COVID-19 has fundamentally altered the dynamics of the meetings and events industry for the foreseeable future, putting a squeeze on travel and group gatherings.  

But as ever, innovative event planners, destination management companies and hospitality providers are finding clever ways to work around current challenges and successfully adapt in turn. 

As a frequent consumer of meetings, both as a speaker and attendee, I have a keen interest in the health of the meetings and events industry, and also understand that myself and other attendees need to feel assured that they are convening in a safe environment. 

Following, you’ll find 10 ways in which meeting and event venues are innovating by creating clever ways to draw audiences back, make them feel more comfortable in an uncertain time, and stay one step ahead of the curve. 

1. Heightened Safety Measures 

Venues are increasingly placing a premium on individual safety and putting attendees’ minds at ease. Steps being taken include extensive cleaning measures, social distancing solutions, temperature checks, health assessments and scans, and the onsite presence of medical professionals. Likewise, event planners are increasingly working with DMCs and hospitality providers to ensure that compliance is maintained and that emergency response solutions are on hand. 

2. Certification and Review 

Several destinations are working in tandem with city officials to introduce certification programs (complete with public-facing awards and stickers) and highlight venues that adhere to heightened healthcare and safety standards. Likewise, they’re also teaming up with industry leaders to craft risk mitigation tools and educational materials that can help meeting and event planners assess potential areas of concern. 

3. Digital and Hybrid Programming 

More event hosts are switching to hybrid online/real-world content and programs and tapping into technology and streaming digital platforms to deliver content in contactless format. As a result, you can expect more spaced-out seating at events, lower-capacity crowds, and more audience networking and interaction using apps, software programs and online services. Rooms will hold fewer participants at any given time, with growing numbers of attendees encouraged to tune in online or livestream keynote and breakout presentations. 

4. Augmented and Virtual Reality Solutions 

Augmented reality (AR, which superimposes digital content over real-world scenes) and virtual reality (VR, which immerses users in 3D computer-simulated environments) tools are growing in prominence as well. Going forward, expect more destinations and venues to introduce high-tech headsets, digitally enhanced apps and wearable devices as a means of facilitating audience interaction, conducting site tours and enabling shared entertainment or event experiences. 

5. More Outdoor Experiences 

From al fresco dining to beach and waterfront activities, more properties are pushing for events that take place outside in nature, as opposed to indoor within enclosed environments. Similarly, more event planners are considering resort buy-outs, experiential destinations and outdoor venues as destinations for their get-togethers. 

6. Smarter Dining 

Providers that offer catering are increasingly looking to space out dining areas, stagger dining groups, deliver individualized plates to each guest, and regroup around themed experiences (i.e. “A Taste of Napa”) designed to pique audiences’ interests.

In addition, they’re also looking to house food service solutions in larger open-air areas, such as open fields, parking lots, parks and festival grounds, and offer guests greater mobility by offering to-go drinking and dining options. Sustainability is also continuing to take top billing, as even in an age of single-use and disposable items, more venues are looking for ways to go green as well. 

7. Rethinking Registration 

Some properties are placing colored tape six feet apart on the floor so attendees don’t overcrowd registration lines. But many forward-thinking destinations are also introducing online and digital alternatives (e.g., operating via text message or allowing guests to scan QR codes) to avoid direct one-to-one contact

8. Promoting Employee Health 

Both event venues and organizers are  adopting flexible attendance and sick leave policies, as well as cross-training staff to cover for colleagues, who are encouraged to stay home if ill or high-risk. Similarly, they’re also working to create quarantine areas and action plans with local health departments and hospitals in the event individuals become ill. Many are turning to automated platforms to quickly share information and news updates with staffers as well. 

9. Flexible Staffing and Shirts 

To limit staff interaction and contact, myriad event venues are also bringing fewer workers onsite at any given time and introducing staggered shift schedules to minimize exposure. Workers who aren’t needed at the property are also increasingly being encouraged to telecommute and work virtually. 

10. Local Focus 

Smaller, more intimate experiences and mid-size events structured around the best that local regions have to offer look to grow in prominence going forward, as opposed to far-flung excursions to exotic destinations and grand-scale gatherings. Noting this, venues are increasingly adapting to provide all sorts of bite-sized, turnkey group programs and experiences that promote the features that make their properties and surrounding locales unique.

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About the Author:

Scott SteinbergScott Steinberg

Scott is an award-winning professional speaker and is among today’s best-known trends experts and futurists, and the bestselling author of Think Like a Futurist; Make Change Work for You: 10 Ways to Future-Proof Yourself, Fearlessly Innovate, and Succeed Despite Uncertainty; and Millennial Marketing: Bridging the Generation Gap. The President and CEO of BIZDEV:The International Association for Business Development and Strategic Partnerships™, his website is www.AKeynoteSpeaker.com