Planning Your Next Event? How COVID Might Affect Your Checklist and Your Strategy

The harrowing stories of association conferences cancelled at the last minute or ending early are common. Staff members who were planning to arrive early to attend to details of the conference found themselves scrambling to manage communications with registrants, oversee refunds, and cancel hotel, catering, and entertainment contracts.

As association leaders look at resumption of operations and planning future events – or continuing to plan previously scheduled events – check out the following tips and links to articles that describe some key factors to consider:

  • Consider Other Events Planned for Fall
    Amy Webb, a quantitative futurist, writes in Fortune that event planners need to consider all of the events that were moved from spring to fall – including concerts, sporting events, and festivals. Will the resources that an association conference requires – transportation, hotels, catering – be available with other large events planned? Not only will more event planners be clamoring for support from these businesses, but some of them may no longer be in operation, or may not have the staff to meet the requirements of a contract.
  • Incorporate Health Safety Measures and Communicate to Registrants
    In the near-term, event planners must take CDC guidelines related to protection against the spread of COVID-19 in large gatherings. Communicating the steps taken to protect attendees and reinforcing the message throughout all conference materials may allay some fears.
  • Re-imagine All Aspects of the Conference
    Boston University’s School of Hospitality Administration suggests that all aspects of conferences in the near future be re-evaluated. This includes promoting elbow bumps versus handshakes and pre-packaged snacks versus a refreshment buffet. Long-term changes will likely include tiered pricing for conferences that include in-person and virtual attendance, registration or check-in procedures will be online and through apps that provide conference materials digitally, and gloved, masked housekeeping staff will be visible to attendees rather than behind the scenes.

Other items association event planners should consider include cancellation policies, the need for larger venues to accommodate social distancing, and the incorporation of some virtual sessions during the conference.