In February 2020, as the coronavirus was first making its way around the world, we published a blog post with a headline that now seems quaint. It wasn’t long afterward that the $1 trillion global meetings and events industry came to a screeching halt. The live events that were canceled, postponed or never even planned are now innumerable.
Meeting Professionals International (MPI) recently released a 30-minute documentary that looks back at the start of the pandemic, the sudden and drastic shifts event professionals and their hotel partners had to make in the days, weeks and months that followed, and the tentative steps hospitality professionals are now making to restart a battered industry.
A case study for live events
Central to MPI’s story is their 2020 World Education Congress (WEC) held at the Gaylord Texan Resort & Convention Center in Grapevine, Texas. Originally due to take place in June, the event was postponed until November. Organizers were committed to hosting the conference in person but faced numerous concerns and challenges to producing a safe event in the midst of an ongoing pandemic.
Branded Reunite for Recovery, WEC Grapevine became a way to showcase educational content alongside health protocols and a commitment to duty of care that other meeting planners could implement to protect attendees while staging live events of their own.
“The general session only had four people to a round within a 50,000 sq. ft. ballroom, which gave people enough distance to feel comfortable,” she said. “They prepackaged all the food, so you just picked up your box and off you went. They also had hand sanitizer everywhere as well as masks, which were required.”
In the end, MPI’s efforts were successful — according to the documentary, zero covid-19 cases were traced back to the event, validating the organizers’ efforts. This is good news considering that 85% of attendees and 86% of exhibitors expect to return to live events by winter of 2021.
“It was great to connect face-to-face with other planners and hotels again! MPI gave us an opportunity to meet with our colleagues in a comfortable and socially distanced way,” added Katey. “The hardest part was keeping socially distant from my long-lost planner and hotel friends. I wanted to hug and say hello, like we would normally do in this type of situation.”
The documentary features recollections and insights from numerous MPI executives and other industry leaders, among them:
- Paul Van Deventer, president and CEO, MPI
- Annette Gregg, senior vice president, experience, MPI
- Darren Temple, COO, MPI
- Melinda Burdette, director, events, MPI
- Drew Holmgreen, vice president, brand engagement, MPI
- Paul W. McCallum, executive director, Grapevine Texas CVB
- Jason Dunn, chairman, National Coalition of Black Meeting Professionals
- Michael Dominguez, president and CEO, Associated Luxury Hotels International (ALHI)
“I would just encourage any organization that relies on face-to-face business events to be bold. This can be done. You can do it safely … We’ve got to get our meeting planners planning live events again, and while you can do that and augment that through a digital environment, it’s just not the same.” —Darren Temple, COO, MPI
“What was so incredible after those four days together is when you look back on how everyone took [their] obligation[s] so seriously because they realized they were there for a bigger purpose … to demonstrate to the world that you can safely host a meeting with the proper communication and the proper protocols and the proper focus on those processes that you put into place. And that was what was phenomenal.” —Paul Van Deventer, president and CEO, MPI
The next MPI WEC will be held June 15-17, 2021, at Caesars Forum in Las Vegas.
You can watch the documentary below or on the MPI website.