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The Meetings Industry’s Immediate Future, by Katherine Frost

THE MEETINGS INDUSTRY’S IMMEDIATE FUTURE

Bracing for a possible new wave of COVID-19, but better prepared this time

The pandemic continues to affect all aspects of the events industry. However, hospitality and events professionals are more prepared than ever. When COVID cases first emerged, events were cancelled and later made virtual to abide by social distancing guidelines. As restrictions began to lift throughout the beginning of this summer, the industry saw a shift to hybrid models for events like conferences and meetings, allowing participants to decide whether they’d like to attend in-person or virtually. Now, medical experts are warning of new variants in the United States, bracing the country for the possibility of another surge. As these variants become more widespread, many are wondering how this possible second wave would affect in-person gatherings, and the events industry as a whole.

The events industry was taken by surprise when the first wave of COVID hit, and now planners should be prepared with a backup plan in place, in the event of another surge, so that the industry won’t be forced to shut down altogether again. Some states have already made it clear that they will not shut down in the event of another surge, but planners are still preparing for any possible scenario.

While the state of the industry is still in flux, three predictions can safely be made regarding its immediate future.

1A BUSY FALL SEASON Over the last year, planners have been forced to become experts in the virtual events space, as they had to rely solely on virtual planning platforms during the height of the pandemic. In an effort to get ahead of cancellations and postponements this time around, planners should use their newfound knowledge, developed over the last year, to help navigate planning during the pandemic. As planners work to brainstorm the possibilities of how events will run during this possible second wave, they are still focusing on the hybrid and in-person events that they currently have booked. Because of all the postponements and cancellations during 2020 and the beginning of this year, the 2021 fall season will be a busy one for meetings. With vaccine rollout continuing across the country, and mask mandates being lifted in some states, events will likely continue to be in-person into the fall season, depending on medical experts’ advice as they find out more on these new variants.

2PROMINENCE OF TECH PLATFORMS As planners work to organize their current events and prepare for what’s ahead, technology platforms will be a major help in managing as we shift through different event models and prepare for the unknown. These tech platforms will help to better streamline event management, while providing real-time updates for those involved in the planning process, keeping everyone on the same page. Digital platforms will be a vital tool for the events industry going forward, as planners are looking for ways to plan more efficiently and safely.

3HYBRID LOSES POPULARITY As information on virus is constantly changing, it’s better for companies to push events back a few months rather than cancelling them altogether. Being that many Americans have already gotten vaccinated, inperson gatherings are ramping up, but travel restrictions are still in place in some parts of the world. With new variants emerging, some may no longer feel comfortable attending these in-person events, relying on hybrid models once again. However, we’ve already experienced a lockdown and now have a better understanding of the virus, making hybrid and virtual events less popular than they were at the beginning of the pandemic.

As we’ve seen over the past year and a half, many have voiced their opinions against hybrid and virtual events, leaving organizations to decide whether to plan these meetings. Hybrid models will likely be used until travel is fully

The industry is optimistic and hopeful that there won’t be another shutdown, now that planners have a better grip on navigating COVID-19.