The MICE industry was mercilessly thrown for a loop this year with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, and CVBs felt the brunt of that misery downstream.
Since early spring, planners and convention and tourism bureaus have scrambled to salvage what they can from 2020 programs. Some scrapped the live component and pivoted exclusively to virtual while others navigated tricky logistics to postpone to 2021 and beyond.
“We’re having to flip the script here and think outside the box to make changes necessary to accommodate everyone during this time,” said Meredith Conger, communications specialist for Visit Baton Rouge.
Following are three examples of how planners and CVBs—out of Baton Rouge, El Paso and New York City—worked together to reevaluate and adjust a 2020 meeting or event in the wake of COVID-19.
Going Virtual in Baton Rouge
Baton Rouge had planned to host a live conference for 350 attendees for one of their clients in 2020, and a decision was made to pivot completely to virtual.
“Something that we worked on with the meeting planner was ways to provide virtual assets so they could still ‘host’ their meeting in Baton Rouge,” Conger said. “We did things like create Zoom backgrounds of Baton Rouge and curate Spotify playlists with Baton Rouge artists or songs about Baton Rouge—they’re great for breakout sessions or for in between speakers. If planners wanted to play music during those times from that playlist, they could.”
Visit Baton Rouge also reached out to many of its local partners to curate even more virtual offerings for other virtual conferences and meetings, including a 3D tour of one of Baton Rouge’s biggest attractions: the USS Kidd, a WWII destroyer docked on the Mississippi River downtown.
“We know a lot of planners aren’t able to travel right now, so we’re getting creative to see how we can still allow them to experience our city,” Conger said.
Postponing in El Paso
Sports ETA, the trade association for the sport events and tourism industry, had planned to host its 4S Summit this fall in El Paso, Texas, bringing about 200 attendees to the city. After the Visit El Paso sales rep who sold the event was furloughed, Visit El Paso national sales manager Ernesto Hernandez took the reins to help reschedule the program in the wake of the pandemic.
El Paso, Texas
“We had to piece together what the next step was and even if they’d consider having an event next year,” Hernandez said. “In the interim, I had to find  dates that were available, which is easier said than done. As most CVBs know, we have RFPs for three or four years out, so I needed to contact those clients to see if we could open up days.”
Hernandez said it was difficult to find dates that would work—and to even imagine what an event in 2021 in the age of COVID-19 would look like.
“Do we need more meeting space? If we have a room for 100, do we now need it for 200 to comply with physical distancing? Was that going to cost more money? Are food and beverage minimums going to change?” Hernandez recalled asking himself and his team.
Fortunately, Visit El Paso was able to rebook Sports ETA’s summit for October 2021, after those particular dates opened up from another client also needing to postpone a 2020 program.
Bringing Business Back to NYC
One of the U.S. cities hit hardest by the onset of COVID-19, New York City, was slated to host between 1,000 and 1,400 people in mid-July for the National Environmental Health Association’s Annual Education Conference.
NYC & Company, the DMO and CVB for New York City’s five boroughs, worked with Lindsey White, director of global accounts for ConferenceDirect, to closely monitor the evolving situation in NYC. The two parties touched base in late April to discuss the status of the convention.
Working with the event’s partners at Sheraton New York Times Square Hotel, the projected host of the 2020 program, it was determined that the convention could not take place this year. The NEHA, though, was eager to keep the event in New York City at a later date.
“My goal was to try to get the business back to NYC, because it’s where the customer wanted to be,” White said. “And I feel, even if something’s canceled because of force majeure, it’s important to try, if you can and have that flexibility, to be a good partner and try to go back to these places.”
NEHA’s event was resourced and rescheduled for July 2022.
“Between CVBs, hotels, clients and their planning partners, so much hard work goes into creating a successful program, and while postponing was undoubtedly the right decision, on a personal level I was saddened to see a program cancel, under no fault of any party,” said Cory Rosenberg, NYC & Company’s director of sales, West. “Working with partners like NEHA and ConferenceDirect, who recognized the value of collaborating with a city CVB and were committed to working with all parties to find solutions, was especially heartening during these challenging times.”