The question is easy: If you are part of the hospitality industry and you could make a wish, what would it be?
My guess is your answer resembles mine: “Let’s call to Dr. Emmett Brown, jump into his DeLorean, push the accelerator to 88 mph and go back in time. Date and location? Easy answer: November 2019, Wuhan, China, where the COVID-19 pandemic saw its first light.
Yes, my guess is that this would be your wish: travel to a pre-COVID-19 time and eradicate the virus! Unfortunately, the DeLorean is out of service, Dr. Brown has retired, and the reality is that today all face-to-face meetings are cancelled around the world.
The Bad News
If you are meeting planner in the hospitality industry, at any level, COVID-19 has changed your panorama. Meeting planning companies have closed around the globe, coworkers and colleagues are furloughed or laid off, and several industries connected to the travel industry are in chaos and jeopardy.
The cancellation of all the in-person meetings and the restrictions, personal and social, that this virus has forced upon us has destroyed the even the simplest certitudes held true by event organizers, from the smallest travel agency to the largest congress center. And COVID-19 has not stopped yet; it continues to shatter our most closely held convictions about meetings, socializing, traveling, and enjoying new experiences. COVID-19 has hampered our ability to meet. It is a difficult 2020, and a complicated 2021. It will take a combined effort to restart the industry and begin hosting in-person functions again.
There is much uncertainty. Will summer meetings be confirmed? Will international borders reopen and airlines resume service? What will be our new limitations as we start to manage customers who entrust us with their travel experience and safety? Planners around the world are aware that meetings and events in a post-COVID-19 world will require major adjustments. Health and safety protocols will be different: social distancing arrangements and safe food and beverage service will be the new imperatives.
The truth is we do not know much yet. Still, the energy level in our industry is already above and beyond pre-pandemic times. There is a huge, legitimate human desire to move forward. This energy is felt in the questions made by large corporations’ marketing offices, in the vigilant attention to the smallest details from travel agencies, and it is felt in the signing of a contract for a new project. It is hope.
The Good News
Humans have a fundamental desire to communicate and to congregate. This has not changed and will not change. What makes us human is that we like to— must— communicate and congregate. Our path to return to full face-to-face meetings may be uncertain, but what is not uncertain is this: we will reach our destination.
The events industry will rebuild and make its comeback through small, regional meetings. Internal meetings, small workshops, and short seminars for regional attendees (along with a concurrent virtual element to allow for international camaraderie) are the first steps. Social distancing will be the new law of the land, and new guidelines will ensure a safe experience for all attendees.
Now, more than ever, it is important that professionals in our industry unite, listen to each other, exchange information that enriches our ability to manage this situation in the best possible way, and be ready when the industry fully resumes.
Like the cat in the proverbial poster, we must hang in there. We must be transparent, have the courage to communicate with our customers, and listen to their requirements and present them with safe alternatives to meet their needs. The industry will weather the storm together and surface stronger and more successful. COVID-19 has taught us that we are all in the same boat. Let’s acknowledge it and come back stronger, returning to normalcy—albeit a new one.