The new year got off to a rocky start for many meeting and event professionals, who returned from their winter holidays to manage cancellations and postponements. But the general sentiment among a range of sources is that the surging Omicron variant is a temporary setback in what promises to be an excellent year for the meetings and events industry.
Here’s how planners from various market segments are spending the first few business days of 2022.
Step One: Assessing Client Sentiment
At Talley Management Group, which handles global association meetings, “our team is busy cancelling, rescheduling or modifying events for Q1,” said Gregg Talley, the company’s president and CEO. “We’re back to understanding where our audience is with all of this, where our client leadership is in their thinking, where our contracts and partners are and then developing out all the options for good decision-making. It’s déjà vu all over again!”
Some Clients Are Changing Plans
Tracey Bockhop, CMP, is a survivor of spring 2020, when all of her small company’s booked business vanished. Bockhop, an independent planner and CEO of Meet Meetings, hopes the pattern won’t repeat in 2022.
Her first task this week was to rebook a program for 500 less than a week out, with an initial move-in date of Jan. 8. “The decision wasn’t necessarily based on concerns about meeting safely; it had more to do with the number of would-be attendees who have been exposed to the virus or lost daycare due to contagion or exposure,” she explained. Now, a tough decision is looming: “There are spaces available if we want to move it to February, but not knowing when this surge will end makes it very difficult to confirm a future date.”
Strong Reasons for Optimism
The situation is not dire, according to Brett Sterenson, president of Hotel Lobbyists, a site-selection firm: “My worry is tempered this time around for three reasons: First, January and February are naturally a less busy time year. Second, the Omicron variant is more contagious but less serious for the vaccinated population. And third, because it’s less severe, I think cooler heads might prevail.”
Mike May, CMP, president of Brightspot Incentives & Events, agreed. Based on incentive industry surveys and his own experience with clients, “75 to 90 percent of consumer attitudes have already shifted to this virus being consistent, limited and managed. People are moving on and resuming the old normal.”
Simply put, “our society isn’t poised to shut down again,” Sterenson stated. “We’re learning how to operate alongside Covid rather than running from it.
Incentives: Most Are Staying the Course
Canvas Meetings & Incentives is enjoying a strong start to the new year, reported business owner Kelly Gallagher. Some clients with programs in January or February are in talks of moving to more hybrid/virtual experience or shifting dates, but those changes haven’t been finalized yet, she said.
Meanwhile, Gallagher noted, “Our spring groups seem to be moving full steam ahead, so — knock on wood — we are still hopeful. We've got 100 people coming to Cancun in two weeks and we’re super excited about it. We are also getting some great referrals for potential new clients right now, so we've been preparing for a very busy 2022. Let's hope it stays that way!”
At Maritz Global Events, too, most clients are moving forward with their in-person programs, but with heightened health protocols, according to David Peckinpaugh, who became president and CEO of Maritz Holdings, the business unit’s parent company, as of Jan. 1. Proof of vaccination and self-monitoring are common measures.
Learning to Live — and Meet — With Covid
“Overall, we remain bullish on 2022,” said Peckinpaugh. “If South Africa is an example of what we can expect, Omicron should reduce significantly in the coming month or so. With the right protocols in place, domestic business events should be able to perform well. International events will remain a challenge in the near term but with a lot of promise from the spring on.”
“I do worry about meetings cancelling — as I always have,” added Sterenson, “but perhaps the dull concern beneath that sharp pang of cancellation is that the longer we go without holding these regular meetings and events, the greater the chance we adapt to the travesty of no longer meeting at all.”