With the shutdowns of 2020 in the rearview mirror, companies and organizations are jumping at the chance to once again host in-person events.
“People want to celebrate life events or their businesses and get back in touch with colleagues, and that drive is getting people more excited about hosting those events,” says Jonathan Levoy, president and CEO of Levoy Hospitality Group.
Gregg Mervis, president & CEO of the Akron/Summit Convention & Visitors Bureau and the John S. Knight Center, agrees.
“Regardless of temporary or even more lasting obstacles to hosting in-person meetings, the innate desire ‘to be’ with our colleagues and friends will never be fully thwarted,” Mervis says.
Levoy, Mervis and Sam Cario, director of events and experiences at Cleveland Metroparks, lay out the top trends for how organizations are approaching events in a post-COVID-19 world.
Instead of a hotel conference room with four walls and no windows, event planners are now opting for nontraditional venues where attendees can feel more comfortable and engage with one another in more meaningful ways, Cario says.
He adds that attendees especially appreciate programming that takes place outside of the main location.
“For example, we manage the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo location, and our locations are busier than ever because groups can have a meeting but then walk and enjoy the zoo property and engage with their colleagues that they haven’t seen for two years.”
Prioritizing Health and Wellness
While groups are becoming more accustomed to the idea of living with the coronavirus as a part of everyday life, event planners seek to keep event attendees safe and healthy.
“As we collectively continue to move forward, not taking any aspect of our current positive momentum for granted, we do have to remain cognizant of the spectrum of rebounding budgets and people’s comfort levels in gathering again,” Mervis says. “Current research suggests that event organizers, venues and service providers should continue to implement safety best practices across all aspects of the event.”
Levoy notes that event facilities always provide hand sanitizer and antibacterial soaps, sneeze guards and barriers if requested.
“As far as interactions between our guests and our staff, we try to be respectful of everyone’s opinions and approaches,” Levoy says. “Most of our clients feel confident in the vaccines and the things that’ve happened in the past six to eight months as far as trends of the virus. Our food handling is at a higher level, making sure we’re doing certain things that are a level above what’s required from a food handling perspective. We have all of the different supplies and products to provide any level of service from a cleanliness perspective, and we’re continuing to do higher level sanitation of common areas.”
Levoy adds that the extra attention to detail from a cleanliness and sanitation point of view is one of the silver linings to come out of the pandemic.
In addition to protecting the physical health of attendees, event venues seek to safeguard the mental health of attendees.
“Pre-COVID-19, groups would host hourslong meetings with just content, but now it’s how do they partner with their venue on how to spread their message but to do it in a way that offers health and wellness for their guests, such as a leisurely walk or guided hike during the lunch hour,” Cario says.
Now, the old way of doing things is becoming obsolete.
“It’s getting people outside of their environment, because guests don’t want to be stuck in a room for hours and [they can] socially distance if they need to and get up and be more comfortable,” Cario says.
In line with the mental wellness aspect of events, planners are exploring ways to enhance gatherings with more engaging activities.
“Enhancing an event agenda with additional networking activities not only underscores the intrinsic value of in-person meetings we’ve missed, but it also provides valuable opportunities that encourage conversations and nurture collaborations,” Mervis says. “We have to meet the new demand for elevated event production and strategically indulge our attendees with unexpected experiences they didn’t see coming. Companies and organizations should be creating events that demonstrate their ‘thought leadership’ and ‘brand expertise.’ Research shows that people are willing to invest more for a product or service if it’s exclusive, premium and unique. Therefore, event planners should leverage the direct correlation between elevating the event and growing their revenue.”
In order to boost engagement and connect with attendees on a deeper level, Cario says event planners tend to deal with smaller group sizes instead of hosting an event with 500 people, where it would be difficult to interact with every single person.
With the smaller group sizes, it’s easier to plan networking opportunities, off-site activities and cocktail hours that offer attendees the chance to fully connect with one another.
Finally, Cario says the ability of attendees to virtually dial in from home offers an additional chance for event planners to impact people who may not be able to be there in person.
Know your audience.
Levoy says it’s essential to know your guests’ desires and wants.
“Knowing the guests and what they would enjoy is key, whether it’s music or food or activities,” Levoy says. “Look at the group and what they would like versus what the planner would like. If you take that into consideration, the experience of the event is better.”
Book well in advance.
The availability and capacity for event locations is slim because there was such a quick influx in the first quarter for groups to look for locations, Cario says.
Additionally, the Great Resignation means that there isn’t the full staffing support there was before COVID-19.
“Event hosts are struggling to fill booking dates because of staffing issues,” Cario says. “Event planners say they want to book 12 months out to secure their vendors. Before, we were lucky if they were booking six months out.”