Meeting professionals around the U.S. are feeling their way forward, booking events through the fall and into 2022. But while the appetite for in-person events appears strong and protocols for safe events are better understood than ever, coronavirus’s more contagious Delta variant has created new worries.
After a week that saw Nevada reinstate indoor mask mandates in most counties and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that everyone—including people who have been vaccinated—wear a mask indoors in high-transmission regions, we asked our readers to weigh in. MeetingsNet conducted a snapshot survey at the end of last week that found a clear level of alarm as well as a significant percentage of planners who are considering postponements or cancellations anew.
While our sample size is modest—we received 48 responses (73 percent corporate or association planners, 15 percent third-party planners, 6 percent suppliers, and 6 percent “other”)—there was no doubt that Covid is making waves.
Readers were asked to gauge their concern that the new mask recommendations and an uptick in Covid cases in some parts of the U.S. will impact the return of in-person meetings for their organizations. On a scale of 1 to 5, where “5” indicated “extremely concerned,” 42 percent responded with a “5” and another 35 percent said “4.”
For events planned for Q3 and Q4, we asked respondents how they expected their organizations to respond to the new masking guidelines for vaccinated attendees. A full 21 percent are changing their protocols to now require all attendees—including those who are vaccinated—to wear a mask:
Many of those who answered “Other” said their events would follow mask-wearing guidelines in their destination at the time of their events. Several others did not have events planned this fall.
Beyond masking requirements, we asked respondents whether concern about the Delta variant was resulting in postponements or cancellations. While only a handful of planners have seen specific adjustments to their overall meeting portfolio, postponements or cancellations are on the table for a large percentage of the planners who took our survey:
Those in the “Other” category generally fell into two camps: those who aren’t yet planning in-person meetings and those who feel it is “too soon to tell” what they’ll do.
For those organizations with new postponements or cancellations, we asked who is driving the changes. Respondents could select more than one answer, but almost two-thirds (65 percent) say C-suite executives are making the call, versus planners (38 percent) and attendees (35 percent).
While some respondents commented that changes to meetings are based on unwarranted fears, others noted that attendee perception is the reality they have to contend with.
“In-person registration has stalled and is too low to be viable at this time. Sponsors are also reluctant to book for the in-person experience,” commented one planner about an upcoming meeting in Florida. Other respondents struggled with working in a state of limbo. “This is affecting everything from retreat planning to scheduling our presence at other meetings, to canceling scheduled in-person courses,” said one respondent. Another commented: “Due to recent and ever-changing Covid conditions, we are refraining from issuing any event protocols or policies more than 30 days prior to our November 2021 in-person gathering.”
Since the survey was conducted, more destinations and organizations are issuing or publicly considering indoor mask mandates, including for those who have been vaccinated.