Article originally featured on bizbash.com.
When the COVID-19 vaccine began rolling out at the beginning of this year, it was a good sign for the event industry that a return to normalcy was on the horizon. But the question is, would the vaccine give event planners—and their clients—the assurances they need to reserve venues and plan live events in 2021?
So far, 20% of the U.S. population has received the vaccine. Some experts estimate the threshold for herd immunity against COVID-19 is somewhere between 70% to 90%.
However, despite the uncertainty of when the majority of the U.S. population will receive the vaccine, there is still optimism in the event industry. According to a recent survey, 81% of meeting planners will hold their next in-person event sometime in 2021, with 59% of those events scheduled to take place in the second half of the year.
It appears in-person meetings and events are on the precipice of a full recovery. So, as you prepare to get your next live event on the books, here are a few things to keep in mind.
1. Book a venue sooner than later.
Businesses looking to make a return to live events must be proactive and intentional when evaluating and booking venues. With so much activity anticipated for the second half of this year, venues for upcoming events are getting snatched up at a frenetic pace. And it’s important to remember venues also have to accommodate the large number of events that were postponed last year and rescheduled because of the pandemic.
Not only is it going to be tough to find the venue you want—for the dates you want—in 2021, but it isn’t going to get any easier over the next few years either. The organizers of San Diego Comic-Con found this out the hard way recently when they received backlash for scheduling a live event over Thanksgiving weekend.
2. Consider a hybrid event.
Hybrid events will be important, relevant and crucial to the success of the event industry for at least the next three to five years. And here’s why:
First, hybrid events allow event organizers to please everyone. For attendees who prefer the live event setting, you can fill a venue to a certain percentage of capacity and ensure everything is compliant with COVID-19 protocols. And for those who want to meet virtually, hybrid events give you the platform to create a stellar virtual experience that works in tandem with your live offering.
Going one step further, a well-planned hybrid event can serve as a solid example that producing a safe, in-person event is possible and achievable, even while vaccination numbers haven’t hit the desired target.
It’s also hard to overlook how much of an impact the coronavirus had on business travel. It was recently reported that U.S. companies will continue to slash travel expenditures even after the pandemic is over. And executives believe the number of external meetings conducted virtually will triple, relative to prepandemic figures.
Hybrid events give these companies the engaging and informative virtual experiences they need while providing a live experience that reminds them of the value and benefits of live events.
3. Decrease the risk to increase confidence.
Until COVID-19 is totally eradicated, there isn’t a surefire method that guarantees complete safety for those attending live events. However, there are plenty of things event organizers can do to decrease risk and boost confidence and comfort, including ensuring in-person gatherings offer:
- Touchless registration systems at the venue
- Enough designated space for proper social distancing
- Hand-sanitizing and mask stations
- Individually packaged food and beverages
- Mandatory temperature checks and mask requirements
In addition, I always recommend grouping attendees together in assigned clusters. If you’re hosting an event for 500 people in a 2,000-person venue, what happens when a session ends and everyone gets up simultaneously to use the bathroom? If you put people into predetermined groups, you have more control over the flow of traffic and can avoid people clustering together in a small space.
4. Work with an agency that understands COVID-19 protocols.
Many big hotels and event venues are accustomed to making events safe, but there are plenty out there who may not have enough capabilities or resources to dedicate to event safety, especially when it comes to meticulous COVID-19 regulations.
At EES, we accept the responsibility of ensuring each event we produce meets and exceeds established safety criteria. And when necessary, we work closely with local, state and federal authorities to make sure our events check every safety box there is. For example, we produced an in-person event in November 2020 for 2,000 people in South Carolina. To ensure safety, we wrote and followed a “COVID Compliance Plan” that was unique to the event. We also worked directly with the government of South Carolina to pull off an engaging, safe and fun event that was as free from risk as possible.
Further, two of our staff members are certified in COVID-19 compliance for multiple industries, and they have earned certifications in contact tracing and other important areas that ensure we remain knowledgeable and educated when it comes to producing safe events.
For live events to truly bounce back in 2021, it’s more important than ever for event management agencies to work closely with clients to create an environment that gives in-person events the best chance to flourish.