Incentive, meeting, and event planning company The Fields Group Inc. had an incentive program in Europe planned for a client in the fashion industry in early April. In the early days of the pandemic, the trip was moved to early September, Kelly Hulsey, director of operations for The Fields Group told Convene, but the ongoing crisis forced them to move the event to a future year.
Despite the current challenging environment for events, “Our client requested we find a destination we could safely travel to with the group,” Hulsey said. “Many of our clients canceled their 2020 trips, but this particular client really wanted to reward their [sales] partners with a trip this year. They had worked so hard to earn the trip and continue to work hard throughout all of the challenges 2020 has brought.”
So The Fields Group organized an incentive trip to Aruba for a total of 38 participants — 18 incentive trip winners and their guests — which took place at the Ritz-Carlton Aruba, Aug. 29 through Sept. 4. We asked Hulsey to share details.
What safety protocols were put in place?
To enter Aruba, everyone has to take a molecular COVID test [PCR, or polymerise chain reaction test] within 72 hours of travel and upload the negative results to the Aruba website at least 12 hours prior to your departure. Depending on your home state [in the U.S.], you can opt to take the PCR test once at the airport in Aruba. You are then quarantined in your room until you receive your negative results. If you test positive in Aruba, you are sent to a separate facility to continue quarantining for two weeks.
As with most areas, masks are required in all public spaces. There are tons of hand-sanitizing stations throughout and temperature checks upon entering restaurants and hotels. Many restaurants also took down [participants’] contact information to get ahold of [them] if someone there were to test positive.
We had three scheduled events: a welcome dinner, meeting, and farewell dinner. The rest of the trip was at their leisure. Both the dinners were scheduled for outdoor venues. Aruba allowed only four people to sit together at one table, so our events were very spread out. Masks were required unless you were drinking or seated.
The hotel set up several food stations around the event area. When you walked up, there were individual servings of each food item (e.g., a bowl of ceviche, bowl of salad, plate of chocolate cake, dish of creme brulee, etc.). For the hot food items, [staff] had food grilling and plated them for you. The staff wore gloves and masks.
At the meeting, we had a classroom-style setup where each person sat at their own table placed six feet apart [from another table]. Once the meeting room door was closed, guests were allowed to take off their masks. The coffee break was outside of the meeting room with staff pouring the coffee.
What was the reaction of participants?
Everyone was thrilled to be on the trip. They were so excited to travel again and be able to support the tourism industry in Aruba.
What activities, if any, took place off-site?
We did not have scheduled excursions, but many of our group went on Jeep/UTV tours and a catamaran.
What challenges and successes can you share?
Finding testing facilities with a 48-hour turnaround time across many cities and states in order to have everyone tested prior to departure was a challenge. Everyone was able to find a facility or take the test in Aruba and tested negative — which was a huge success!
Any surprises about planning or executing the event?
The only “surprise” we had was planning the welcome event for the second night [rather than the arrival day] to allow for people to test in Aruba and quarantine while they waited for their results.
What might you do differently for the next event you are planning during COVID-19?
I honestly don’t think I would do anything differently. I felt like everything was executed properly with the safety protocols while maintaining a sense of normalcy. We do have another event coming up in October in the U.S. We plan to take the setup and ideas from Aruba to this next event to ensure it is just as successful.
Everyone was so incredibly grateful to be there and it was nice to be a part of that.
I imagine some people were probably nervous to travel again (even I was!), but once we got down there it felt relatively normal, which was so gratifying. I would encourage groups to meet in person again this year if they can do it safely.
Michelle Russell is Convene‘s editor in chief.