4 Ways the Event Industry Can Move Forward Post-COVID

August 6, 2020

Siva Vangala

Siva Vangala is the founder of EventTitans, an event management and fundraising platform based in Atlanta. 

Right now, it’s a challenge for many to simply visit the grocery store. What will it be like once things start reopening on a large scale? Will people immediately resume their pre-coronavirus behavior, or will they be wary about being in places with large groups of people? For the events industry, this is a crucial question to unpack, as it determines how they will approach business going forward. What steps will they need to take to ensure that people will continue to attend conferences, expos, panels, and the like?

Combining in-person and virtual events

With infection numbers on the rise in states in the process of emerging from lockdowns, it’s unlikely that large-scale events will resume any time soon — at least in person. Some companies have shifted to events that combine physical and virtual elements, accommodating those who prefer to network in person as well as those who may not be ready to travel just yet. This could mean organizing an event to take place in one particular location, but also creating an online hub where people can watch the speakers and engage in virtual networking.

Hosting an event this way also reduces the possibility of having large crowds mingling in one space at the same time, which in turn would make it easier for event organizers to enforce safety protocols and social distancing.

Introducing new health protocols

With the threat of the coronavirus still very real, many event spaces have had to completely rethink how their space is used, as well as how best to maintain a high level of cleanliness without disrupting the event entirely. Marriott International, for example, has implemented several new protocols such as hourly cleanings of high-touch areas, providing packaged meals instead of a shared buffet and reducing the number of people allowed in an area at a time. 

Event organizers have also had to consider how to accommodate social distancing, especially given that the aim of most events is to encourage networking and interactions with other people. Some have proposed enlarging vendor booths or putting up plastic shields to separate vendors and interested patrons. Hotel rooms will also need to be appropriately spaced, and check-in areas managed to ensure that there is enough room for people to remain 6 feet away from one another. 

Changing attendee behavior

At the same time, there’s only so much event organizers can do to ensure the health and safety of their attendees. It’s up to attendees themselves to monitor their own behavior and adapt to the new circumstances. Maybe this means giving out digital business cards instead of physical ones, or keeping ticket information on their phone instead of printing it out. Perhaps it also means avoiding handshakes or close physical proximity for the time being. 

As Brian King, Marriott International’s global officer of digital, distribution, revenue strategy and global sales, points out, it’s not going to be possible to move easily from one event to the next. Not only is there extensive cleaning to be done before a new group can enter a room, simply managing the flow of thousands of people as they move from place to place will consume much more time than in the past. Says King in the New York Times article linked above, “People are going to need to leave more time during the meeting process to flip meeting rooms and actually move.” 

Adjusting contract terms

This pandemic has effectively reminded everyone how quickly things can change. Events that were scheduled to go ahead one day were cancelled the next, resulting in losses of billions of dollars. And given the general uncertainty that still reigns, there will have to be changes across the board with how contracts are reached with vendors, suppliers, partners, venues, and any other party that has a stake in the event. 

To give one example, as mentioned earlier, hotels have had to implement spacing between occupied hotel rooms. But many organizers negotiate special room rates with hotels as part of their arrangement to rent out conference space. Should organizers be obligated to pay for these extra rooms that are not being occupied (in which case the rates offered to attendees would likely be considerably higher) or should hotels shoulder the cost and just be thankful that they’re getting revenue from the event? It’s unlikely that organizers will agree to pay more for less, but given that hotels are incurring higher costs due to their new sanitary measures and facing a significant loss of revenue, they’re going to need some kind of financial assurance to make the process worth their effort. 

It’s going to take a while for the events industry to reach its former height. That said, I have full faith in the ingenuity of those within the industry, and I know that everyone, myself included, is looking forward to the time when we can meet in person without fear.


