Evolution is a natural part of life. As a result, so is extinction. In the natural habitat of the meeting and travel planning of any corporation, this process is no different. Process and technology are continually evolving, which means that the old, outdated way is constantly being placed on the endangered list, and eventually becoming extinct altogether.
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.
Necessity has always been the mother of invention, and technology has always been at the helm of solving problems and improving our daily lives. Over the years, we've seen Netflix replace Blockbuster Video, Uber disrupt traditional taxi services, and Amazon online shopping has completed transformed the retail space. And yet, before the COVID-19 pandemic, certain industries remained stuck in the past, defined by technology which no longer served them. Specifically, the meetings and events industry that was in dire need of an update would help streamline and simplify planning corporate events and meetings.
Now, as the industry braces for recovery in the coming months, we realize that the path forward demands the long-awaited functionality of self-service meeting management technology.
The Old World of Meeting Management
Traditionally, larger corporations comprised entire teams dedicated to planning travel and venue accommodations for meetings and events. Without the corporate infrastructure to dedicate a whole team to such efforts, smaller companies often relied on a manager who helped oversee and manage upcoming events and travel while working closely with travel agencies specializing in business travel. With expensive and over-engineered technology systems designed for meeting management, the process of planning and facilitating events and meetings (regardless of scale) was often complicated and rife with delays and managerial headaches. Without the appropriate manpower of internal teams or external support from travel agencies, the administrative and logistical demand associated with event planning would make the process, simply put, extremely difficult.
Moreover, events and meetings can occur in any department. Those companies which have never allocated an internal role for event planning often found themselves in a predicament. If an HR manager had to plan a training event somewhere but didn't have the tools or training required to facilitate such a process seamlessly, what did that look like? Similarly, if a Sales Manager has to plan a sales meeting, how can they approach the planning process in an informed and efficient manner (especially in a post-pandemic world) without having any appropriate experience?
The New Era of Meeting Management
In a post-pandemic world, the internal infrastructure of corporations across industries has abruptly changed. Most companies are now relying on fewer resources and an increasingly limited budget. With fewer people in the office and a growing virtual workforce, most businesses simply don't have the means to support teams dedicated to corporate meetings and events. Those administrative efforts, most likely, have been transferred to someone else who, up until now, was entirely unfamiliar with the events and meetings landscape. As these individuals most likely lack dedicated planners' expertise, they don't require the complex tools or resources leveraged by professional planners. Instead, they need user-friendly, intuitive online tools that simplify the process of venue shopping, requesting proposals, booking venues, and booking travel.
The whole world is focusing on health and recovery… getting “better”… medically, economically, and collaboratively at our jobs and our schools.
The current global crisis has articulated the importance of strategic partnerships and precise agreements to ensure the mitigation of risk and increases the value and the importance of a meetings program. Visibility and access to negotiated agreements that expose the company to financial and legal obligations emphasize the importance of minimizing risk in addition to access to critical data of meetings category spend and usage. The further conversation surrounding event cancellation insurance and other ways to mitigate risk in future commitments should also be evaluated and possibly implemented into the meeting’s program.
In the midst of all of this uncertainty, what we do know is that nothing lasts forever, not even the Coronavirus crisis. Undoubtedly, organizations hope to quickly bounce back to their pre-pandemic business as usual though all signs point to the creation of a new normal on every level.
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