So, it’s finally happening! Phones are ringing again and in-person meetings are being booked along with the necessary travel plans to attend those meetings and events. This is all welcome news after the long, dark year many of us experienced in 2020. But-and there is always a “but”-are we really prepared for what lies ahead? My guess is no because in all honesty, our world has just been turned upside down and none of us, myself included, have any experience in knowing how to flip this cruise ship right-side up again. At least without first facing some challenging headwinds.
In fact, as I write this (early June), we are all still scratching our heads at the recent CDC guidelines that basically told us face masks are no longer required – except when they are. And social distancing might be a thing of the past – except when it’s not. So as planners of some of the major, and lots of the minor, upcoming group gatherings that will take place to get our economy in motion again, it is going to be a bit chaotic at first knowing what to do and how to navigate the “new world order” as it pertains to our meeting endeavors.
As both a veteran meeting professional and a realist, I have put together some basic guidelines to take into consideration with my current clients in hopes that it will help some of you navigate these choppy waters, so here is my short list:
- Many hotel “normals” have disappeared, so don’t assume anything. Case in point, have you heard that some hotels are going to start charging a daily cleaning fee on top of your negotiated sleeping room rate if you want the “old standard” of daily maid service? Yep. It’s a thing, so get ready to deal with it. Or not. But, at least be prepared to ask those surprising questions because as the saying goes, “you don’t know what you don’t know.” And I sure don’t want to find that out on the third day of my client complaining that there has been no maid service in the presidential suite because we didn’t specifically contract for that service. Do you?
- Same goes for the basic hotel coffee shops, merchandise kiosks, and many other types of “formerly standard” outlets and services. What we once took for granted (“I KNOW they had bellmen the last time I stayed here!”) may no longer exist due to cost cutting and/or staff shortages. This makes the case for an imperative up-to-date site inspection along with a very honest and open line of communication with your hotel contacts.
- Many of your attendees are going to show up with more “emotional baggage” than ever before, so take that into consideration as you plan out the agenda. Let’s face it. The world got super scary last year for everyone, everywhere. No exceptions here, so best if you ease back into your social events as well as the meetings themselves. Have those coffee or break stations available all day for those that take security and refuge in that need. Plan longer stretch breaks into your programs because remember, that first step back into a crowded ballroom might require some to retreat to their sleeping room or frequently run outside for a reality dose of fresh air.
- Even if Social Distancing seems unnecessary, it’s never going away. By this I’m referring to the big picture of whatever you are planning. For the better part of one whole year people were repeatedly told to get outside (a lot!) and to stay away from close contact with others. Well guess what? A lot of people did that, and for the most part they liked it. A whole bunch. How this translates to your meetings and events is up to you but is definitely something to consider. I personally don’t see my groups clamoring to be overscheduled again with those meeting agendas or networking opportunities. Yes, there are still goals to accomplish, but it’s going to be more challenging to get people to come back down to the ballroom for a standard two-drink-ticket reception once we’ve let them relax in their room.
- Speaking of going outdoors, you need to be scouting every available patio and rooftop for your meeting and function space. I’m already planning one meeting where lunch each day is a multiple choice grab and go and the hotel is adding picnic tables, outdoor beverage stations, and an ice cream cart for dessert, all available in a previously unused grassy area adjacent to the hotel. Plus, the client is accepting of attendees that choose to take the food back to their rooms if that’s where they want to chill. We’ve also made arrangements for a daily comp drink that can be picked up at the lobby bar after the meeting ends instead of forcing that ballroom networking situation that may or may not be in everyone’s comfort zone yet. Small changes but a good way to recognize that while we are meeting again, the landscapes have evolved.