When Will Large Events Come Back?

February 4, 2021

For months, I have been listening to my colleagues and friends in the event industry and everyone has had the same question rolling around in our minds: when can large-scale events come back? At the beginning of the pandemic, we thought it would be Fall 2020 but clearly that didn’t happen. With the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine underway, many are seeing it as a sign of hope that we could be back in convention centers and ballrooms later this year.

However, I have another thought on the timeline and here it is:

If planned and delivered following the federal and state recommended COVID guidelines, there is absolutely no reason that business events including conferences and conventions could not return today. 

Yes, this is a bold statement. However, based on my conversations, the current concern surrounding the return of live events is not based on the “how to do it safely” as there are highly skilled event professionals ready, willing and able to make events happen with minimal risk to the attendees’ health. The concern is around fear of the unknown impact on the planner (and client's) brand, which I am seeing manifest in two ways:

  1. If their customers and prospects view the delivery of an in-person event to be negligent
  2. A COVID case or cluster is linked back to attendance at their event

If we begin to see organizations that are considered industry leaders host in-person 2021 event dates and they are transparent about what protocols they are going through to avoid contributing to the spread, I believe many more will follow.

Events that are of a social nature, including concerts and parties, could also be delivered as we’ve seen done in Europe a few times in the past year. However, the measures you’d have to put in place to ensure they are COVID-safe would significantly affect the attendee experience, so I wouldn’t recommend it just yet. Attend a concert where you can’t freely sing at the top of your lungs and dance like nobody's watching? Hard pass on that one for me.

How to Protect Your Attendees, Staff and Brand

It all starts with documentation. Given the perceived risks associated with gatherings, ensuring your event insurance company has an in-depth understanding of your event scope is critical. This will enable them to provide accurate guidance as to what level and type of policy is required to cover both yourself and your event.

Of equal importance is the need to consult with your legal team to ensure all of your terms and conditions and event policies and procedures are current, comprehensive and enforceable. Given that we’re in uncharted territory, if it’s not already standard procedure, I strongly recommend engaging your legal team to review each and every supplier/vendor contract prior to signing — no matter how large or small. Just like with force majeure, there is no existing blanket rule or law with regards to supplier/vendor liability. Frank conversations and detailed contract inclusions are a must to ensure everyone is legally covered.

In addition, very clear messaging along with your comprehensive COVID-safe guidelines should be made available to all registered attendees AND adhered to onsite.

Takeaway on Timing

I think we can all count on live in-person events returning to our lives in the second half of 2021 if not sooner. That being said, they will not look like we once knew them, at least for a while.

Large-scale events will be transformed into smaller, targeted and localized experiences. (Think: a modern twist on a traditional roadshow.) Until consumers have the confidence to travel again, and check in and out of hotels, organizers are going to have to travel to them. Any elements that could be considered high risk or negligent, like an attendee party or networking reception, should be replaced with a creative solution that meets COVID guidelines but still enables attendees to enjoy the benefits of an in-person experience over that of one online.

After 12 months of reflection and reprioritization, I predict executive retreats held in remote unique locations will also be a huge hit.


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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.