As 2020 comes to a close, we are left with no shortage of questions when considering what the future holds in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The specific details related to timelines, long-term impact, and industry trajectories, in many cases, remain relatively unclear. However, one thing is sure: the events and meeting landscape is forever changed, but not forgotten. While this has been a notably difficult year for everyone that relies on in-person, high-traffic experiences, the importance of in-person gatherings in a corporate setting is well understood across businesses that are now making safety-conscious plans for 2021 events and business travel. The demand for events and meetings has not dissipated; their proposed design has simply received a makeover.
In the coming months, companies must consider their meetings and travel programs under a new, more proactive lens while relying on travel and meetings management technology that can help to simplify and ameliorate the event planning process.
A Hybrid Experience
A recent survey revealed that 63% of planners predict that their companies or clients will host in-person meetings and incentives sometime in the first half of 2021, provided that destinations allow gatherings and health protocols are in place. The design of events will focus on small gatherings at local and regional destinations in favor of large meetings, with attendee and staff safety considerations at the forefront of the planning and implementation process.
The rise of hybrid events that welcome attendees in-person and online presents new engagement opportunities across meetings and events. With the right approach and technology in place, companies now have a chance to expand the reach and impact of their events while connecting with new audiences. With this in mind, convention centers such as Houston's George R. Brown Convention Center have already begun adding hybrid-meetings studios to their venues.
A Closer Look at the New Normal
In the American Express Meetings and Events 2021 Global Meetings and Events Forecast, respondents made a note of the following considerations when deciding to hold an in-person event:
- Confidence in attendee health and safety components (63%)
- Flexible cancellation and attrition terms (59%)
- The capacity to accommodate social distancing (77%)
- Disinfection protocols (52%)
As attendee health and safety concerns and the demand for social distancing remain paramount, venue spaces must offer enhanced transparency and personalization when working with planners on future events. For corporations, a venue's COVID-19 risk-mitigation policy should guide the vetting process for future events. Corporations will require enhanced visibility and streamlined workflows throughout the process.
Technology to the Rescue
There is now a global push from organizations of all sizes for a structured meeting management program to be in place - taking a closer look at the policies and procedures they have in place. Technology is the key to helping companies implement a program and initiate a level of compliance, management, and oversight that may have been on the back burner before the pandemic.
Even though COVID-19 cases are once again starting to rise in the U.S. and abroad, airline and hotel industry executives are saying that seven months of pent-up consumer demand bodes well for the future of the struggling travel business. To rebound and recover safely, companies will have to adhere to new standards in regards to formalized meeting policies, best practices, and cohesive event planning strategy empowered by travel and meeting management technology. What begins as a hybrid of virtual and small in-person events at select, non-traditional venue spaces will gain momentum. Ultimately, the pandemic will likely mean an influx of meetings and events as corporations hit reset in 2021 and strive to make up for lost time and lost opportunities.