A New Era of Events: The Agility of the Meeting Venue
Lauri M. Velotta-Rankin
As travel and social distancing guidelines fluctuate globally, venues have resourcefully strategized to continue accommodating meetings. They are exceeding expectations by offering multiple avenues for hosting and exciting new options that redefine the execution of meetings and boost both attendance and engagement. Venues have demonstrated their agility while implementing innovation solutions for event planners and their attendees.

The International Association of Exhibitions and Events (IAEE) is a trade group for the exhibitions and events industry. Donna Jarvis-Miller currently serves as the chair of its Washington DC Chapter’s Board of Directors. Jarvis-Miller asserts that many properties have leveraged this pause in business to upgrade technological infrastructure to accommodate hybrid events. While an investment in technology may be inevitable for meeting professionals, it will likely be offset by the usual costs associated with travel and hotel stays. She eagerly reports that many facilities are providing these services at nominal fees. “You don't have to bring in additional staff or buy additional equipment."

Even for venues currently hosting events, most are under strict guidelines for room capacity. Jarvis-Miller touts a creative antidote: a single venue with separate listening lounges for small groups of attendees. Although this model is finding success, she does note the strain on technology, as streaming multiple concurrent sessions necessitates robust audio-visual solutions. "Wi-Fi and broadband are where facilities are going to be challenged." To hurdle this potential obstacle, they preempt with planning committees and dry runs to ensure the venue has ample broadband and Wi-Fi.

In July of 2020, the International Association of Conference Centres (IACC) launched an innovation approach to meetings called MultiPOD. While hybrid meetings typically have one live location and a virtual audience, MultiPOD links several live locations together (coined “PODs”) and with proper facilitation, this permits valuable collaboration among all groups, regardless of where they reside. This concept is welcoming to a virtual audience as well. MultiPOD advantages extend to venues, planners, and attendees alike. IACC’s CEO, Mark Cooper, asserts, “I think we'll strive to find efficiencies through regionalizing more meetings, and then interconnecting them so that they have that connection with their colleagues." And with vacillating travel restrictions around the world, this format can become a long-term option for events. For added convenience, IACC has developed webinars on MultiPOD meetings for both venues and meeting professionals.

Event Sales Manager of the Grand Hyatt Washington (DC), Jessica Bland, explains how the hotel vigilantly works to keep their venues safe and ensure event attendees are comfortable. The change in business has resulted in a learning curve for many planners with an expertise in hosting live events. She’s found the unexpected turn to hybrid a challenge for some. In response, Hyatt hotels have partnered with Encore, an event technology and production services provider, for additional support. Encore’s Hybrid+℠ delivers a full range of solutions ready to tackle the needs of hybrid events. “The Hybrid meeting package was created in collaboration with our corporate Hyatt events team and Encore.” They assist planners with a strategy “…offering the pros and cons of each tech option.” Having on-site expertise is reassuring for hybrid-hosting novices. This guidance boosts planners’ confidence and their chosen technology is then implemented. Bland adds, “Encore provides equipment and audio-visual service to ensure the meeting’s success.”
Venues are also enhancing safety with emerging health-related technologies. The North Carolina-based Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority (CRVA) is installing thermal cameras in large-capacity venues, like the Charlotte Convention Center. Seamless to entering guests, the devices rapidly read body temperatures of large groups. CRVA has also invested in Needlepoint Bipolar Ionization (NPBI™), a filtration technology that captures contaminants in the air via ionized particles.
Meeting professionals and venues share the common goal of delivering a cohesive and engaging event experience. While in-person events offer networking and collaboration that is difficult to emulate from afar, they’ve continually developed creative solutions in a myriad of meeting styles. These have been so effectively implemented that a virtual component to meetings will remain an enduring facet of the industry for years to come. And that widened reach will ultimately attract higher numbers and broaden engagement, benefitting all.