It might take event planners some time to shake off the cobwebs of Covid and get back into the swing of things. After all, it’s been over a year since large gatherings were allowed. Overnight, the industry faced an instant need to refocus on creating remote events. Many venues and planners rose to the occasion. However, as restrictions are lifted, it’s time to start looking at large venue gatherings with a few Covid-related twists. Here we look at how we’ve changed the way we gather after Covid and what it means for the events and conference industry.
Despite restrictions being lifted, event planners still need to consider what protocols they plan to include at their venues. There will still be a need to create safe environments which means strategically using signage to explain protocols, point out hand washing areas, direct people through the venue, and more. Event signage therefore will impact post-Covid budgets with an additional element that communicates safe practices at the venue. Discussing who is responsible for signage with your venue is important to ensure proper signage is in place.
It’s probably still too early to say for certain what the new safe meeting will look like. There’s been a lot of back and forth on the vax vs mask thing. It will still be about safety, and in-person meetings and gatherings for events will boil down to either what the government says is safe, or a free for all where masks are not mandatory, but perhaps recommended. Again, signage will be helpful as it will explain the restrictions set by each specific event planner, and what their team’s decided to introduce. There will also be the need for hybrid meetings where people can choose between attending in person or remotely.
Registration desks at large gatherings such as conferences might make a transition to self-serve kiosks much as we’ve seen at airports. Although you can still register attendees using old school desks and real people, physical distancing floor decals in hand with signage will help direct people to the registration tables – or self-scanning registration booths. Hand sanitizer should be used by every attendee, so signage and hand wash stations will also need to be included in the check-in process. Badges can also be printed at home, for conferences where passes are required for entry.
Gatherings based on geolocation might come into play post-Covid. As we see ongoing discussions about things such as “vaccination passports”, conferences and other events might restrict who can attend based on where attendees live. Locally held conferences, concerts, seminars, workshops etc. might be the first type of gatherings out the gate to keep things safe and to reduce the risk of spreading the viruses to other areas.
More people will feel safe to travel, even if it’s just in their own province or county. So although the geo-driven gathering will be popular, pared down large gatherings will slowly attract people from other towns. For example, sports events, concerts and other events that are allowed to increase attendee size will attract people needing a place to stay. Hotels will need to use signage to communicate their protocols prominently in the lobby and common areas, so guests understand where masks must be worn, can find handwashing stations, and also even understand how many people can ride the elevators to get to their rooms.
Where food and beverages are involved, event planners can add some new expenses to their budgets. With a likely switch from the traditional self-serve buffets that often welcome attendees to events like conferences, prices will be impacted as food must be served and disposable cups, plates and utensils will be preferred. Self-serve coffee and tea stations will have to be swapped out for coffee carts or bars where servers must be paid. All of these additional costs could be added to the price of admittance.
Of course, the biggest challenge for large gatherings will always be the social distancing aspect. With 50% capacity restrictions, events become far more costly which means the costs have to be offset by higher entry fees. The other option is to book larger venues, but you are still faced with higher costs for the larger space. This poses a real conundrum for event planners who need to reduce margins to remain profitable. Plus, each event needs to consider things such as spacing between tables and or seats, defined spaces where lines might form, which areas require masks, and which don’t etc.
Clear signage to communicate proper social distancing protocols and where they apply will be key to event space layout and design. New formats such as using U-style seating in theatres will likely become more popular for seminars where interaction is encouraged, but social distancing is required.
Another hybrid driven by the need to engage audiences in a socially distanced world is the reinvention of large venues and live events. Some well-received solutions that allow planners to take indoor events outside include drive-in concerts, live-streamed music performances and reconfiguration of stadiums for remote crowds.
All of these solutions require equipment that allows for live, real-time streaming so the audience sees things as they are happening. These setups allow for bigger audiences and outdoor gatherings where indoor space is limited by social distancing. The beauty of this type of event is that audiences can gather almost anywhere, so more tickets can be sold. We might see a trend towards permanent solutions that allow more people to experience close-to-live experiences in remote areas that are traditionally left off the concert or sports circuit.
Moving forward, as long as Covid poses a threat, event planners will need to remain innovative in their thinking to find new ways to engage large audiences. As social distancing continues to impact how and where we can gather, the future might continue to see new hybrid solutions that could help bring more live events, seminars, exercise classes, competitions, music and more to a wider audience, even in the era of Covid.