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4 Keys to the Future of Meetings & Events

Meetings & Conventions

Safety has a new meaning when it comes to events – instead of staff in yellow t-shirts and metal barricades, attendees will be expecting to see masks and plexiglass barriers. Meetings and events are a major economic driver for cities nationwide that have seen massive upheaval in the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2019, meetings and events brought nearly a half-million attendees to Milwaukee and $177M in direct economic impact. This year, over 60 events booked by VISIT Milwaukee have been canceled, leading to an estimated loss of over $70 million in economic impact.
 
But the events industry is ready for a comeback. According to the U.S. Travel Association, 83% of Americans currently working from home say they miss attending in-person conventions and events. 78% of those surveyed say they plan to attend as many or more events as before when it is safe to do so.
 
The return to in-person events will require creativity, ingenuity, and a willingness to experiment. Events may not look the same going forward, but imagination on the side of both the planner and the hosting venues will help safely welcome attendees back. Now is the time to start preparing for your future events – remember that new challenges are also opportunities to innovate! Focus on these topics when you’re envisioning your next meeting or event.

Next-level networking

One of the biggest draws of many meetings and events is the opportunity to network. What does networking look like without handshakes or exchanging business cards? Many events have already started using badge-scanning technology for vendors or event staff – can you implement this technology for attendees as well? Consider moving from the massive conference-wide happy hour to more intentional breakout sessions and small group gatherings.

Swag re-imagined

Attendees may be unsure about taking the pens, mints, pop sockets, external batteries, and other branded items that have been a mainstay of the exhibit hall. Masks and hand sanitizers will certainly come into play, but also consider what non-physical “swag” options you could offer to entice visitors to your booth. What about a digital gift card or free access to a useful eBook or other virtual resource? Can you partner with a business local to your meeting to offer an after-hours experience instead?

Clear communication

Communication between venues and planners, and then planners and attendees will be more important than ever going forward. Transparency regarding a venue’s safety practices will be critical during the RFP and proposal stages. Be prepared to collect safety and sanitation procedures from hotels, venues, and even the airport that you can share with your attendees. If there’s one thing that we’ve seen through the beginning of this year, it’s the importance of flexibility. Prepare a communication plan that includes multiple touchpoints with attendees to provide up to date information in the event of any changes. 

Think hybrid

The 2020 pivot toward virtual events was a steep learning curve for many organizations. However, companies quickly developed new and innovative ways to reach attendees. Though many people are eager to return to traveling, there will be long-term impacts on the ability of many event attendees to travel, whether for safety or budgetary reasons. Hybrid events that combine in-person and virtual elements will be the norm in the foreseeable future. From livestreams to digital breakout rooms, focus on ways that you can make the event experience as seamless as possible for your audiences. Encourage your onsite attendees to participate in the same digital discussions as virtual attendees, or consider partnering with a business in your event destination on a direct mailing piece that provides a taste of the city to guests that weren’t able to travel there in person.
 
The meetings and events industry may have taken a pause this year, but there are so many avenues for creativity and innovation as our industry continues to move forwards toward a strong economic recovery. We’re excited to see the new experiences that you’ll be sharing with attendees going forward.