As people crave a return to pre-pandemic norms, association meeting planners are learning how to navigate a meeting environment that, in many cases, is still changing. The agility learned over the past two years that resulted in online events will serve planners well as they move through plans for their 2022 conferences.
While some associations attempted a return to in-person meetings with limited attendance and virtual components last year, COVID variants and frequently changing rules disrupted many meetings. So what does the “new normal” for event planners look like in 2022?
Interviews with a variety of association leaders and consultants produced this list:
- Events will continue to provide in-person and virtual options, with amenities such as wellness facilities including skincare, massage, and exercise, to premium food and beverage offerings that will entice greater in-person attendance.
- The decrease in in-person attendance revenue can be offset with ongoing revenue for on-demand content long after the conference is over.
- Clear and careful communication is essential to keep attendees up-to-date on shifting guidelines.
- Planning for onsite COVID testing and/or proof of vaccination is essential, even if the requirement is not needed when the conference dates arrive.
- Offer attendees color-coded badges, bracelets, or lanyards that take the guesswork out of greetings – for example: Green means open to handshakes and hugs, yellow is open to elbow bumping and conversation, and red prefers to keep a distance.
- Plan for additional space at dining tables, in meeting rooms, and at social events to provide room for social distancing that makes people comfortable.
- When possible, move parts of the event outdoors – social hours, small group discussions, or meals.
- Keep sponsors in mind when planning how to recognize them, give them access to in-person and virtual attendees and how to measure a sponsor’s return on investment.
- Don’t assume that hotels or event spaces will operate as they did pre-COVID. Find out how meals are served (buffet, pre-plated, dining table with servers), if public area water fountains are accessible, or if people will have to purchase bottles of water, and what health precautions the venue requires that may differ from local requirements.
Most importantly, be ready for everything to change – more so than pre-COVID! Event planners demonstrated their ability to adapt at a moment’s notice over the past two years and this trait will continue to be tested in 2022.