Flashback to March of 2020…
The pandemic has gripped the United States and Canada. Young and old, every one of us is thrown into roles and realities we never could have imagined. Meetings professionals quickly become virtual event producers. Hoteliers swiftly transform into professional puzzle workers – moving programs on a constantly changing calendar. Many dive into the world of COVID safety and protocol certifications. Most of the “sexy” elements of our roles come to an abrupt standstill, including travel, décor, entertainment and activations to delight and reward guests. One of the many hard-hitting losses for our industry is the pride and satisfaction of seeing everything come together in person at our events.
Taking Stock in 2022…
Whether we’ve embraced it or feel like we’ve been dragged out of our comfort zone in sweatpants, there is no doubt we’ve entered this year forever changed and with a lot of knowledge under that elastic waistband. The question as we approach live events again is, what have we learned – both personally and professionally – that we can and should implement into our live events? In other words, how are we bringing “sexy” back?
We’ve learned the importance of self-care over the last two years, and translating that into an agenda can be simple, yet impactful. “White space” as a design best practice has leapt into the attendee experience. Consider offering longer breaks between sessions or extended meal breaks to allow attendees to call their family members, answer emails or even take a nap. We’ve grown accustomed to more flexibility in terms of work structures. Meeting and event environments that foster health and lifestyle consciousness will reap engagement and retention rewards.
In addition, two years of family and inward focus have stirred a renewed sense of what’s truly important. Attendees are searching for a purpose-driven experience with an emphasis on authenticity. Today, the intentions behind attendee travel feel different – be it wellness-driven, adventure-driven or skill-learning driven. This has been evident in the steep increase in the number of requests on the DMC side of the business for corporate social responsibility (CSR) and team-building activities.
A topic that’s less “sexy,” but still hugely important, is the need for creating a COVID duty of care or non-COVID-specific duty of care protocols in general. Attendees are more aware than ever of their surroundings. (Just think of your last reaction to someone coughing or sneezing in a grocery store.) Attendees want to feel prepared and aware of what is expected of them. Communication is key. They also want to feel the organization has done due diligence to think through all elements of health and safety on their behalf. It’s time to brush up on our active shooter training and protester protocols and plans, plus fire/natural disaster plans.
Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives will continue to be an important part of event planning strategy and execution. Small businesses and big brands alike have taken a hard look at their own policies and practices. Now, we have clients seeking to determine if we as partners are aligned with their DEI mission as part of the request for proposal (RFP) process. We are also helping clients who want their events to “walk the walk,” and that means DEI alignment across all vendor partners, including transportation providers. Updated gender identification options in the registration process are becoming the new norm to encourage a more inclusive environment. Along those lines, we see brands intent on truly comprehensive inclusivity, including engagement opportunities that honor a person’s comfort level with close proximity in this cautiously optimistic return to live experiences.
Returning to live meetings and events is like life itself – challenging yet thrilling. Taking all that we have learned and creating experiences that:
- Allow flexibility
- Foster wellbeing
- Offer authentic and purpose-driven engagement
- Feel safe
- Are inclusive and equitable
Well, we think that’s very “sexy” indeed.
Taylor (Levy) Laws, CMP, DMCP
Regional Director of Sales
Destination South Meetings + Events, a DMC Network Company