How Responsible Partnering Can Help Move Face-to-Face Meetings Forward

Event planners will need to closely evaluate each company they partner with during the COVID-19 crisis.


What Will Socially Distanced Events Look Like?
The Monterey Conference Center and the Palm Springs Convention Center have transformed their layouts to help thwart the spread of COVID-19. See what changes they've made here.

The meetings industry has faced its fair share of challenges over the past few decades. Each one, from the financial crisis of 2008 to the 9/11 attacks, has forced us to redefine industry standards and expectations.

But time and time again, meeting planners have managed to readjust and remain resilient, proving that the events industry will survive COVID-19. We will look different when we come of this on the other side, but we will survive.

In the past, it has taken months and years before the industry rights itself. We don’t have that sort of time now, with both business and lives at stake. We must move quickly and ask ourselves: What have we learned from past challenges? How can we do now? And how can we avoid such chaos and devastation in the future?

As I work with clients to reschedule their incentive and meeting charters to new dates, I have spoken to hundreds of approved suppliers in all of our ports about their COVID-19 plans. I make sure to ask each one: What are you doing to create confidence for me to work with you in a post‐self‐quarantine world? This is the question every supplier and vendor must answer going forward, whether they are a hotel, restaurant or river cruise company.

Responsible partnering will be key to helping the meeting and incentive industries recover. When I am approached by my colleagues in the industry, I tell them we must hire responsible partners and we must be a responsible partner ourselves.

Responsible partnering of the past meant choosing a good, ethical vendor or supplier who provided the service or product to the best of their ability, fulfilled the terms of their contract and invoiced accurately. But in light of COVID-19, we must redefine what being a responsible partner means. When planning for future meetings, we must ensure that all of our suppliers and partners have taken the right steps to keep our guests and staff members safe.

So, how can companies demonstrate that they are responsible partners?

Most organizations will automatically gravitate toward taking precautions that ensure the safety of their clients, while others will be held accountable by their competitors. Suppliers and vendors will be expected to meet the baseline standards set by industry associations such as Meeting Professionals International, the Society for Incentive Travel Excellence and Cruise Lines International Association. But it will be those with a reputation for exceeding or reinventing new standards that will excel.

When planners look at the type of partner a company will be, it’s helpful to look at the type of partner a company has always been. In other words, how did the company conduct itself before the crisis hit?

Consider the following questions:

  • Does the supplier have a reputation for taking responsible measures with health and safety in the past or have they cut corners? 
  • Do they follow environmental standards and laws? 
  • Prior to COVID-19, did they go above and beyond to create higher standards of health and safety, even if this meant additional costs?
  • Is the supplier transparent about their safety records?
  • How did the company conduct itself in the beginning of the coronavirus crisis? 

These are all indicators that organizations are taking the right measures to be responsible partners. Planners who do not know the answers to these questions for the partners they contract are possibly putting the health and safety of their participants at risk. 

Due diligence must be transparent. Event organizers will need to closely reevaluate the companies they partner with during the COVID-19 crisis and share what safety precautions they are taking with attendees. This will be especially important in the first few months when travel and events resume.

Industry leaders will present guidelines to help organizations find their way, but the real leaders will be the companies who challenge themselves and others to raise the standards and build consumer confidence.

Andrea Petersen-Leskovar is the incentives operations manager of AMADEUS River Cruises, a family owned European river cruise company with over 40 years of river cruising excellence and counting.