The return of in-person events is expected to occur in outdoor venues that allow for ample space between attendees and minimize the risk of COVID-19 spread. Nearly a quarter (24 percent) of planners polled in Northstar Meetings Group's latest Pulse Survey said they will hold more events at resort locations over the next 12 to 18 months.
Interact Beach Destinations & Resorts, the latest in Northstar Meetings Group's hosted-buyer digital event series, brought together meeting planners and suppliers for a day focused on supporting the industry's recovery and planning for future business. More than 60 people attended the August 11 event, which included education sessions, networking opportunities and one-on-one appointments.
"This particular event, with its focus on beach destinations and resorts, is being offered because of the important role we believe these venues will play in our quest to meet again and for meetings to recover," said David Blansfield, executive vice president and group publisher for Northstar Meetings Group. "Of all the various venue types planners can choose from, we noticed that the likeliest location for future events are boutique hotels and beach or golf resorts, where attendees can spend most if not all of their days and evenings outside in the open air. The attendees not only benefit from reduced likelihood of transmission, but also from being able to breathe fresh air after being cooped up in their offices for months on end."
Tracy Stuckrath, president and founder of Thrive! Meetings & Events, kicked off the event with a session on the new world of food and beverage. Stuckrath walked planners through the various changes that will need to be made in order to ensure the health and safety of in-person event guests, such as switching to server-attended buffets and adding more bars and staff members to account for social distancing and the longer lines that will result.
Top questions that event professionals should be asking their venue and catering partners include who on the staff is ServSafe certified, when their last training was, whether the chefs are social distancing in the kitchen and what personal protective equipment the kitchen staff is required to wear. Stuckrath noted that adapting menus to limit contact between guests and staff will be a high priority, but stressed that food allergies and dietary restrictions must remain top-of-mind.
"Food allergies and managing dietary restrictions is part of food safety; those aren't going to go away," said Stuckrath. "With COVID, we need to make sure we are still adhering to these practices ... And if you are going to do a virtual or hybrid event but still want the people at home to have a food-and-beverage experience, you need to consider the food allergies of everyone in the household."
Next, Bizly's chief strategy officer Kevin Iwamoto discussed the need for planners to adjust their mindset to the current climate. According to Iwamoto, the meetings industry is experiencing the five stages of grief and many planners are currently stuck in the denial or depression phase.
But it is those who are able to quickly move on to the acceptance phase who will be best positioned to address COVID-19-related issues and craft successful events. Reaching this final stage is key, as nearly every aspect of a meeting must be rethought, regardless of whether the meeting is held online, in-person or in a hybrid format. All will require a new agenda among a plethora of other changes.
"Meeting planners are the best problem solvers in the world because they have to problem solve for things they anticipate, as well as things that are unexpected," said Iwamoto. "I have yet to see a problem that professional planners in this industry have not been able to solve. As challenging as COVID-19 is, I don't think this is unsolvable. I already see a lot of movement and creative ideas that are addressing this new environment. Those are folks who have gone directly to the acceptance phase and into action."
The Interact Digital Summer Series continues with Interact International on August 18. Details and registration information can be found here.