Paul Cook finds that many planners are in the business of reassurance and working to overcome apprehension.
Covid-19 paralysed the in-person events sector in a way that has never been seen before. The challenge facing planners today is one of instilling confidence. Surely, the events sector just needs to prove itself with the safe running of small events; then it can easily move on to the second stage of running bigger meetings?
In talking to event providers and clients, it quickly becomes apparent that there is no single easy answer to our question.
Despite some governments allowing small meetings to take place, there can be hesitation from clients to hold events. Some clients are just plain nervous and the last thing they need is a planner that doesn’t understand how to help them.
To overcome the nerves it’s absolutely essential that the Covid safety regulations are adhered to. Anne Dalgaard of EventAnne in Denmark notes, “safety issues are here to stay even if they find a vaccine. It’s more important than ever that planners and venues work together to make sure attendees are safe.”
Even if everything can be done safely, New York planner, Nicole Peck says that organisers and corporations are looking for legal protection. She points out the organiser could do everything correctly and a delegate could pick up Covid in transit or elsewhere and blame the meeting planner or their employer.
And it’s not just clients that are apprehensive. In days past, you could go to an association meeting in search of planners and business. While planners are business drivers, the dynamic has changed. Agencies and suppliers are thinking twice before accepting business from planners.
Rai Shacklock, past president of hospitality and tourism association I-CHRIE notes: “As an international association we have a duty of care to look after our members both professionally and personally. Covid safe to me would be to feel comfortable in others’ company and to see (visibly as well) that all of the risks are covered. Unfortunately, I feel that social distancing will be the elephant in the room.”
Meanwhile Nancy Zavada from MeetGreen, Canada, approaches our question from a different perspective. She believes that instilling confidence is beyond the control of planners and venues. It’s time as an industry to learn from this experience and rethink how and why we convene people.”
This aligns with the thinking of Jacky Griffiths of Grant Thornton UK, who believes it will take time for people to feel secure and to trust event managers. “Delegates have to know that they are in a safe environment, but it’s also the C-Suite that needs assurances as well. Smaller events using a hybrid approach to get to a bigger audience right now are good. Assessing the risk of being safe while travelling and staying overnight is equally significant.”
There is a lot to think about for event planners, but Stuart Knight of Quintessential Promotions says that communicating effectively with clients has to be one of the ways forward. “Understand what your clients’ want and keep assessing their levels of confidence so you can work on stepping from virtual to hybrid events.”
Clearly there is a long way for event planning to go. While there is no single easy answer, we must put our creativity and entrepreneurial thinking to the test. There is no time to waste. We need to look at other industries and see what we can learn from them. We need to stop looking at the past because only the new reality of our future will give us the answers we seek.
Paul Cook is an events industry writer, speaker and Founder of Planet Planit Ltd @planetplanitbiz