On December 14, Covid-19 vaccinations got underway in the U.S.—a giant step toward the return to face-to-face meetings, conventions, exhibitions, incentive travel, and other in-person events. The distribution program aims to have 100 million people vaccinated by April.
As uplifting as the news is, challenges are not in the rear-view mirror for this beleaguered industry. A recent survey of 1,200 travelers released on December 10 by MMGY Global found that only 50 percent of respondents will take the vaccine as soon as it’s available to them. A full 40 percent plan to wait “at least” a few months to see if it’s safe and effective, while 10 percent don’t plan to get vaccinated at all.
For a long time to come, meeting attendees will be a mix of the vaccinated and the unvaccinated—and questions remain about whether vaccinated people can carry the virus without getting sick but transmit it to others. The CDC and other health organizations continue to recommend face masks for the foreseeable future.
That means meeting hosts will be in the position of having to enforce mask-wearing and social-distancing guidelines in a post-vaccine environment. Some attendees who have had their vaccinations likely will feel free to shake hands, leave their masks off, and return to other pre-pandemic face-to-face habits. This will put planners in a tough spot: They’ll need to push back with clear communications, firm protocols, and a risk-management mindset—even if the protocols get more and more unpopular.
Meanwhile, attendees are ready to return: In that same MMGY Global survey, conducted November 15-20, 21 percent of business travelers say they’re likely to attend a conference or convention in the next six months, up from 17 percent in October, and 24 percent say they’re likely to attend an off-site business meeting, up from 22 percent in October.