Small, regional events are expected to lead the recovery of the meetings industry, with nearly 30 percent of planners saying they expect to hold more regional and local events over the next 12-18 months, according to research from Northstar Meetings Group. Across the country, many events are already taking place, whether it be a quarterly business review in Minnesota or a law-enforcement convention in Missouri.
Destination Midwest, Northstar Meetings Group's latest hosted-buyer event, showcased these case studies, along with expert advice on how to host in-person gatherings safely right now. The digital conference brought together 44 planners and suppliers for a day of education, networking and one-on-one appointments.
To kick off the event, Jonathan Spero, CEO of InHouse Physicians, led a session on how to develop a health-security plan for in-person events. He said the plan should focus on three key areas: the prevention, detection and response of infectious diseases such as Covid-19.
"I recommend bringing on a designated point person who is in charge of your health communications. You want them to really understand what is going on with Covid-19 from a day-to-day basis, because it really changes all the time," said Spero. "This person's job is to communicate what you're doing as an organization to reduce the risk of an outbreak and what attendees can do to reduce their risk of catching Covid-19. This shouldn't just be a one-way communication. I think it's also important to deliver something like an online bulletin board where people can ask questions before the meeting."
Spero noted that planners must strike a careful balance between protecting attendee privacy and introducing new health and safety measures. He urged event professionals to conduct rapid Covid-19 testing and daily health surveys, as well as work with their hotel partners to develop a quarantine policy in the event that a staff member or an attendee gets sick. Another precaution is to do a run-through of your crisis-management plan prior to your event in order to identify and address any gaps.
Next up, a panel of meeting planners shared their experience hosting in-person events in Midwestern states this year. One example was a quarterly business-review meeting held in Brainerd, Minn., by the laboratory-testing company Eurofins. The three-day event was attended by 39 people. The company conducted a Covid-19 risk assessment of the resort in advance and worked with the property to ensure the highest levels of safety. Virus testing was conducted via nasal swabs onsite, and personal-protective equipment and contact tracing were provided for all attendees.
The contact tracing proved essential. "We had one individual who was asymptotic but found out from the testing that they were positive for Covid-19," said Jamie Nieman, event coordinator for Eurofins. "We were able to use the contact-tracing tools to monitor this person's movements and quickly identify any other attendees who came closer than six feet to them. We're happy to report that using all of those safety protocols, we had no one else test positive post-event."
Also on the panel was Amy Cowan, director of youth activities and foundation for the American Hereford Association. The organization hosted a cattle show in July, which had to be moved from Louisville, Ky., to Kansas City, Mo. Attendees were required to wear masks and sign a health waiver. Creative signage encouraged guests to stay "one cow-length apart."
Also in Missouri, the Mid-States Organized Crime Information Center hosted its annual membership convention in August. According to Diane Miller, the center's deputy director, the event was particularly important, as law-enforcement agents must complete specific training in order to be recertified. The annual meeting in Branson, Mo., typically draws 600 people, but this year attendance was closer to 250 people — allowing the group to maintain social distancing more easily. Hand-sanitizer stations were set up throughout the venue, meeting rooms were sanitized during breaks and high-touch areas, such as the hotel railings and elevator buttons, were cleaned hourly.
To close out Destination Midwest, Jacquelyn Wells of the event marketing agency MDG and Jennifer Kingen Kush of the digital event firm Kingen Kush Solutions, discussed smart strategies for hybrid meetings. The speakers noted that a gathering that has digital and in-person elements not only expands audience reach, but also helps planners diversify their risk.
"Things change. It's important to stay on your toes and be ready for change because that's how things are today," said Wells. "The trade show business is a business where if it's not broken, we don't fix it. But now, we're really forced to innovate and adapt, and we're seeing some really positive case studies come out of it."