Event planners have been sidetracked by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, wondering about the best route to take. Cancel? Postpone? Claim force majeure? It seems that many of them are doing a combination of all three.

Smart Meetings spoke to meeting planners and destination representatives to find out how they’re managing responsibilities in the current climate. Even though this is a tough time for the meetings industry, many event professionals remain optimistic.

Aiming at a Moving Target

Every day seems to have a week’s worth of news packed in it. That makes it tough for planners, hotels and destinations to agree about when to hold in-person meetings. There’s really no way to know what the future holds, leaving planners and CVBs in the dark. The best approach is to follow the news and listen to health experts.

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“It’s kind of a moving target,” said Mark Feldman, regional sales representative for Visit Santa Barbara. It isn’t easy to know what to do in this situation, as new information roles out every day, and with that comes uncertainty as to when groups can get together again.”

Feldman sees many planners moving their meetings to the fall, which may result in an abnormal surge then. “Fall is typically a very busy time, especially in California, so while we are accommodating groups then, we are also encouraging them to look to other times of the year, if that’s an option for them.” Along with New York and Washington, California is one of the states being hit the hardest by COVID-19.

Postpone, Don’t Cancel

“We’re seeing postponements more than cancellations,” Feldman said. “There’s a camaraderie with the hotelier, the CVB and the planners to keep the industry moving in a positive direction.” He said Visit Santa Barbara is seeing most of its postponements rescheduled for the fall.

“This is a bad time,” said Miriam Davis, owner of Event Pro Productions. Miriam’s company hosts many sporting events all over the globe, including China, France, Italy and the United States. Event Pro Production’s events that have been postponed are being moved to later in the year or early next year. Event Pro Productions’ events that take place after 2020 have not been affected, including Super Bowl LV, which takes place Feb. 7, 2021.

“We were fully prepared to postpone all events from 2020 [to] 2022 or to convert to alternate or hybrid type meetings. So fortunately, my business has not been interrupted like many other event businesses,” said Carol Davis, owner of CPER Productions & Incentives. Carol said events are still being planned for ’22, ’23 and ’24.

Seeking Alternatives

Many meeting planners, including those with Zoom and Microsoft Teams, are moving to digital alternatives to host their meetings. Davis’ company, which offers a long list of different experiences, ranging from incentive trips to concert experiences, will host a virtual concert in the near future

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Until 2021, CPER’s experiential events will consist of digital meetings in various forms, using traditional video, virtual reality, augmented reality and holographic tools.