Ori Lahav, president of the non-profit IAPCO (International Association of Professional Congress Organisers) offers advice to event planners who must remain flexible during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Is the public ready to return to in-person events?
The public is eager to meet in-person, yet, at the same time, there are many valid participant concerns, such as uncertainty about travel mandates that change so often. We see that the vaccination requirements event organizers pose bring peace of mind to delegates convening. This is one of the enablers currently for local and regional events that are returning.
What should be done to accommodate folks who don’t feel safe or don’t want to return for personal reasons?
Those who travel to in-person meetings now must follow strict mandates and, in most cases, show proof of vaccination. On site, there are now typical requirements for mask-wearing and social distancing, and all services provided follow strict hygiene protocols. For those who choose not to participate, some events may offer a virtual element to satisfy their educational needs.
What are the risks event planners face in planning in-person events, and how can those risks be mitigated?
The planning stage has become much shorter. Travel restrictions are the biggest question mark for all stakeholders involved. Event planners have to also deal with modifying the event on-site to fit with the latest local regulations.
What advice can you offer event planners in regards to building contingency plans for their live events?
Have clear plans of action if the situation changes. It may mean that we work through and plan the whole event for fully in-person, hybrid, and fully virtual all at the same time. We cannot do what we did in 2020. And when organizing an event, we need to give the reassure both our clients and their delegates that the event will happen, even if the format may change. It requires a lot more work, however, that is one of the unique selling points of event planners nowadays; the ability to navigate uncertain times with ease and confidence.
How can planners prepare for unforeseen evolutions in the state of the pandemic?
By looking forward and looking at the big picture. Not clinging to the past and what used to be. By trying new things and failing at them early. The event planner’s nature is to be agile, to act, to have resources at hand, amd to work together with others.
If COVID cases begin to spike, does that mean absolute cancellation of an event?
It will depend on where the event takes place and the rules put forward by local authorities. It will depend on the target audience of the event. It also depends on how people feel about meeting in these times. Governments are currently working on easing restrictions. That’s a clear signal to us that keeping mandates and having fully vaccinated delegates will allow us to meet again.
COVID is not going anywhere, and with every day we’re gaining more tools to battle it.
Have event planners been forced to get creative?
Plenty. We all pretty much reinvented the events industry within a year. The embrace of virtual in such a brief time was amazing — it has been something we have talked about for a decade, the same as hybrid and hub meetings (various in-person locations connected with the use of technology, to make up a single event). In the process, we saw a lot of new expertise and positions were needed.
How can someone invest in resources that will support hybrid event functions?
When people meet, magic happens. Professional conference organizers and other stakeholders are instrumental in bringing together thought leaders from academia, industry, corporations, and governments, covering a full range of issues and industries.