While a semi-return to normal is welcome after more than two years of a worldwide pandemic, event planners remain divided about the best way to host. In-person? Virtual? A hybrid of the two?
Planners again have the opportunity for in-person business events, with flexibility due to the tech lessons learned along the way. The best course isn’t clear-cut and depends on an organization’s priorities; what’s more, attendees will have their own personal safety concerns.
Planners in the B2B space, specifically, know in-person events and trade shows drive the most conversions. While we’re all eager to see people in person again—without “Sorry, you cut out there for a minute” and “Is it my connection or yours?”—there are COVID safety guidelines to keep your IRL event safe and smooth.
Why you might want to meet in person again
First, and most notably, the severity of Omicron is diminishing. While it is still raging in hot spots, fewer cases are severe enough to result in ICU stays.
While there’s still a ways to go, the majority of Americans are vaccinated. As of April 20, 2022, 66% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated, and 77.4% have received at least one dose.
And since it’s safer to meet in real life now, what’s most notable about considering a return to these events is this: the people want it. A whopping 96% of planners say they will opt for an in-person event in 2022, with only 4% waiting until next year, according to a March 2022 Northstar Meetings Group survey.
Planners’ enthusiasm and optimism is promising for businesses, which see stronger engagement with in-person events that get people out from behind their computers and again interacting with co-workers and associates.
Most companies have money to burn on meeting space and travel, too. American Express’s 2022 Global Meetings and Events Forecast survey found 64% of meeting professionals say their overall meeting budget is increasing this year.
How to make it work: in-person event considerations
You’ve got the desire and the cash, so … how do you make it happen? The landscape looks different now, so the event-planning playbook has been revised.
Here’s everything you need to know so your group can meet in person again:
- Update your meeting policy: Be specific about your company’s requirements for in-person attendance, health screenings, and safety measures so everyone’s prepared and knows what to expect.
- Find a large enough space to accommodate social distancing: Within that updated meeting policy, if 6 feet of social distancing is a priority, remember you’ll need a bigger room that allows for this. Plan your seating arrangement in advance.
- Review the fine print of venue contract changes: Some venues have changed their capacity restrictions specifically to accommodate social distancing.
- Inspect travel guidelines: Will any event attendees fly in from out of the country? The government has mandated travel restrictions that require anyone traveling into the United States to show COVID-related documentation and contact tracing information, or proof of vaccination. This might also mean a temperature check upon landing. Airlines have policies that require some travelers to show their negative COVID test or even quarantine.
- Allow for individualized attendance opt-outs: Some attendees will know early on that an in-person meeting won’t work for them, while others will waver until the last minute. Using a room block management solution like GroupSync Housing makes it easier to manage attendee rooms and preferences.
- Follow local governments’ masking restrictions, as well as venue requirements like temperature checks and symptom screening: The rules differ from town to town, so don’t assume the law at home is the same as your destination. And if your event location isn’t set in stone, you might plan it based on the local travel and health restrictions.
- Define your emergency course of action: Fingers crossed, you won’t need this —- but decide exactly what will happen if someone develops symptoms or tests positive for COVID at the event. Who does that individual need to contact first, and what steps will you follow to keep everyone safe?
#Eventprofs are ready to innovate across the board – and old-fashioned venue sourcing is one pain point that’s overdue for an upgrade.— Groups360 (@Groups360) April 22, 2022
Check out how the #GroupSync meeting space calculator makes it easier than ever to find venues for your event: https://t.co/GDMtieoRL8
The cons of virtual events
As you see, there are new considerations for planning an in-person event in 2022. Don’t let these changes force you into continuing to host virtual events, though.
Sure, there are pros to hosting online events: they’re environmentally friendly, and your group has likely grown comfortable with the technology. Yet the cons do include two big hurdles that in-person events can clear:
Digital fatigue = all-around fatigue. People have grown tired of attending meeting after meeting from behind a screen. Sometimes, admittedly, their attention moves to something else in another browser window.
To combat this, organizations are incorporating wellness activities, meal delivery, entertainment, games, and more special offerings to keep attendees interested — all of which add more to the overall budget.
There’s a slight difference in cost for in-person vs. virtual or hybrid events, but there’s a difference nonetheless. Depending on your event’s size, it adds up.
According to American Express’s 2022 Global Meetings and Events Forecast: “The cost per attendee per day for in-person meetings ranges from a low of $484 for small and simple meetings to a high of $851 for incentives and special events (in U.S. dollars). For virtual and hybrid meetings, the cost per attendee per day ranges from $501 for small and simple meetings to $776 for incentives and special events.”
So, is virtual event planning a thing of the past?
In a word, no. Worldwide, the virtual events market is forecast to reach $504.76 billion by 2028 according to a 2021 Research and Markets report, so virtual and hybrid events are firmly here to stay.
For one, they’re more inclusive for people of different capabilities or family roles, for whom travel can be challenging.
Second, and perhaps most obviously, tech makes it possible. What started as a pandemic stop-gap has turned into a bonafide win for companies wanting to collaborate on big ideas in a shared space.
These new considerations for in-person event planning will become old hat in no time, so if you’ve missed gladhanding, you can definitely make it happen.
Plus, GroupSync makes planning today’s live events easy, even with COVID safety guidelines. Source available meeting spaces based on size, get faster hotel RFP proposal responses, and even book your event — all in one place.