Hosting meetings and events in a world affected by COVID-19 will require major adjusting — especially on the part of planners and venues. It’ll take a combined effort in order to restart the industry and begin hosting in-person functions again. Venues can focus on a few key areas in order to provide the requirements for safe meetings and events: health and safety protocols, social distancing arrangements, and safe food and beverage.
Event industry recovery: Where to start with safe meetings?
Venues play a key role in the recovery of the events industry. By implementing distancing practices at your property and taking every precaution, it lowers the risk for the event planner and their attendees, and adds a layer of security.
It will become expected for venues to be equipped with thermal scanning, as this is a must-have layer of security for those willing to attend the event. Not having this capability will add an element of risk. Thermal scanning can at least give an indication of who is showing symptoms and can be immediately quarantined. While there are doubts about the effectiveness of thermal scanning in preventing the spread of the virus, it will still be a security measure expected by planners and attendees. Venues that can provide this service will put themselves ahead of the pack.
Having a sanitisation policy in place is another crucial element for any event venue looking to restart its MICE business and prepare for future events. Have a plan ready for handling those who may contract the virus at your hotel or while attending an event at your hotel.
The meetings that will take place in person will need to have a very strong reason to happen. They will likely be limited to domestic events and have virtual or hybrid alternatives as a replacement until there is a vaccine or other cure. Small, drive-to meetings will be one of the ways the event industry rebuilds and makes its comeback. These include internal meetings, workshops, and seminars, held locally with attendees from a close geographic area. The meetings will also likely be short, as prolonged, close contact is thought to further spread the virus.
How COVID-19 may change future in-person meetings
This is still a topic under discussion within the industry, but COVID-19 will likely affect future meetings in many ways – one of the most notable being room and seating configuration. Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) recently posted a discussion about how to manage social distancing at future events, and a few of the participants had suggestions for how they plan to tackle this challenge when it comes to room setup.
Jennifer Stewart of International Association of Chiefs of Police shared her team’s brainstorming ideas for educational session rooms and theater-style seating. She's hopeful that by October, they will be able to set up small groups of chairs near one another while still accommodating the social distancing recommendations. For example, setting up columns of two chairs each with six-foot aisles in between, and having increased distance between chair rows – which is essentially theater setup with an increased number of aisles.
For registration lines, hotels can follow models of what stores are doing, with taped lines on the floor to demarcate six-foot distances. Brainstorm possible event room layouts and design a way for people to get to their seats while maintaining the distance limit.
Wynn Las Vegas recently unveiled its Health and Sanitation Program, which includes a number of steps it plans to take in order to ensure that recovery is undertaken in a safe and responsible way. These include physical distancing measures, thermal cameras at entry points, a cap on gathering size and occupancy in retail and other areas, and mandatory mask wearing. It also indicates separate instructions for different aspects of the hotel’s operations including training for employees, cleaning protocols and access to PPE, and a new flow for processing guests, as well as specific sanitation policies for each staff department. Wynn’s reopening strategy and safety precautions could serve as a blueprint for other hotels and meeting facilities as we move toward restarting MICE business.
Most importantly, when it comes to hosting safe meetings and events at your hotel or venue, be sure to stay in touch with all local, state and federal guidelines. You can then use our Event Diagramming tools to ensure you adhere to those guidelines, so you can deliver safe experiences for all attendees and employees. New features within these tools allow users to add custom safety guidelines (attendees per table, distance between attendees, etc.) as well as safety objects, such as sanitisation and temperature check stations.
Additionally, make sure your venue is listed on the Cvent Supplier Network, which now features Source Safely — a way for venues to share their latest health and safety information with planners.
“Now and going forward, health and safety should be paramount, and venues are pulling out all the stops to put together comprehensive health and cleanliness programs to ensure the safety of their group business guests,” said Cvent CMO, Patrick Smith. “Our Source Safely information on the Cvent Supplier Network will give them the platform they need to showcase their offerings to the hundreds of thousands of event professionals who source through the Cvent Supplier Network, while giving planners the insights they need to know that the venues and destinations they are considering are safe for their attendees.”
Event food and beverage during times of social distancing
When it comes to F&B at events, self-service buffets likely won’t be a viable option for a while. Seated dining could be an alternative option, if there are available staff members trained in sanitation and food-handling measures. These extra steps and layers of caution could tack on added costs to F&B, so it’s in venues’ best interest to offer cost-effective solutions for food and beverage at events. One option could be pre-packed meals that attendees pick up from fridges or multiple locations, or have the boxed meals already placed at their seats at the event.
"We've gotten very creative, and I think most people have in this environment," Kathy Masterson, director of sales at Hard Rock Hotel Dayton Beach, said for a Cvent CONNECT Virtual session. "Something as simple as a continental breakfast. Usually it has a fruit display and muffins and danishes and all of these things that are just left out with tongs to serve it. We're actually individually packaging those items now into plastic containers."
For any on-campus events, Harvard University’s guidelines limit them to ten people and urge the use of a room or event space large enough to prevent crowding for the expected attendance. The guidelines around food and beverage recommend staggering stations and serving food in individual units like bagged lunches, individual water bottles, etc. Avoid serving foods where multiple hands will touch the food, like bowls of chips. Provide serving utensils if needed or arrange for food to be served by staff who are trained in safe food handling.
Bo Peabody, co-owner of Mezze Restaurant Group, outlined a few precautions for restaurants during this time that can also be applied to food and beverage spaces for meetings and events. He suggests going beyond spacing out tables and taking advantage of any outdoor space if you have it available. Provide an open-air environment if possible, or make sure the room has airflow – open windows or keep a door cracked open so people don’t feel confined and the room gets fresh air.
The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture distributed guidelines for food pantries, and a few are also applicable to hotels and venues that provide food and beverage:
- Consider keeping the amount of food on display low and restock more frequently to reduce the amount of food touched by different clients.
- Instead of making food available for clients to browse, consider a menu-only option and have staff pre-pack the meal bags or boxes.
- Restrict the number of people in the kitchen space to encourage social distancing and limit the number of people handling food.
- Temporarily postpone any food demos or cooking classes and don’t offer food samples.
Use this information about safe meetings and events to best prepare for the future
Remember, hotels and venues play a key role in the recovery of the industry, which will likely look very different once meetings and events pick back up. Be sure you stay ready so you can deliver safe experiences for everyone involved.