8 in 10 Americans say they miss attending in-person events, according to research firm APCO Insight.
There’s something special about being able to gather together with others, whether you’re learning at a conference, celebrating at a wedding or rocking out at a concert.
After a year of abrupt event cancelations, many people and organizations are cautiously planning to reunite for events throughout 2021. As organizational leaders decide whether to host gatherings, the events they begin to plan will likely be quite different than the ones they’ve hosted in previous years.
Are There Specific Best Practices for Events and Managing the risk of COVID-19?
According to CDC guidelines in spring 2021, there are no specific recommended group or event sizes. Instead, event planners/organizers should focus on the spacing of the event and whether or not attendees are able to remain at least six feet apart during the event.
They should also focus on limiting interaction opportunities between their event and facilities’ teams and the event attendees, as greater interaction creates a greater opportunity for the virus to spread.
And, finally, outdoor events are generally considered less risky than indoor events, although COVID-19 can still spread in outdoor spaces if people are mingling in close company for extended periods of time.
What Should Event Planners Keep in Mind When Planning 2021 Events?
With the CDC’s guidelines in mind, organizations are beginning to plan events cautiously and optimistically for the remainder of 2021. Gaining insights from operations leaders in Austin and around the country, we’ve compiled some of the top trends we’re seeing in current event planning.
1.Virtual events will remain popular – and evolve.
While there are opportunities to come back together in person, virtual events are still being held and will continue for the foreseeable future. They’ve proven to be convenient and attract people who are interested in furthering their growth, development or in staying connected to an interest or industry.
Many companies and organizations are working to unite both types of gatherings — digital and in-person. These hybrid events provide the best of both worlds:
– An in-person opportunity for attendees who are comfortable gathering.
– An online connection to provide convenient access for an additional group of people not ready/able to meet in person.
– Hybrid events can help organizations bring people together. They can also compensate for some of the revenue decreases created by lower-capacity event locations and higher event production costs.
For example, big name performers like Dua Lipa are spending millions to create online/livestream events and selling upward of a quarter-million tickets for a virtual concert event.
You can create valuable experiences for people at both the in-person and virtual events. To leave your audiences satisfied and delighted with their event investment, hybrid events will require a mix of practical resources and innovative technology.
You need your on-site options to be seamless with great entertainment, education and easy access to safe, hygienic restroom facilities, etc. Your virtual events should be attractive and engaging and should offer something unique that personalizes the session for people who couldn’t make it on-site.
3. Expect to pay more for some services.
As companies seek to create low-contact events, they are likely spending more on the resources needed to reduce interaction between attendees, and between attendees/staff as well.
Making resources more individualized generally costs more. For example, instead of setting up buffet services at an event and using glassware/china/silverware, many event operations directors will rely on disposable, one-use items to reduce contact risks.
More disposable items means more waste generated, which results in increased costs for services like catering. In addition, the amount of waste generated by the event may increase and proper resources must be allocated for managing the event waste, such as:
- Making more staff available to clean up after attendees.
- Placing more waste receptacles around the facility.
- Using recycling or composting stations to manage excess waste and comply with local ordinances.
- Spending more money on cleaning and disinfecting before, during and after the event.
- Providing PPE for the staff, as well as offering PPE to attendees in need.
4. Be prepared to show attendees how you’re keeping the event safe.
If you want to make sure people feel comfortable with attending your event, begin educating them right away and showing your commitment to their safety.
Signage around your event or facility may point out the safety features, the ways you’re protecting your attendees and supporting their well-being. You might flag hand sanitizing stations or include signage that highlights your cleaning and waste processing protocols.
At the same time, you can call attention to the other ways you’re caring for your community through the event, whether you’re incorporating sustainable practices like recycling and composting or using energy-efficient technology.
5. Venue bookings may be more complicated.
The event industry has suffered greatly during the past year, with a more than 70 percent decrease in business travel/event spending. As events begin to ramp up again, spaces are likely to be booked up far in advance because of pent-up demand. Scarcity could leave you scrambling for an event space.
Venues may also require some additional management to minimize risk for attendees. For example, to reduce capacity or to create separation for attendees, some venues are adding temporary fencing to divide their spaces.
To reduce restroom overcrowding, it can make sense to bring portable restrooms on-site and to offer enclosed hand washing spaces that reduce interaction at sinks and sanitizer dispensers.
6. Expert advice will be even more valuable.
Businesses are learning how to explore new event avenues. During a time like this, it’s critical to work with partners who know how to manage events and who are experienced in reducing the back-and-forth on event management issues.
Work with partners who know your communities and who understand city ordinances and requirements. As you navigate this new era of events, it’s important to build relationships with companies that can serve as knowledgeable advisors to your event team.
Many event planners are facing situations that are new to them but aren’t necessarily new to the vendors with whom they work. These vendors have years– some, even decades– of experience helping businesses navigate complex event/venue requirements and create comprehensive event solutions. COVID may have thrown a new wrinkle into their business-as-usual processes, but they’re still well-versed in how to work with event leaders to build the best and most successful plans.
Flexibility and adaptability are two traits we’ve learned over the past year. For operations directors and event managers, those same skill sets will continue to be beneficial as they re-envision and relaunch their in-person event strategies for 2021.