Roll with the punches – Virginia Business


Meeting planners adjust in second year of pandemic


September 29, 2021


Catherine schulte

Gil Carrillo, a retired Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Homicide Department, speaks at CrimeCon, a popular true crime convention hosted by Henrico County-based Convention Connections Inc. Photo by Red Seat Ventures / Mollie Corbett

Flexibility is the name of the game again for meeting planners in 2021.

In 2020, most of the planners’ clients postponed or canceled conferences, while others decided to go virtual instead of meeting in person. This time around it’s a little safer to meet due to the COVID-19 vaccines, but outbreaks still occur in Virginia due to the delta variant of the coronavirus.

Still, says Marty Malloy, director and co-founder of Henrico County-based Convention Connections Inc., “We are creatures who want to interact and meet. All of our clients want to meet and reunite, so this is extremely encouraging.

Since April, CCI has been hosting events in Orlando, Florida; Austin, Texas; New Orleans and Nashville, with 10 more events slated for the remainder of 2021 and about 50 more next year.

Laurie Campbell, president of the Virginia section of Meeting Professionals International, echoed Malloy’s opinion.

“People are ready to get back together,” she said. “I think in the future most people want to see any kind of restriction relaxed, but they’re still respectful of people who are shy or still concerned about exposure or something like that.”

Additionally, businesses and organizations need to consider costs when planning hybrid meetings, she notes. Virtual meetings have the potential to increase attendance, but for now, the technology required increases conference spend, says Campbell, senior director of sales and marketing for Newport Hospitality Group, a Williamsburg-based hotel management company. . However, she predicts that virtual meetings will eventually become standard and less expensive to produce.

Today, Malloy notes, the tricky part of planning is complying with various state and city ordinances regarding pandemic safety measures. An event that CCI had planned for July in New Orleans originally had a capacity limit of 250, but when the city increased capacity limits, CCI had to quickly schedule more people. “The ball is moving pretty quickly,” he said.

Campbell echoes this need for flexibility. “As we receive a new announcement from each governor, you must be prepared to bow,” she said. “When the hotel or place comes up with a situation that they need you to work with, then you have to be able to bow to it. “

Individual sites also operate differently under the rules, so meeting planners should be prepared to adapt to new requirements. Conference and meeting host organizations also have different guidelines, such as requiring masks or social distancing.

Another problem is the pent-up demand for meeting space. Everyone wants to have the conferences they weren’t able to hold last year and go back to their normal meeting times, Malloy says. Thus, the reservation is competitive.

One of Malloy’s biggest clients, CrimeCon, a convention for true crime lovers, was originally booked at the Orlando World Center Marriott in 2020. Although organizers were able to host this year’s CrimeCon as planned in Austin, Malloy was unable to book the center again. ‘Orlando before 2023.

The current national labor shortage also has limited availability and services at some conference hotels. Joblist, a workplace website, released the results of a survey in July, finding that 69% of former hospitality workers responded that they had no plans to return to the hospital. industry.

Campbell says she didn’t see the labor shortage having a direct effect on MPI’s conference at the Richmond Marriott earlier this year, but adds it took an “everyone on the job” attitude. pont ”, with all staff – including hotel managers – stepping in to help.

“It’s kind of like duck on water – you don’t know what the paws are doing, but it looks so smooth at the top, that’s what makes our industry,” she says.

And while some hotels are seeing cancellations or slowing demand in response to the delta-related spike in COVID cases in late summer, Campbell and Malloy say many organizations and businesses are still committed to meeting in nobody as expected.

People seem to have accepted that some risk is part of the deal, planners agree. Malloy refers to fans who have returned to attend sporting events and concerts.

“As a meeting planner, you have to get by with the punches,” says Campbell. “What we need to understand is that [COVID] is going to be with us probably forever. We just have to learn to work with and bypass, like we do everything else. “??

Related: Despite Pandemic, Hotels Are Moving Forward

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