In the post-pandemic world, people will emerge from their homes and venture back out into society. They’ll visit friends, favorite stores, and re-opened restaurants, but will they step foot on an airplane? Will they buy concert tickets? Attend a conference? There’s no doubt our world will look different in the months or years to come. We may even get that extra elbow room on airplanes that we’ve longed for as modified social distancing becomes commonplace.
No one knows what the plans will look like when the events industry resumes booking at venues that allow large gatherings. Whose responsibility will it be to ensure attendees are in a safe and healthy environment? Security considerations have become a key part of event planning because of incidents like 9/11 and mass shootings. Similarly, contingency plans in line with recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization are likely to play an important role in future gatherings.
So, where do we go from here?
The International Association of Venue Managers (IAVM) recently held a series of town hall discussions with venue leaders from across the U.S to create a roadmap for providing healthy environments for future conference-goers. It’s tough to put standards in place when each state has a different reopening plan but IAVM is working with multiple agencies to ensure coordination. These procedures could be used to assist local governments in expediting reopening. We may be changing everything we’re accustomed to about the traditional venue format and layout.
Safeguarding Against Viruses
A hot term among venue operations teams is hyper-cleaning; it’s basically cleaning like we’ve never seen before. Hyper-cleaning is considered a new standard of cleaning that will protect conference-goers against pathogens as it will be the venue’s responsibility to ensure they are providing a clean facility. With the help of groups like Global Biorisk Advisory Council, a division of ISSA, venue managers hope to soon have standards in place that address and mitigate the threat of pathogens through training, guidance, certification, overall crisis management, and recovery. Using electrostatic disinfectant sprayers and sanitizing surfaces multiple times per hour will no doubt be present at future conferences. Each venue will have a new reality and standards of cleanliness.
Social Distancing Inside
By now we’re all familiar with social distancing and you’d be remiss if you think it’s not going to be part of our future. Venue managers are now tasked with meeting a client’s objectives while staying within health officials' recommendations and guidelines. This may mean that we must get creative with everything from room layouts to coffee service. Gone are the days of everyone touching the same coffee or water dispenser; these stations will most likely have to be staffed in order to sanitize them properly. Access to escalators may be controlled, allowing only a handful of users at one time. Moving crowds from one level to another will likely take longer, impacting the flow and timing of conference agendas. Keynote rooms might have their capacity decreased by 20% or more when we space chairs several feet apart. Viewing rooms or tuning in online from your hotel room could be options for watching a keynote speaker as well. Interactive sessions may require plexiglass down the middle of the table to facilitate safe conversation. Trade shows floors could be redesigned with one-way aisles or only allow attendees to enter in stages. Fortunately for us, one thing our society has shown is that we are quick to adapt if it means we get what we want in the end.
Calming Fears and Anxiety
Think about the first time you boarded an airplane after 9/11 and the anxiety you experienced. That same anxiety will likely be a part of our new post-pandemic conference world. As planners, we’ll need to have well-thought-out plans laid to communicate new procedures or reinforce cleanliness efforts to attendees. Pre-conference communication will look quite different than it has in the past. Where we used to promote keynote speakers, we may be sharing that masks, disposable gloves, and hand sanitizer will be part of the swag bag (creating sponsorship opportunities), or that attendees will have their temperature taken at the door.
A Glimmer of Hope
Seven thousand miles away in the south-central area of China known as Changsha, the 2020 Hunan Auto Show opened on April 30th at the Hunan International Convention and Exhibition Center, under a slew of tough requirements for epidemic prevention and control. As this auto show takes the lead in Chinese convention and exhibition activity, and as many other conventions resume, we can only hope that they provide knowledge and best practices for our teams that can be repurposed successfully. Closer to home, McCormick Place in Chicago is planning events for July, though safety procedures are yet to be discussed, and NASCAR restarted their season this past weekend - without fans in the bleachers. Events and conferences will be back eventually, but they will look quite different as we move forward.