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Partner Voices
Less than six months ago, Lisa Messina joined the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) as the first-ever chief sales officer after leading the sales team at Caesars Entertainment. A 12-year Las Vegas resident, Messina is a graduate of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and serves on MPI International’s board of directors. TSNN had a chance to catch up with this dynamic leader and talk to her about her vision for the new role, current shifts in the trade show industry, creating more diversity and equity within the organization, and advice to future female leaders. Lisa Messina, Chief Sales Officer, LVCVA With Las Vegas becoming The Greatest Arena on EarthTM, what are some of the things you’re most excited about in your role? Our team was at The Big Game’s handoff ceremony earlier this month, and I couldn’t help but think, “We’re going to crush it next year!”  These high-profile events and venues not only drive excitement, but also provide unmatched opportunities for event planners. Allegiant Stadium hosts events from 10 to 65,000 people and offers on-field experiences. Formula 1 Grand Prix will take place in Las Vegas in November, after the year-one F1 race, the four-story paddock building will be available for buyouts and will also offer daily ride-along experiences that will be available for groups. And, of course, the MSG Sphere officially announced that it will open in September, ahead of schedule, with a U2 residency. It’s going to be the most technologically advanced venue as far as lighting, sound, feel, and even scent, and it will be available for buyouts and next-level sponsorships inside and outside. There’s no ceiling to what you can do when you’re doing events in Las Vegas.  Allegiant Stadium As the trade show and convention business returns to the pre-pandemic levels, what shifts are you noticing and how do you think they will impact the industry going forward? Our trade show organizers are very focused on driving customer experience. Most of our organizers are reporting stronger exhibitor numbers and increased numbers of new exhibitors, with trade shows proving to be almost or above 2019 levels. Now our organizers are really doubling down on driving attendance and focusing on the data to provide that individualized, customized experience to help attendees meet their goals and get the best value. Some companies continue to be cautiously optimistic with their organizational spend when it comes to sending attendees, but I think it will continue to improve. As the U.S. Travel Association makes more progress on the U.S. visa situation, we also expect a growing influx of international attendees. What are some innovative ways the LVCVA helps trade show and convention organizers deliver the most value for their events? We focus on customer experience in the same way that trade show organizers are thinking about it. We got rave reviews with the West Hall Expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC), so over the next two years, we will be renovating the North and the Central halls, which will include not just the same look and feel, but also the digital experiences that can be leveraged for branding and sponsorship opportunities.  Vegas Loop, the underground transportation system designed by The Boring Company, is also a way we have enhanced the customer experience. Vegas Loop at the LVCC has transported more than 900,000 convention attendees across the campus since its 2021 launch. Last summer, Resorts World and The Boring Company opened the first resort stop at the Resorts World Las Vegas , with plans to expand throughout the resort corridor, including downtown Las Vegas, Allegiant Stadium and Harry Reid International Airport. The LVCVA also purchased the Las Vegas Monorail in 2020, the 3.9-mile-long elevated transportation system that connects eight resorts directly to the convention center campus. This is the only rail system in the world that integrates fares directly into show badges and registration. For trade show organizers, these transportation options mean saving time, money and effort when it comes to moving groups from the hotels to LVCC and around the city. Also, the more we can focus on building the infrastructure around the convention center, the more it supports the customer experience and ultimately supports our trade show organizers. Scheduled to debut in Q4, Fontainebleau Las Vegas will offer 3,700 hotel rooms and 550,000 square feet of meeting and convention space next to LVCC.  What are some of the plans for advancing DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) within your organization? We’re currently partnering with instead of working with a leading consulting firm, to lay the foundation and create a solid DEI plan and be the leader when it comes to DEI initiatives. The heart of that journey with the consulting firm is also talking to our customers about their strategic approaches to DEI and driving innovation in this space.  What are your favorite ways to recharge? My husband and I have an RV and we’re outdoorsy people. So, while we have over 150,000 world-class hotel rooms and renowned restaurants right outside our doorstep, one of my favorite things to do is get out to Red Rock Canyon, the Valley of Fire, and Lake Mead. Five of the top national parks are within a three-hour drive from Las Vegas, so there’s a lot you can do. We love balancing the energy of Las Vegas with nature, and we’re noticing that a lot of attendees add activities off the Strip when they come here.  Valley of Fire What advice would you give to women following leadership paths in destination marketing? I think it’s about being laser-focused on what you want to accomplish; building a team around you that lifts you and helps you achieve your goals; and being humble and realizing that you do it as a group. No one gets this done alone. Thankfully, there are a lot of women in leadership in this organization, in our customers’ organizations, and in this city that we can be really proud of. We’re a formidable force that is making things happen.   This interview has been edited and condensed. This article is exclusively sponsored by the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority. For more information, visit HERE.