After an agonizing year for event professionals, the industry is rapidly on the mend, and many in-person meetings and gatherings are in full swing.
According to a recent Northstar PULSE Survey, 90 percent of respondents are focused on live events, and 82 percent plan to hold in-person meetings in 2021. A third will include a virtual component to accommodate guests who may be reluctant or unable to travel.
Even though hybrid meetings remain a staple in the planner’s toolbox, there’s no doubt we have a need to gather face-to-face.
As we do so, the attendee experience is more important than ever. The attendee experience is ultimately about how guests feel from start to finish — the ease of making reservations, travel safety, hotel reception, the quality of event content and the pleasure of social activities.
In our fourth and final installment of Full-time Insights for the Part-time Planner, we’ll discuss ways hotels and planners can help create a seamless and memorable event for guests and attendees.
1. Communicate early and often.
The attendee journey begins with communication ahead of the event, culminates with an on-property experience, and completes with post-event follow-up.
Each stage of the process requires ample communication between all the different parties — hotel and planner, and planner and attendees — so that everyone knows what is expected and needed and how that will be fulfilled.
It goes without saying that planners need to communicate logistics such as dates, agenda, destination and venues.
But ahead of the event, planners should also emphasize the importance of the gathering while building excitement for what attendees can expect. Are there fun activities ahead, such as cocktail receptions, awards dinners or outdoor adventures?
Anticipation of a rewarding trip or enjoyable gathering can be almost as fun as the event itself.
2. Reassure guests with health and safety protocols.
Since the potential impact of the delta variant remains unknown, some attendees may be hesitant to travel or attend large gatherings.
These attendees need to be reassured of adequate safety protocols and possibly on-site COVID-19 testing. For these reasons, elevated hotel cleaning protocols are likely to endure long after the pandemic has subsided.
During warmer weather or in year-round warm climates, outdoor events are ideal, such as receptions in hotel courtyards or dinners on the beach. The hottest venues in our current era (no pun intended) are open-air spaces.
3. Simplify the reservations process.
To fulfill hotel contracts and avoid attrition, planners need to make booking within the room block as easy as possible.
Online housing tools allow you to eliminate rooming lists so that guests can make and manage their own reservations within your room block. It’s especially important to share these resources early so that guests can book their hotel when they book their flights.
Housing tools are also essential from the hotel’s perspective, as it streamlines the group reservations process, allows for real-time monitoring of pickup, and saves staff considerable time better spent on taking care of your guests.
4. Mitigate possible friction.
Many of the current meetings on the rise are smaller meetings and regional gatherings within driving distance of attendees.
As confidence rises, incentive trips for executives or top sales performers, which simply cannot be replicated online, have also been among the first to return.
Incentive trips to foreign destinations come with their own set of possible complications. Potential points of friction include:
- Shipping materials
- Navigating customs requirements
- Adhering to union rules
- Managing audio-visual needs and power costs
- Protecting guests in possibly unsafe areas near the venue
The host hotel can offer guidance and coordination on many of these aspects. Once a planner has done their homework, both they and their attendees can rest assured that the details are covered and they will have a great time at the event.
5. Work closely with the hotel.
As the host to meetings and events, hotels are the primary hub for the attendee experience, including the environment, infrastructure and consumables (F&B). The hotel needs to make sure everyone is happy — planners and attendees — to maintain a positive brand reputation.
In terms of the property as product, is it secure? Is it close to outside venues, such as convention centers for citywide events? Is the environment welcoming? Does the hotel have adequate staff to attend to the needs of groups?
Hotels can capture additional revenue and enhance the guest experience through attendee engagement tools. Housing tools help planners manage room blocks, while also offering guests the opportunity to upgrade room types, book spa packages or make dinner reservations at on-site restaurants.
6. Maintain attendee engagement.
After a successful meeting or event, keep the momentum going by staying in touch with guests and attendees.
Ways to engage with employees, guests and attendees include:
- Send follow-up emails with pictures of the event and people in attendance.
- Post pictures and stories on social media with your event hashtag.
- Ask attendees to fill out a post-event survey to evaluate their satisfaction.
- Host smaller networking events in key markets where attendees live.
- Offer exclusive discounts on products and services to event participants.
The goals for a meeting or event are numerous: Brand loyalty and increased sales. Better employee engagement. Repeat visits from guests. Positive ROI. A successful attendee experience reaps long-term dividends for meeting stakeholders, hotels and planners alike.