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7 Ways CSMs Can Help Planners as the Meetings Industry Reboots
Photo courtesey of Sam Aronov / Shutterstock.com.
The COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us that change is the only constant.
Ask a meeting planner.
In a little more than a year, events and conferences have gone from in-person affairs to “You’re on mute!” virtual attempts. As the industry transitions back, things will look different—some temporary, some forever.
Hybrid events will take center stage to align with safety precautions and a desire for something that rhymes with normal. From a meeting planner’s perspective, the new-norm hybrids mean two events that happen at the same time but appear to be one integrated event, without extra support staff.
And that new reality means event service professionals, convention service managers and those in similar positions must expand their roles and continue to help meeting planners in new ways.
Take a glance across the country to see how events are morphing into something new:
With changing constraints that differ from state to state, meeting planners should expect clear direction from venue CSMs during the first phase as events return.
For example, Suzanne Seder, CMP, director of convention services at Tampa Convention Center, provides an Event Planners Checklist, which is a fillable form that clients review and sign 45 days before the event. The form states the current occupancy rate, includes a request for a written plan that explains how pre-sale and onsite ticket sales will be managed, and spells out exceptions for facial coverings on premise.
Seder guides planners on who else is in the building and how that impacts flow of traffic. Separating groups who want health-screenings and others that don’t have also become part of the planning process.
Additional consideration should be given to exhibit halls, which can be one of the most congested parts of a conference.
Jamie Huckleberry, director of event services at Pittsburgh’s David L. Lawrence Convention Center, offers clients plenty of options to maintain peace of mind:
- Increase aisle widths to help with traffic flow and crowding at booths.
- Limit exhibitor giveaways to individually wrapped items.
- If space permits, utilize the exhibit floor for additional meetings rooms or streaming areas from the breakout sessions.
- Offer booked appointments with exhibitors prior to the show floor opening to allow for more one-on-one time. This can help to lessen congestion within a booth. This could also lead to a new revenue source or sponsorship opportunity, pending on how a show promoter would want to promote it.
Food & Beverage
Bringing people together has become especially tricky when it comes to sharing a meal with others. Packaged food items and disposable utensils are part of the new normal in the return of events. Rather than having guests serve themselves at a food buffet, servers will plate the food.
Victor Sanchez, CMP, convention services manager at Isleta Resort & Casino in Albuquerque, New Mexico, is considering a way to separate attendees into “group bubbles” so they are around the same attendees throughout the conference and exposed to fewer people up close. Each bubble would break for lunch in intervals to get food and return to their assigned meeting room.
[Related Webinar: Elevating the F&B Experience]
Site tours, typically reserved for prospects as well as a final run-through before events, also have a new look. Although tours are currently trending as more of a remote or hybrid experience, they should be treated as mini events, according to Dominique Bonds, guest experience director/interim diversity and inclusion manager at Philadelphia’ Pennsylvania Convention Center.
Meeting planners should evaluate which members of the team would find it more beneficial to be onsite and which members could participate virtually. The revised site tours are also the perfect application for venues to provide their detailed plan outlining all safety and wellness improvements made during the last year as well as show room sets that meet CDC guidelines.
Identifying local partners to support events has always been a strength for convention service managers, but now there has been a new vendor category added to the list: COVID testing sites.
Katy Willis, who is director of convention services at Visit Seattle, has developed a list of testing locations and services in her locale for meeting planners. She segments options based on result times and pricing. There are testing options that can turn around results in 24 to 48 hours, same day or even 15 minutes with antigen testing. In fact, a new local Seattle company can mobilize at any venue and provide same-day results for up to 5,000 individuals.
Last year, Kristen Turner, CMP, DES, director of convention services at VisitPITTSBURGH, managed a health and safety initiative that brought together the Pittsburgh local hospitality community and health care professionals to align local and national protocols to create a path forward during the pandemic for visitors and event organizers. Today, she provides organizers with the comprehensive PGH Commitment Safe Event Guide that aggregates updated health and safety protocols from city-wide hospitality partners, helping organizers benefit from the destination’s local knowledge and expertise.
When it comes to attracting attendees, trust is the best place to start during these uncertain times. From an events perspective, peace of mind comes from ensuring all stakeholders have the most up-to-date information.
Zack Davis, CMP, CTA, vice president of destination services at Louisville Tourism, orchestrates multiple pre-conference meetings involving the meeting planner’s staff, board members and event exhibitors to hold virtual information sessions during the planning process. His CVB provides real-time, transparent information specific to the latest health and safety guidelines, scheduled local events and businesses reopenings, just to name a few.
The pandemic has made everyone think differently, and in some cases, it has created new opportunities for meeting planners.
Lisa Bethea, CTA, CTIS, senior convention services and tourism manager at Visit Frisco in Texas, helps meeting planners by taking some of the promotional efforts off their hands. As a destination expert, she designs collateral for social media and print pieces to attract the most selective attendees.
“COVID changed the world in a way that we couldn’t imagine, but it didn’t squash our creativity,” she said. “Truly, all you have to do is ask!”
The COVID-19 era has motivated many to connect with others from afar, thanks to technology. Hybrid and virtual events are in demand, which means meeting planners will need help navigating the added complexities, according to Matthew Robinette, CMP, STS, director of visitor experience at Richmond Region Tourism.
Robinette said his convention services team has completed a course on digital event strategy, so they can help planners from a technical aspect that includes content creation. In addition, the services team has created hybrid/virtual sponsorship opportunities so planners can generate more revenue and member value without creating two separate programs.
Coupons used to be an ideal way to connect attendees to local partners at destinations, but the pandemic has strongly encouraged everyone to embrace technology.
Beth Butler, director of destination services at Visit Charlotte, enhanced the destination experience website that provides discount offers through an online version of their “Show Your Badge” program. The eco-friendly web option aligns with safety measures, enabling attendees to select their own offer or redeem their own show. It also allows the city’s 600-plus business partners to make their own edits to the special offers more frequently, whether it’s a seasonal dish they are promoting or a discount offer to a special exhibit.