As the travel industry waits for business to return to pre-pandemic levels, here is a sector that’s taken a very realistic approach and planning its return in a more accommodating way. The MICE sector is betting on new opportunities including the advances in virtual technologies along with the newer health and safety recommendations from experts.

They understand that the virtual events and hybrid meetings are here to stay, at least for another couple of years, and given the opportunity, they provide to safely and effectively gather together in large groups. Along with the accommodation sector, they are working to win back the trust and ensure that both the customers as well as other suppliers feel safe and secure.

In a survey last month (Jun 2021) by a London-based venue provider. about 76 % of US-based Events professionals responded that they will hold their next face-to-face event this year. About 59 % plan to focus exclusively on in-person events for 2021 and 2022, rather than adding a mix of virtual and hybrid meetings. The survey consists of responses from 405 event professionals, including more than 100 based in the US.

While combining UK and US respondents, 68 % indicated they believe hybrid events will continue to be more common than before the pandemic. This is 5 points down from 73 % found in a similar survey in December, but similar to the 67 % surveyed in June last year. It’s also worth noting that around 82 % of the combined group said they value face-to-face meetings more than before the pandemic.

Below we discuss some of the ways adopted by the events sector and the hotel and hospitality professionals to make events and meetings safer for everyone involved — from clients and attendees to suppliers and staff.

• Embracing Hybrid Events for Short to Mid Term

Hybrid events have seen a huge surge in adoption over the last year in order to accommodate the safety preferences of attendees and planners. However, a successful hybrid event requires the right infrastructure and technology to ensure everything goes smoothly.

Before the pandemic, internet speed and bandwidth restrictions may not have been a major concern for event managers. But now since they have been forced to make use of technology on a larger scale, they expect the same from venue providers. They need to ensure sure they’re up to the task in meeting requirements like AV capability, IT support, internet bandwidth, etc. For this reason, technology is now just as important as a venue’s physical features like accessibility and location.

• Planning the Event Space to Include Social Distancing

Since events have started to change with new normals, event space layouts have become even more important while considering a venue. Whether it can accommodate the groups with enough room for social distancing is now a key consideration. So are the options and expertise available with the suppliers to reconfigure things for a safe even in case of any changes or surprises.

Online tools and real-time diagramming have been useful to event managers and planners as they provide the confidence that an event is meeting safety and spacing regulations. New technologies providing photo-realistic 3D visuals have also been successful to picture how everything is spaced out and what adjustments need to be made, especially while communicating with clients.

• Marketing Safe and Responsible Events

It is essential to follow the rules and guidelines set by governing bodies and industry associations to implement a safe environment for events and meetings and bring confidence back to customers. Many event management companies are taking a step further to provide more innovative solutions and allow clients to enforce stricter protocols. What is just as important is to sell these to the clients using various channels such as email campaigns, microsites, or even influencers and testimonials from satisfied customers.

Event companies, among others in the industry, have been successfully using digital marketing to communicate the actions they have been taking around safety policies and protocols. This allows event management companies as well as hotels and venues to highlight their competitive advantage while showcasing their commitment to conducting safer events. Such communications often include social distancing and mask policies, touchless services offered, and room cleanliness among others.

• New Normals for Food and Beverages

While extravagant dinners are still desired by clients, the standards have shifted since the pandemic began towards good nutrition and safety. At least for now, the best practices require avoiding communal serving stations. While some destinations require events to use pre-packaged food and disposable containers. These new normals have forced the industry to come up with new food and beverage ideas.

Alternatives offered often include digital menus, serving individually wrapped meals like bagged lunches or bento boxes, and making sure tables and guests are generously spaced, with outdoor seating being an added plus. Some event planners are also seen using a host property’s restaurants to go toward a venue’s food and beverage minimum. Other innovations include using more environment-friendly materials for serving.

• Leveraging Industry Relationships

Event management companies are seen actively working with local authorities, tourism organizations, and other destination marketing organizations to promote both business and leisure travel in their own areas, which can help attract more events and people to the destinations.

Strengthening their relationships with such organizations is today critical to restarting travel and rebuilding business. It has been successful in putting event companies and professionals in touch with the right people at hotels and venues and has helped create a safer environment for meetings and events. It has also helped with the task of obtaining up-to-date information on the ever-changing Covid-19 regulations.

• • •

Challenges still remain with changing regulations and travel restrictions being imposed by governments every other day, along with confusions in vaccine acceptance, the emergence of new variants as well as the hope of new treatments among other factors. However, travel agents, suppliers, and event management companies, have been proactively marketing the new trends and their customers have been fairly responsive as well.

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