What Will Become of Business Meetings and Conferences in the Post-Covid World?

Article 6.11.2020

Is a “new normal” emerging that will permanently alter the way the world’s leading businesses and industry groups plan and execute conferences, conventions, and face-to-face regional, national, and international gatherings? Will the army of corporate and lodging industry meeting planners soon be flooding LinkedIn and executive recruiters with their resumes as their jobs and their profession morph into a smaller, technology-dominated world of virtual e-conferences and conventions? And what about the meeting industry supply chain? Where will manufacturers of those little paper umbrellas served in countless tropical drinks at thousands of poolside conference cocktail receptions find a market for these unique but rather ineffective rain-deterrent devices?

According to behavioral scientists and HR professionals, don’t bet on the death of a powerful multi-billion dollar industry that leverages several basic human emotions, the need to interact with colleagues to stimulate the exchange of ideas through formal and informal discussions during breaks (and yes, even poolside). “The value of face-to-face socialization with others sharing your interests, business concerns and innovative ideas is unmatched in virtual settings”, notes Mark Angott, President of Angott Search Group.

Although it’s true that the meetings industry has crashed as air travel effectively shut down and corporate employees sheltered at home, signs of recovery are emerging. Marriott International’s President and CEO, Arne Sorenson, reported the first green shoots of recovery in his firm’s quarterly earnings call on May 11 noting, “April seems to have defined the bottom,” in terms of the weeks-long crash of worldwide hotel occupancy that decimated business travel and Marriott’s substantial meetings and conventions business. Sorenson and other industry experts anticipate that meetings activity will be the slowest portion of hotel business to recover. So what will the recovery look like?

Meeting planners have a clear mandate from senior management to resume a decades’ long pattern of bringing people together in productive and compelling face-to-face sessions, but it will be a multi-step process.  According to top global recruitment firms, they anticipate upticks in sequential professional, technical, executive and managerial hiring demand in the second half 2020 that might indicate continued steps in a positive return towards recovery.

According to planning professionals, employee perceptions of safety will drive an initial return to conducting successful in-person events. First, is air travel perceived as safe? Is there confidence in TSA procedures, airline cabin cleanliness and distancing? Second, are meeting protocols in place to ensure cleanliness of hotel facilities, meeting spaces and food and beverage handling. Once these basic building blocks are in place, business leaders can concentrate on creating the agendas, content, and energy that generate productive meetings. “Excellent meetings are an essential part of any organization’s future, and we can’t wait to get to that point”, exclaims Angott.

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