Safe Meeting Planning Hot Topics

Safe Meeting Planning Hot Topics

By: Susan Barnes
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Since mid-2020, ALHI has planned and executed several face-to-face events ranging in size, location, duration, and format including hybrid experiences with both in-person and online audiences engaging together. We've shared our learnings, and engaged with planners across the community to create an open forum for the industry at large. In an effort to continue the conversation, we are sharing our point of view on questions we hear often about safe meeting planning.

Please keep in mind that the following topics continue to evolve with new research and information. It is vital that we all stay up to date with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines so we can continue to design events with the proper protocols in mind. 

Should your event require temperature checks? 

The first question to ask is what the venue requirements are for temperature checks. Some hotels do require temperature checks for all guests on property.

An important fact to keep in mind: According to an April 2020 study published in the Journals of the American Medical Association (JAMA), only 55.5% of positive cases show a fever. 

"Checking temperatures can be a line of defense, and can remove anyone with symptoms, but it's important to understand that it does not guarantee no one will arrive who is asymptomatic," said ALHI Vice President, Meeting Design & Experience Katie Bohrer, CMP. "We have found that one of the best ways to monitor temperatures, as well as symptoms, is to include this as part of the shared responsibility of the individual attendees. We include in our event code of conduct (courtesy of the Events Industry Council) that each attendee should evaluate their own symptoms and well-being." 

Should your event require on-site testing? 

Evaluating on-site testing is an important legal, HR, budget, and individual company consideration. There has been a lot of advancement in companies' testing offerings, as well as what is available to groups. 

"Even if an event offers testing before and during the event, it is still vital to follow CDC guidelines for group gatherings," advised Bohrer. "Testing helps create a safer environment, but as we continue to discover information about how the virus and testing works, we still have to create safe meeting spaces. 

"It's about creating multiple layers of risk management," she added. 

For testing and contact tracing, ALHI recommends:  

  • Eurofins - offers both Real-time PCR and Antibody Testing for SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19). 
  • Volan - the Volan Positioning System (VPS) uses micro-location technology to provide superior contact tracing, crisis management and automated operational analytics with lightning speed and pinpoint accuracy. 

Do you need to have waiver for attendees to reduce liability? 

"There is much debate on whether a waiver would hold up legally even if applied," said ALHI President and CEO Michael Dominguez."We fully recommend that event communication includes a code of conduct and what can be expected from a safety protocol for meetings. 

"Having a Hybrid solution for those who don't want to attend allows for participation to be optional without any mandatory attendance requirement," he continued. 

Bohrer adds that companies that do require liability waivers should also commit to a code of conduct and duty of care for the event. 

"A waiver does not negate the importance of attendees and event organizers agreeing to a mask policy, social distancing and personal hygiene standards," she said. 

When can a planner actually use Force Majeure? 

According to Dominguez, Force Majeure can only be put in place when the impossibility is conclusive, unless your contract clause is specifically different than traditional Force Majeure clauses. 

"We have seen many requests for 60 to 90 days into the future, which just doesn't apply," said Dominguez. "The pandemic alone does not qualify as a Force Majeure, as we had an Influenza Pandemic in 2018, for example. It is the restrictions that may be placed that cause the Force Majeure."  

Rather, ALHI advises having open conversations with hotel partners about your needs and reality of your meeting. 

"If you approach a discussion with Force Majeure, specifically knowing in most cases it doesn't legally apply, that discussion likely becomes contentious out of the gate instead of a mutual transparent conversation with your partners to work towards solutions," said Dominguez. 

How do you host a reception while following protocols? 

"Receptions are one of the most challenging events to ensure protocols are followed as a group," acknowledged Bohrer. She shares best practices from the ALHI team: 

  • Consider outdoor space for receptions or select indoor space that provides ample space per person and plenty of distanced seating for the group. 
  • Remove the traditional networking cocktail reception and opt instead for a seated reception. Bohrer suggests dividing the group into smaller groups of attendees and seat them at distanced rounds, directing food and beverage service to only be available once the group is seated. 
  • If you decide to host a reception in a traditional format, ensure that mask and social distancing guidelines are presented in a simple and direct way. For example, make announcements like, 'Masks must be worn at all times unless actively eating or drinking, and please remain socially distanced.' Ensure that all seating is distanced, and that bar and buffets have queues with distancing floor clings and signage. 

Will new protocols for food and beverage increase the amount of disposable items and waste? How do we create green-friendly meetings? 

"In this new meeting environment, there has to be room for addressing these issues as we have quickly adjusted food and beverage to meet the new requirements," said Bohrer. 

She advised considering these ways that meeting and event planners can support greener meetings: 

  • Many hotels use recyclable materials for their disposable items; request and support packaging that is recycled. 
  • Creatively design meal presentations using mason jars or washable glass containers and use fewer containers. 
  • Provide reusable water bottles for attendees to carry for the duration of the meeting(s). 
  • Convert printed materials into event apps and utilize digital signage and monitors to present information to attendees. 

Taking care of the health and safety of event attendees will continue to be priority number one for us, as we know it is for you. Additional planning resources are available through the Events Industry Council