Elyse Harris

The Classic Center

After another year of disruption, members of PCMA’s 20 in Their Twenties class of 2022 are proof positive that adaptability is a requisite skill for business events industry professionals. Elyse Harris, convention sales executive at The Classic Center in Athens, Georgia, tells us what changes in the industry she sees as a result of the pandemic.

What do you like most about your job?

What makes working in this industry so special is the guarantee that no two days will be the same. Whether I’m responding to a pandemic-sized crisis or simply working with a client to coordinate their conference needs, I love that my day-to-day job involves problem-solving and flexibility. I have never been someone who can sit still for too long, and it brings me immense joy to be in a work environment that is constantly evolving.

What do you see as key to the industry’s recovery after this time of disruption?

The barrage of difficult circumstances since 2020 has left our industry in a state of imbalance and uncertainty. Moving forward, I think the key to our recovery is shifting focus toward developing empathy and flexibility within our networks. This industry has always been resilient, having made it through financial crises and national tragedies, but in the coming years it will be increasingly important to remember that all sides of the industry have been wounded during the pandemic. Reminding our colleagues and clients that we are empathetic to the new challenges they face will reestablish trust and give them faith that we can support them moving forward.

What has this time of disruption taught you about the industry — and yourself?

I believe that we have been reminded, as a society, of the importance of connection in business as well as our personal lives. Throughout this experience, conferences have been forced to pivot from their traditional in-person formats to virtual or hybrid structures. For those of us in the convention center business, this was initially a concerning prospect. Would our clients end up preferring the flow of a virtual event? Would in-person conventions become a thing of the past?

As we move toward the other side of this pandemic, I have found one note consistently true in my clients’ feedback: Business events are not the same without the people present to make them exceptional. While I do believe that hybrid events are here to stay, I think we will see a trend away from fully virtual options. Personally, having lost two members of my family over the last year, I fully believe that we are in an environment that needs to reshape our focus around quality time with those close to us. It is time to prioritize face-to-face interactions again.

How do you see the industry changing as a result of the pandemic?

In the immediate future, I anticipate a much stronger focus on force majeure clauses. The contract negotiation stage has understandably become more closely scrutinized and continues to be a major point of concern for new conference clients. As we move toward a (hopefully) post-pandemic world, we might see this concern revert to pre-pandemic comfort levels.

For attendees to feel comfortable in person again, event facilities will need to prioritize safety and sanitation. At The Classic Center, we have achieved GBAC STAR Accreditation to put our guests at ease while on our property and ensure that their health is our top concern. Moving forward, I believe we will see accreditations like these becoming the norm industry-wide, in addition to vaccine and testing requirements in the short term. Promoting a safe environment in which in-person events may take place will reestablish trust from planners and attendees — hopefully leading us on a path to recovery.

Members of PCMA’s 20 in Their Twenties class of 2022, supported by PCMA Foundation and Experience Columbus, were recognized at PCMA Convening Leaders 2022, Jan. 9-12 in Las Vegas.

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