Navigating Meetings During COVID-19: Planner’s Perspective

Face-to-face meetings are one thing Nicole Steed won’t take for granted.

From the outside looking in hospitality and tourism has been dealt a delicate hand. Travel bans, low occupancy rates, and uncertainty about group gatherings are influencing business and bookings.

However, our industry is known for its impressive resilience, especially during times of adversity. And the effects of COVID-19 are encouraging some to push the boundaries of creativity and technology, propelling hospitality into the future.

With more than 20 years of experience in hospitality and events, Steed is the Associate Regional Vice President with Lamont Associates. Throughout her career, Steed has faced challenges in the industry and always finds a silver lining.

Navigating re-bookings and bookings is top of mind for everyone. Steed’s practical approach is treating every event and client on a case-by-case basis. “There are many clients with upcoming meetings (in April and May), and we’ve seen great success in re-booking these events this Fall,” she said. “Several groups have been able to move to 2021, which is great, and I successfully moved a group from June 2020 to June 2023 with no cancellation penalties – this is a huge win-win!”

Meetings require cooperation between destinations, lodging properties, venues, and suppliers. Steed has seen communication increase when working with groups worried about attendance.

“Destination partners, in my experience, have been very proactive, and if everyone is working towards solutions, it’s easier for the clients,” she said.

“Lodging partners have on the whole been very accommodating, flexible, and creative. Many properties are waiving cancellation penalties, allowing re-bookings with previously negotiated rates, offering greater allowable attrition and substituting smaller programs or events in place of large-scale events,” explained Steed.

Navigating the waters can be tricky – no one wants anyone to cancel. Steed has found the most success with lodging properties and vendors that have a willingness for open dialog and communication. “We are dealing with new information one day at a time,” explained Steed. “I am constantly checking-in with planners and groups while keeping an open line of communication with hotel partners as new information is released to the public.”

"Clients that have programs for the rest of the year are faced with a hard decision because they are in prime conference planning mode. However, the flow of information and communication has increased amongst everyone,” explained Steed. “There is the fear of the unknown and hesitation, but the ability to pause and listen makes the difference.”

The effects of COVID-19 will permanently change the hospitality and tourism industry. However, these predicted changes are not for the worse. Planners will likely spend additional time and resources reviewing Safety and Contingency plans in preparation of their events, assessing potential onsite challenges. Contract language will be more closely considered and scrutinized on both sides.

Steed’s biggest curiosity is the incorporation of virtual meetings and events into already existing conferences. “I’m excited to see the developments in connecting virtually and helping clients create hybrid events. Polling is a great example; everyone can participate, and the results are available instantly,” she said. “I’m excited to see these technologies blossom and make their way into conferences.”

Stay-at-Home Orders in Colorado have led many businesses and hospitality professionals to rely on remote working – including Steed, who has worked remotely for 17 years. She wonders if this extended stint of working-from-home will encourage fully remote positions in the future based on productivity.

“I believe we will emerge more connected and collaborative than ever,” explained Steed. “I’ve seen incredible stories of compassion and empathy as people share their journeys.”

There are better times on the horizon, and when we all emerge, Steed says she looks forward to those handshakes and hugs among clients and close friends.