It’s been a long time coming: your first in-person meeting since COVID-19 brought the world to a gridding halt. While there’s been a tremendous amount of progress and adaptation, so many questions still linger – particularly for those charged with bringing groups together for productive, efficient, and, most importantly, safe meetings.
How will you do it? How will you create an environment that inspires progress and builds comradery? How will you bring attendees together to learn and share ideas? How will you keep them safe?
Benchmark’s veteran team of meeting and event experts breaks down solutions to help planners keep pushing ahead.
FIND NEW WAYS TO MAKE IT WORK
Whether you’re meeting at a conference center or a boutique resort, getting creative with the set up and establishing thoughtful processes will be key to getting back to business.
“Businesses are up against unprecedented challenges, especially when it comes to bringing people back together,” says Eric Gavin, Benchmark’s chief sales officer. “No matter which side of the table you’re sitting on – the business hosting the event or the venue for an event – you need to be able to step back from the ways things have always been done and redefine how to produce a productive and motivating event while keeping the safety of attendees and guests at the forefront. Thankfully, our industry is extremely resilient and we have developed guidelines to meet the challenge.”
Creative floorplans that distance attendees are crucial for any program in the age of COVID. But don’t stop there. Consider implementing formal entry and exit flows to preempt bottlenecks and unintended face-to-face run-ins. Color-coded systems and property signage, including floor decals and free-standing signs, will help alleviate the guess work for attendees.
Identify venues that are dedicated to going beyond outdated health and safety standards. Benchmark properties, for example, engage with the Ecolab Science Certified program. This comprehensive, science-based program requires commitment to rigorous criteria that ensures a higher level of cleanliness. Properties utilize products approved for use against COVID-19 with the goal of making gatherings safer and healthier. Hand sanitizer stations or personal size sanitizers are also strategically placed in all venues, and CDC-approved facial coverings are available for guests.
A NEW VISION FOR GROUP DINING
Getting together for a meal isn’t as simple as it used to be. With so many factors to consider, this part of planning can feel cumbersome.
“Food and beverage experiences are an essential aspect of group meetings,” says Patrick Berwald, Benchmark’s vice president of food and beverage. “Breaking bread together or networking over a break creates opportunities to connect with one another and build relationships – one of the main reasons we gather in the first place. Social distancing recommendations and enhanced safety measures may challenge our traditional approach to these types of events, but they don’t negate them. It can happen.”
Berwald offers the following suggestions for organizers working to revise dining plans:
Make it private. At Sanderling Resort in North Carolina’s Outer Banks, meeting planners choose from nearly a half dozen dining venues that can be booked exclusively for their group. This allows for managing attendance and social distancing while offering creative solutions to group feeding in nontraditional spaces.
Say goodbye to buffets as you remember them. Flip self-serve to full-service with satellite pods that are tended by dedicated service teams. With stations spaced at appropriate distances, guest crowding can be minimized while supporting improved flow and dining efficiency.
With the intent of less communal consumption, while focusing on individual portioning and presentation, elevate your meeting breaks to be more interactive and made-to-order.
Prefer attendees take it to go? From bento-inspired composed meals to BYO cocktail kits – options are available to curate unique, personal dining experiences.
CONNECTING WITH TECHNOLOGY
Mic check: can everyone hear your presentations O.K.? Plug into high-tech solutions that ease the pain of hybrid meetings.
Hal Powell, Benchmark’s regional vice president of sales and marketing, works closely with the group’s hotels and resorts to identify ways to address technology woes unique to today’s planners.
“Meeting professionals are tested to find answers to issues that, for the most part, were not problematic pre-COVID,” says Powell. “One of Benchmark’s key objectives is to help bridge the gap between the benefit of everyone being together in-person and the task of maintaining protocols that keep everyone safe. Technology is a fundamental part of that. Our goal is to help design meetings that are productive and inclusive for everyone attending.”
One out-of-the-box solution: multipod meetings. Host smaller, in-person groups at two or more hotels. Link these groups together with sophisticated technology that allows them to participate in the same meeting.
“Because Benchmark operates a vast collection of hotels and resorts across the U.S., we’re uniquely positioned the execute multipod meetings,” adds Powell. “One third of your group could be tuning in from a beach location in Florida, another third surrounded by nature in Washington, and the other in an urban center like Chicago. They may each have different experiences based on their destination, but they’ll all enjoy the same meeting content.”
A BREATH OF FRESH AIR
Outdoor venues are at the top of everyone’s must-have list when temperatures are mild and humidity is low. But what happens when weather doesn’t allow for outdoor get-togethers? Eric Bates, general manager at Wingspread Retreat & Executive Conference Center in Racine, Wisconsin, says, “Safely bring it inside.”
Seek out facilities that offer state-of-the-art air control systems that can improve indoor air quality through effective fresh air circulation and CO2 monitoring. “Wingspread’s HVAC system continually monitors air flow volumes and air quality within our buildings,” says Bates. “It essentially flushes out stale air from a space and automatically replaces with it with fresh air.” Research indicates the process may have a 97% reduction in an airborne virus’s ability to spread.”
Aching for the outdoors? Explore new and distinctive settings to guarantee a first-time experience for those attending. At the recently-opened Margaritaville Lake Resort on Lake Conroe near Houston, planners will find several options that keep guests spaced out and in the fresh, Texas air: a lake-front beach, a waterfront deck, and a wide-open courtyard.