Editor’s Note: This is part of a series reporting on FICP Chats about the future of meetings. You can read previous reports here and here.

Temperature checks, reduced occupancy and increased physical distancing in shared spaces—these were some of the protocols floated by hospitality partners and meetings professionals as they sketched out what a return to travel after COVID-19 shutdowns will require. Those steps, and others, will be necessary to both reduce risk and assure transient travelers and event groups that safety is everyone’s top priority, according to more than 300 participants in the first-ever virtual Financial & Insurance Professionals (FICP) Chats last week.

Participants focused on safety and cleanliness considerations for event venues, transportation modes, hotels and meeting spaces. The prevailing theme was the need to build trust with event participants, so that they feel comfortable leaving their house. Measures will need to be taken at each step—airline, transfer, hotel and meeting space. Other steps suggested by hoteliers include access to sanitation amenities, extensive cleaning processes, additional employee training and elimination of buffets and offering self-serve food and beverages.

Sanitation Ratings

Participants laid out the need for a body that will evaluate hotel and event venue cleanliness and safety protocols and provide a rating similar to Michelin Stars or Forbes guides. These ratings will help meetings professionals understand the extent of new protocols and their efficacy. The discussion also stressed the importance of meetings professionals working closely with those partners to understand protocols and augment as needed for their groups.

Travel Considerations

Airlines have communicated they may remove middle seats and enact their own new protocols to increase physical distancing and flyer safety. A reluctance to fly may lead to a faster resurgence in regional meetings and events. Those drive-in meetings may be the first that a meetings professional holds when conditions permit. One other byproduct of the slow ramp-up could be limited flight capacities, which will also influence group transfers and event schedules, as it could take longer for all attendees to arrive and depart.

Safety Measures

Additional considerations suggested include adding onsite medical support for every meeting, revisiting room sets, providing additional safety-related amenities and hand sanitizing stations and increasing the number of vehicles needed for transportation to allow fewer passengers per vehicle. These measures will likely decrease occupancy, while increasing room rates and costs. Meetings professionals will need to revisit 2020 budgets and find creative ways to provide for these measures.

Enhanced Communication

Equally important to enacting new protocols will be communicating those changes and re-setting expectations to attendees and stakeholders in advance of upcoming meetings and events. Company executives and corporate communications teams will look to meetings professionals for guidance and information to help instill confidence in event attendees and program qualifiers. Meetings professionals and hospitality partners must be armed with insight from leading health authorities such as the World Health Organization (WHO), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to assure respectful and candid conversations.

Onsite, event attendees will see signage describing protocols, hand sanitizing stations and changes to familiar activities. Examples of these changes may include drivers and bellmen may no longer automatically handle luggage or hold doors, attendees may have their temperature taken at arrival, room service will be delivered in a different way and the number of guests allowed in an elevator may be limited. These additional measures and more frequent sanitization may add time to each step, however, the increases in staff may actually result in a more positive attendee experience.

What was equally apparent in this discussion is that everyone involved in meetings and events is dedicated to the safety of our event attendees and guests, observed Erin Longo, CMP, vice president of conference and meeting services with Prudential. Exhaustive reviews of each touchpoint those attendees have is being conducted and our community will be collaborating closely in the coming weeks and months to create safe new experiences, she said.

Jennifer Squeglia, CMP, is a member of FICP Board of Directors. In the next FICP Chats, our community will focus on meeting and food & beverage operations and logistics. Learn more about upcoming FICP Chats, part of FICP Anytime.