Global DMC Partners (GDP), a global network of independently owned DMCs and creative event experts, held a virtual open forum, “The Meeting Planner’s New Reality in the ‘New Normal,’” on June 24. The challenges that planners face in the time of COVID-19 were explored in a panel discussion, facilitated by GDP President and CEO Catherine Chaulet, and including Becky Cavanaugh, associate director, medical meetings and events, Syneos Health; Elliott Grant, director, BLACK BOOK; Kim Hester, vice president, JNR Incorporated; and Margaret Stafford, meeting director, the American Bar Association Antitrust Law Section. More than 700 meeting and event professionals from around the world registered.
The discussion began with an overview of GDP’s Q2 Meetings & Events Pulse Survey, which was conducted in May and included responses from nearly 400 planners based in the U.S. (64 percent), the U.K. (10 percent), Europe (10 percent), Canada (7 percent), Latin America (4 percent), APAC (3 percent) and Africa and the Middle East (2 percent).
In the survey, 64 percent of respondents predicted they will host a live event between August 2020 and January 2021. To see how that compared to participants’ expectations, the audience was asked in a live audience poll if they anticipate their company or clients will host face-to-face or hybrid meetings and events in Q3 or Q4 of 2020. Forty-four percent of participants responded no; 25 percent said yes, starting in Q4; 12 percent responded yes, starting in Q3; and 20 percent responded that they are still uncertain on timing.
GDP’s survey had found that 63 percent of survey respondents had no plans for their 2021 events to be completely virtual. The panel agreed, predicting that hybrid solutions will be popular next year, and added that some of their biggest challenges transitioning to virtual and hybrid events have been pricing, security, and the learning curve for learning new technology platforms.
In terms of incentive events, 60 percent of respondents to GDP’s survey said that their 2020 incentive programs still are planned to take place, just postponed to later dates, and that 75 percent of 2021 incentive programs are moving forward. Several of the panelists agreed that there is no strong alternative to an incentive trip and that personal connections cannot be replicated virtually, which is a key part of incentives. One panelist suggested that there will be a pent-up demand for incentive trips.
A live audience poll sought to identify planners’ top concerns moving forward. Participants could choose two responses. Here is what they said:
- Convincing stakeholders to hold live or hybrid meetings (63 percent)
- Contract negotiations/liability/waivers (43 percent)
- Implementing and enforcing health and sanitations protocols (37 percent)
- Budgets and cost increases (27 percent)
- Lack of airlift (25 percent)
These responses were similar to GDP’s earlier survey, which found the top four U.S.-based planner concerns for moving forward with events were (highest to lowest): fear in general, lower attendance, travel restrictions, and negotiating contract terms. The top four concerns from planners based outside of the U.S. (highest to lowest) were travel restrictions, fear in general, lower budgets, and lower attendance.
All panelists emphasized the importance of tracking data for each program, especially fluctuating costs such as airfare, and having a plan of action that is tiered, based on the reopening phases of the host destination.
And one panelist offered a note of hope, saying that she had flown on all four major airlines in the past 30 days and stayed in numerous hotels, and her experiences had demonstrated that the travel and hospitality industry are taking the necessary steps to keep the public safe.
Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.