Before 2020, event planners never would have imagined they’d be encouraging fewer attendees, pitching HVAC technology as an amenity, or trying to make plexiglass look like a design element. But since the Covid-19 pandemic swept Minnesota more than a year ago, industry leaders have had to think creatively to stay relevant. And while many of us have been anxiously awaiting a return to “normal,” everyone in the events industry knows that things will never be the same.
To move forward, leaders have been developing a new, post-Covid normal. They’ve been inventing new operational models and fast-tracking industry adoption of technology. With these innovations, plus the passage of time and widespread vaccinations, the events industry is turning a corner. Already, planners are seeing corporate clients planning for in-person and hybrid events for fourth-quarter 2021, say Jen Hansen, senior event specialist at Minneapolis-based Event Lab,
and Jennifer Braun, CEO of Minnetonka-based Type A Events.
“As an industry populated by creatives, the pandemic has been a catalyst for change in a number of ways,” says Christie Altendorf, senior event planner and marketing manager for Minneapolis-based D’Amico Catering. “With live events on pause for much of this past year, the industry has had time for self-reflection and housekeeping. Moving into this year and 2022, our industry will be smarter and stronger,” and is tackling projects it hadn’t been able to before the crisis.
Altendorf, Hansen, and Braun outline a few of the changes they think are here to stay:
“The main thing that has changed is how we incorporate technology into our events,” Hansen says. “Hybrid events are never going to go away, even if Covid does. Going forward, if Grandma is sick with normal, outside-of-Covid ailments, we have a way of including her. Or if big donors aren’t able to leave their homes or travel, we now have a way to include them.” Event planners and venues are also learning to incorporate technology into their design plan, like dressing up TV monitors with decorative frames. “It’s about how do we bring tech into our events, and then how do we make it aesthetically pleasing within the look?”
Downsized event groups
“We were used to doing large galas and large-scale events for 500-plus, but right now, we’re booking for maybe 100 max,” Hansen says. “I personally think that a lot of companies will continue meeting in smaller groups. Instead of a national sales meeting, maybe companies will be meeting as divisions or sub-groups.”
“There have always been stringent measures when it comes to safeguarding health at events, but this past year, we saw a new level of this dedication unfold,” says Altendorf. “Events taking place in the midst of a pandemic suddenly had to reimagine how venues were used to allow for social distancing, introduce personal protective equipment for both staff and guests, become educated on new technologies like bipolar ionization for HVAC systems, develop and implement preparedness plans, find new ways of packaging and serving food and beverages, and stay up-to-date on the evolving state mandates and events guidelines. While many of these measures will disappear as the virus is reduced, I anticipate many will stay with us for a while.”
Hansen notes another challenge of the past year: incorporating safety equipment and easy-to-clean items into the décor plan. “We’re trying to get away from linens. If we do use linens, we want to bring multiple sets of them. But otherwise, we’re trying to use things with surfaces that we can clean,” she says. “For buffets and food service, we’ve been using plexiglass dividers between the serving crew and the folks getting the food. But we’re really trying to have fun with it. We know that plexiglass dividers aren’t a piece that people were really planning to incorporate, but we can do fun branding with logos or maybe put the menu on the food barriers. We want to make it as subtle as possible that you have this giant food barrier, but also trying to get creative and pivot and incorporate it into the look.”
Despite a year of immense challenges and changes, Altendorf, Hansen, and Braun agree that sometimes, letting go of the past is essential to moving into the future.
“There is a rich history of successful event businesses in our state, and it is important to both honor that work and the valuable lessons we’ve learned,” Altendorf says. “As this virus has proven, you can keep people apart for a while, but they will always find ways to come together, and there will always be reasons and ways to celebrate. And our industry is more than capable of evolving to meet those needs.”
Click here to view the 2021 Meetings and Events Resource Guide listings.
The 2021 Meetings and Events Resource Guide contains listings chosen by our editorial team. It is not a comprehensive guide.