What Meeting Planners Need From CVBsApril 22, 2021 | By: Stella Tsitsipatis
Meetings and event planners have a reason to celebrate – albeit in hushed, reverent, and socially distanced tones. North America is on track to overcome the pandemic. Short of predicting the future of when we will see a return to large group meetings or how the meetings space will look, those still dreaming of a pre-pandemic event need to face the reality that things will be different, likely forever, and planners have very clear needs from CVBs for the foreseeable future.
These requirements are no longer practices that will give destinations an edge when attracting meetings – they are the basic requirements. For any destination, especially in North America, looking to take advantage of the continent’s near future as a “safe” travel destination for business events, this list is the new starting point for helping meeting planners.
1. Digital Expertise
In 2020, hybrid events were new and daring. Today, they are such a part of daily life that they almost seem old fashioned. Event planners, however, know that there is still power in hybrid events.
CVBs looking to book events need to embrace this digital reality and create a digital expert role, providing someone who can handle the logistics of hybrid events. Planners will want professional quality sound and video as they broadcast their meetings worldwide. It’s not as easy as clicking on Zoom.
Those destinations with CVBs rising to the challenge and advertising their digital experts or advisors will stand out from the crowd. The truth of the matter is that, even with the vaccine, planners have realized there are benefits to hybrid events that will trickle over into a post-pandemic world. They have had a taste for the potential of hybrid events to meet their long-term needs, and CVBs need the resources to cater to these needs as much as they need a roof over their venues.
2. Competitive Pricing
While money is tight for everyone, CVBs need to help negotiate and promote competitive pricing with vendors. Hotels and catering companies, not least among them, are set to gain from a revived meetings industry, but the industry will be in a state of calibration for a few years, and the way planners spent money in 2019 will not translate into 2021 and beyond.
Organizing more deals and value offers or added benefits for groups with local vendors will help CVBs ensure that they are maximizing their chance to attract planners. If there’s a similar location offering more for less, it will be difficult to imagine why anyone would choose your destination. Keep an eye on the competitors, urge your vendors to do the same, and accept smaller profits in the short-term, knowing that in the long-term, event planners will keep coming back if it’s a good fit.
3. Testing and Vaccine Updates
Information is the one thing that we’re all short on these days, and keeping a clear and consistent channel of messaging about your destination’s COVID testing and vaccine distribution rate is a top priority for CVBs. Planners and vendors alike are looking at you to steer the ship.
Some private entities, like Marriott, have been offering free COVID testing in some of its popular resorts in the Caribbean and Mexico. That’s great news, but CVBs should also have a hand in organizing protocols for future events and even airports.
With the possibility of vaccine passports raising countless questions and issues, CVBs want to make sure they are in those conversations now, to maintain a leadership role in the policies that will directly affect the future of business events travel. At the very least, CVBs must be able to demonstrate how quickly their community is embracing vaccination in the effort to demonstrate that the destination overall is “safe” and ready to welcome business events travelers.
It can’t be said enough. Planners need flexibility now more than ever. In the summer of 2020, Europe seemed on track to conquer COVID. By March 2021, Germany and Italy were closing down yet again. Spikes and surges are going to happen, especially in places where vaccine rollouts will take significantly more time than in the United States or the UK.
Having generous cancelation policies are a major concern for meeting planning decisionmakers looking to book travel, according to one study. Planners looking to book instinctively want to know that a reservation for months or years in advance won’t turn into a potentially huge loss should some sort of natural force – or heaven forbid a new pandemic – prevent them from holding the meeting on-location. They were hit hard in 2020, and the pain from that bruise won’t soon fade.
CVBs need to help vendors adopt a similar mentality to create offers that allow everyone to win without causing event planners to fear losing out big time.
5. Safeguards for COVID
If all goes well with the vaccine rollout, we cross our fingers that one day we won’t have to use the word quarantine anymore. For the foreseeable future, however, destinations need to be realistic. If a CVB hosts an event and a participant tests positive (because your venue really listened to #3 above!), what recourse do planners have?
CVBs need to have safeguards in place, with dedicated lodging or hotels for those who need to quarantine. Additionally, they need to make it clear who will pay for these services. Planners won’t want to take on extra costs, and participants won’t want to foot a bill for testing positive. Now is the time to consider creative solutions – a COVID tax on certain events or some other funding source – to have a system in place to prepare for the worst-case scenario. We weren’t prepared in 2020, so it’s time to learn from our mistakes.
While hardly revolutionary, these steps are part of the business events industry now, and not actions to overlook. For any CVB who wants to get back into the game when business events travel kicks into full gear again, there’s still time to adapt to this new reality before event planners overlook you for destinations who already have.
Remember shaking hands? Hopefully we will do it again one day, maybe at a meeting, hopefully soon, but in the meantime, DCI is available to help advise your CVB’s plans moving forward. Get in touch with Stella Tsitsipatis at [email protected] to learn more about DCI’s business travel services.