to advances in COVID research, vaccine development and distribution, policy implementation and “ongoing business agility,” the time is right to return to the professional, personal and economic benefits meeting in-person bring, he concludes.
In a comment on the article, Hospitality Consultant Doug Baarman said, “Our team has been onsite each week assisting our clients to safely and successfully hold events. Thank you for spreading the word that meeting and events are taking place.”