Skip navigation

Coordinating 2021’s F2F Meetings Brings Complexity, Pressure

Both hoteliers and corporate planners see a boom time for meetings on the horizon, which will drive a number of sourcing and contracting complications.

With organizations furiously trying to develop and execute a meetings and events strategy for the second half of 2021 and into 2022, “there is a huge set of unknowns we have to deal with.” So said Sonal Humane, director of meeting management for Merck & Co., who led a panel discussion between two planners and four hotel-sales executives during the virtual Pharma Forum conference held March 21-23 for medical and healthcare meeting professionals.

First, “when it’s time for in-person meetings again, it is going to hit us quickly [from internal clients] and we will need to source quickly and find locations that work,” noted Valli Chapjian, regional director of global meetings and events, Americas, for AstraZeneca. “We have so many meetings to do, and we are looking internally how we can meet the demand and satisfy all of our internal stakeholders.”

Further, internal clients “might have a need for even more meetings because what we have been doing virtually wasn’t 100 percent effective for reaching all the objectives,” said Humane. “I do see that happening.”

PharmaForumGenSession0321a.pngOne tactic that could help planners cope is casting a wider net for potential host properties. “It seems that the first wave of in-person events might not be like the traditional 800-person sales meeting, but instead be multiple 200-person regional meetings,” said Stephanie Russo, HMCC, global account executive for Marriott International. As a result, “planners could look at brands and properties they had not considered previously. Smaller properties might be a great fit now.” 

Danielle Baruch, key account director, global sales Americas, for IHG, agreed. “It’s time to consider using some brands you haven’t used in the past. And maybe you’re not in city centers because the demand is going to be so high there. Make other properties work for you” for the time being. 

In fact, “there are a lot more in-person meetings being sourced right now than you might think, so the supply and pricing environment you see right now might not be the same one month from now,” said Eric Kreins, HMCC, assistant managing director of sales for Hilton Worldwide. “The marketplace is going to change pretty quickly as we go forward.”

When it comes to budgeting and contracting, “overcommunication” appears to be the tactic that planners must employ. For instance, “my people are so eager to be face to face, but we need to use a lot more foresight and effort to account for the possibilities that can happen between signing the contract and the event dates,” Chapjian said. 

One of the tougher tasks is “educating internal stakeholders who aren’t in the day-to-day of the events business—getting them to understand the cost implications of the contingencies that are now necessary” in contracts, said Kreins. “The unexpected things you never had to worry about before can become real for an upcoming meeting. It’s vital that planners keep the lines of communication open with the national salesperson, the property’s salesperson and convention service manager, and maybe even the general manager. You need allies to help you navigate through situations that none of us has ever faced in the past.”

Chapjian cited one example. “In pharma, we are always looking for more breakout rooms. And right now, the agendas are so fluid that things change and get added. But if there is a resurgence of Covid, what does it means contractually if we have to scale back again? Constant communication internally and with our hotel partners is what will keep our budgets from getting blown up.”

In return, hoteliers should provide useful information to planners who are hosting their first events in over a year. “It is up to us to inform clients about what other groups have already done in each area—meeting space set-ups, food and beverage options, social gatherings, and more—so that clients have ideas they can use,” said Marriott’s Russo.

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.