Editor’s note: One of the best ways to learn how to host a pandemic-era meeting is to learn from others who are doing it. That is why we asked Desi Whitney, senior vice president of sourcing operations and industry relations with HPN Global to share lessons learned from their annual event.
At HPN Global, we host a partner event annually. Originally scheduled for October 2020 at the Hard Rock Los Cabos, Bill Kilburg, CEO, decided to ‘Lift and Shift’ Cabo to 2021 and ‘Stay Home for 20’. The event was moved to HPN’s hometown and hosted at Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Montelucia from Dec. 6-9.
The group was comprised of 170 sales executives from HPN Global, hotels from across the U.S., DMCs, CVBs, and other industry partners–about 30 percent of the typical size for this conference. Director of Meeting Services Kiersten Perry and I went to great lengths to plan and showcase what a safe meeting looks like for the current time.
As is appropriate with today’s meeting landscape, we also included a virtual component. Planning for a hybrid event, plus adding on Covid health and safety protocols created new and immense aspects to the workload. However, it can be done! For maximum efficiency and efficacy, we suggest designating someone to take on each segment individually: the live event, Covid health and safety protocols and the virtual component. HPN Global partnered with Emergency Concierge International (ECI)—an All-Hazards Emergency Management company for meetings to review the agenda, identify potential hazards and offer Covid-related planning expertise.
A large focus in our planning phase was around thoughtful attendee communications. We received many inquiries about what protocols we would put into place which would lead people to decide if they felt safe attending. Virtual attendees were included and addressed in all communications so they could actively see what the live event component would look like.
In all communications, attendees were reminded to not travel if they felt ill or had anyone in their household feeling ill or testing positive for Covid-19 or the flu. Here are the protocols we shared with our attendees so they knew what to expect:
- Onsite Covid-19 Rapid Testing upon arrival
- Registration separated by plexiglass, with appropriately distanced lines
- Attendees to complete a health questionnaire and have their temperature checked daily via kiosk to receive the bracelet of the day which would give access to each portion of the event
- Masks required at all events (even outside and during receptions)
- Receptions supported with a ‘keep your mask on unless in the act of taking a sip of your drink’ protocol
- Crowd monitors to remind attendees of mask requirement
- Reminder signage clearly stating protocols
- Physical distancing reminders
- Hand sanitizer placed throughout the event
- Outdoor spaces used when possible
- Meeting sets appropriately distanced
- Hand sanitizer provided during the 1:1 appointments
- Traffic flow management to avoid bottlenecks
- Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Montelucia increased sanitization on high touch areas (Omni has a robust Safe and Clean program called Stay A Part of Safety. You can read about it in detail here.)
In this group, about 2/3 of the attendees were experiencing their first in-person Covid-style meeting. We joked about how funny the theatre-style seating looked six feet apart. During the general session, we hosted a panel interview with industry experts that we sat 6 feet apart from each other which required us to have a rather wide stage. Bill and I had lecterns set on the opposite ends of the stage which made a comical back and forth talking to each other from 48 feet apart to keep our distance from our panelists. The first row of chairs in the audience sat 8 feet back from the stage.
The in-person 1:1 appointments were spaced 6 feet apart with attendees on opposite sides of a schoolroom table. Attendees were asked to not be in the room unless actively engaging in an appointment.
Food and beverage functions were successful (and delicious!) with physically distant buffet lines served by attendants behind sneeze guards. Tables were set for 4 to allow for distance between the attendees.
We included a bingo teambuilding component outside. Cornhole was also a success, with bags refreshed between use and hand sanitizer encouraged. It was clear from this event that people are in great need of being together and networking.
For the grand finale of the program, we hosted a New Year Party complete with a physically distant LED dance floor—a great way to have a fun dance party and keep everyone safe. Dancing with a mask on is a game-changer; prepare to get your cardio on!
Signage could not be overdone. As human beings, we need constant reminders when trying to change behavior. Attendees received text messages throughout the program to set expectations about wearing masks at all times. If you’re someone who hasn’t had to wear a mask for an entire day, prepare and maybe even practice wearing a mask for a long duration before attending your next live meeting.
To say that everyone was excited to attend would be an understatement. The energy created from gathering in person is unparalleled. Our friends at Omni came together in a big way and executed flawlessly. There was a definite buzz coming from everyone involved.
With the right team in place, time and thoughtful planning, safe meetings can happen. We can’t wait to get back to the business of meetings in 2021.