The Pandemic Guide to Meeting and Event Design

Michael Dominguez has been on the road for the last 14 weeks. As president and CEO of Associated Luxury Hotels International (ALHI), he’s visited ALHI properties in Mexico, Arizona, and Florida, among other places. He hasn’t been anywhere in the Northeast yet because of 14-day quarantine requirements for visitors from certain states, but otherwise, he’s out and about, staying in hotels, consulting with his team members, and talking to guests.

“Except for people wearing masks and there being transmission barriers where there weren’t any,” Dominguez said, “things are pretty much the same. Most people understand what they need to do and are doing it. Leisure business really isn’t an issue for us right now.”

Group business is another question entirely — not necessarily because people don’t want to meet but because they don’t know if or how they should. That’s where the new Meeting and Event Design Accepted Practices Guide comes in. Produced by the Events Industry Council’s (EIC) APEX COVID-19 Business Recovery Task Force, the guide provides an overview of accepted best practices as determined up to this point, including a decision grid that tracks the four advisory levels of COVID-19 restrictions; a Meeting and Event Code of Conduct for all stakeholders, including planners, venue representatives, and attendees; tips for communicating with attendees before and after a meeting or event; and a list of resources produced by EIC member organizations.

The guide isn’t a static report but rather a “living workflow” that will be updated as new data and information become available, according to Dominguez, who serves on the Business Recovery Task Force. Recently, he talked to HSMAI about the guide, including what’s unique about hotels when it comes to managing COVID-19. Here are key takeaways from our conversation:

Communication is half the battle. People are eager to get back to meeting, Dominguez said, and you’re doing a disservice if you don’t communicate with all your stakeholders in a clear and timely manner. Before the meeting, that means building trust by focusing on health and safety concerns; clarifying expectations by detailing registration, distancing, F&B, and other protocols; and defining accepted and/or mandated behavior. After the meeting, communicate promptly about any potential COVID-19 contacts or cases among participants.

It’s a little different for hotels. While everyone involved with planning and hosting meetings is facing common challenges right now, there’s one thing that can increase the degree of difficulty for hotel professionals. “Our business is hospitality,” Dominguez said, “and you don’t want to feel like the police” — meaning enforcing mask wearing, social distancing, and other personal behaviors among guests. “Finding that right balance is a challenge.”

The meeting or event starts well before the meeting or event. Before people think about attending your meeting or event, they have to think about leaving their house, getting on a plane, checking into a hotel, and being around crowds. That means somehow making them comfortable with traveling after five months of lockdown. Dominguez said: “We’re in the business of psychology now.”

For additional information, insights, and tools, visit HSMAI’s Global Coronavirus Recovery Resources page.

Categories: Conferences & Events
Insight Type: Articles