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Lessons from the Field: Returning to F2F Meetings

During some of the last 18 months, I have been able to travel, plan face-2-face conferences and help keep attendees safe and secure. I have also seen a decline in written security policies, lack of needed equipment and a decrease in safety procedures (beyond COVID-19). My position as a meeting safety professional certainly has its pros and cons.

I also get to witness and experience where others in our industry stand at a time when we are all reeling from the pandemic. Whether you believe it or not, you were affected by it. We all were.

Which is why some of what I’ve seen in the field leaves me feeling both wary and hopeful.

We’re All a Little Rusty

If you haven’t held an in-person event lately, chances are you’ll be rusty once you return onsite. The same goes for the venues, too. I have already been witness to hotels with staff shortages, supply deficiencies and even F&B mishaps. In one case, to create a COVID-19 (C19) compliant buffet table, staff from the sales office played the role of food servers, helping to ladle out the menu options. There simply wasn’t enough F&B staff on hand. In some instances, it was the same for the F&B itself!

Rushed to a Return

Many professionals in our industry were so eager to “return to normal” that as soon as local or state C19 regulations were lifted they ripped of the masks, tossed the disinfectant, and put out signs saying, “Open at 100% Capacity” without really ever considering where the virus might go. Of course, we were all eager to get rid of the face coverings, but now we’re seeing the results. C19 cases are heading up instead of heading out.

Complacency Affects More than Covid

When the masks came off, so did our sense of obligation for safety training and antiseptic cleaning. At one event I worked, the hotel security office had no written policy on what to do if a guest came down with C19. It was shocking to me, as a safety-minded guy, that any safety policy hadn’t been recorded. Not only does it smell of liability, but where do you turn when you need to refer to a policy in order to get the correct response?

It’s not just the Delta Variant

Though it’s been getting the most news for its high transmission and infection rates, there are other variants out there. It’s a stark reminder the vaccine isn’t a cure, but a treatment. You should care because although vaccinated people can still get the virus, chances are you won’t know it and will continue to spread it.

For the next 18-Months

If current numbers are the rule and not the exception, then the delta variant will cause some inconveniences this fall. Experts believe it will peak mid-September. In the meantime, we may see a spike in hotel and travel expenses, as venues try to book as many groups as they can. Think before signing the contract and make sure you (and the venue) have plans for a C19 encore.

C19 isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. It’s like any other virus, be it medical or cyber. It will morph and reinfect. Politics aside, the only way we’ll see the light at the end of the tunnel is by tackling this head on, with science, medicine, transparency, and commitment. Plan for it to be a hurdle at future in-person meetings and prepare for C19 compliance – wear masks, watch distance and wash hands. The choice is ours. Mask up now and be inconvenienced a little or… well, you know what will happen. And no one wants to live through that again.

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