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While no one knows exactly when large, in-person gatherings will resume, event professionals are already preparing for recovery from the pandemic, and a new report from IACC, formerly the International Association of Conference Centres, outlines key venue considerations planners might be looking for.
The fifth-annual Meeting Room of the Future report includes insights from conference venues, hotels, technology companies, designers, architects and more from around the world. Venue operators and suppliers were surveyed in January, but additional insights and predictions from industry leaders have been added to address the impact of the coronavirus.
According to the report, the top five meeting elements that will become even more important in the future are:
- Socially responsible and ethical operations (74 percent);
- Flexibility of meeting space (72 percent);
- Food-and-beverage offerings (72 percent);
- Access to interactive technology, including for audience participation and collaborative communication (62 percent); and
- Networking and social places adjacent to the meeting space (60 percent).
Respondents noted that the ideal meeting design is open, flexible, bright, fun and well equipped with technology. In the era of COVID-19, it will be especially important for meeting rooms to have more than one doorway, large social spaces for groups to gather safely that are close to the meeting rooms, and limited or no access for the general public. Venues that offer quality, hard-top desks rather than clothed tables, as well as outdoor meeting spaces, will be all the more attractive when in-person conferences resume.
IACC also predicts that venues will look to invest more in virtual technology. According to the report, 76 percent of venues polled said they either offer virtual tours now, or are planning to introduce them in the next 12 months. In addition, internet bandwidth is expected to become an even higher priority for event planners, particularly if hybrid events become the norm.
Among the experts consulted in the report is Jessi States, director of Meeting Professionals International's MPI Academy. According to States, more venues will invest in low- and no-touch technology solutions for everything from check-in and registration, to meal and drink delivery in order to minimize the risk of contagion. Meanwhile, Mariela McIlwraith of the Events Industry Council said she anticipates seeing speaker kits that are individually packaged and sanitized.
"As an industry we are all going through an unfathomable and uncertain time. The effect that COVID-19 has had on the meetings industry has been severe and we may see a dramatic change in the way we meet in future," said Mark Cooper, CEO of IACC. "I firmly believe that IACC venues being smaller group venues, with large meeting spaces, and large, open-plan social areas, will be well placed to welcome returning meetings, training courses and smaller conferences in the coming months."