As scientists across the globe research Covid-19’s Omicron variant to learn if it’s more transmissible, resistant to current vaccines, or likely to make people sicker than other variants, meeting professionals remain on alert.
Not surprisingly, the uncertainty has led to recent event postponements and cancellations. These range from the Global Business Travel Association’s early December meeting in Berlin, which is being rebooked in Q1 2022; to the World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference, which would have started November 30 in Geneva, Switzerland; to the annual dinner of the London Bullion Market Association, which would have been held at London’s Natural History Museum this week; to the annual scholarship dinner for Rutgers Center for Real Estate, which is postponed.
Until more is known in the weeks ahead, event planners and their hospitality partners can expect to see more impacts. However, it’s also clear that the industry is in a better position to ride out a Covid surge without the full-scale disruption that plagued much of 2020 and 2021.
Here are four reasons the meetings industry is more resilient than ever.
• Running events where all attendees must be vaccinated is no longer an abstract idea. Tools like the Clear Health app, used to verify vaccine status, and the experience of pioneers like the Global Health Conference & Exhibition have paved the way for fully-vaccinated in-person events.
• Venue standards have been established. Many meeting hotels and convention centers now have cleaning and health protocols in place and understand far better the rules for socially-distanced event setups and safe F&B. Last year, planners and venues were challenged with establishing new ways of keeping attendees and staff healthy; today, it’s about ensuring competent execution of the new procedures.
• Online events aren’t a mystery anymore. While not ideal for many meeting goals, virtual meetings aren’t new and unnerving like they were when the pandemic began. Most organizations now have experience with one or two platforms, and are aware they need to adapt agendas, build in more audience engagement, and modify sponsor experiences to work in the online environment. While it may be dizzying to keep up with the virtual-event tools flowing into the market, the quality of the digital experience has become more robust and effective.
• New antiviral drugs under development to treat Covid-19 also work in favor of in-person meetings and events. Poised for approved by the Food and Drug Administration, Pfizer and Merck’s new therapeutics for people with Covid symptoms could lessen the fear of attending meetings and events for those concerned about breakthrough infections, or for those unable or unwilling to get vaccinated. The drugs are expected to be effective at keeping patients out of the hospital and much less expensive than monoclonal antibody treatments, currently the only outpatient therapy available.
It is unclear how significant a threat Omicron is. As the meetings industry holds its collective breath waiting to see if the new variant delivers the same—or worse—punch as the Delta variant, planners at least know what they’re in for, and have better tools and more experience to manage the fallout.