Experiences from the Road: Traveling and Managing Events During a Global Pandemic
Since March, M&IW has continued to support our clients’ essential face-to-face meetings. At any given time, many of our road warriors were onsite managing programs that are critical to the health and safety of our communities. What’s more, our program managers have continued to drive meetings and events forward by conducting site visits to upcoming face-to-face meetings.
While air travel and onsite event management might look significantly different these days, our team’s dedication to the power of live meetings and events remains constant. Over the past nine months, our team has had the opportunity to experience, through the lens of a face shield and mask, the return of air travel and onsite management post shelter in place. In an effort to bring your experiences from the road, we interviewed some of our 2020 road warriors to get their experience firsthand.
We are happy to report that the majority of experience with traveling and managing onsite programs has been extremely positive, but don’t take our word for it, let’s hear what our account managers, program managers, and even our Co-CEO Tina Madden has to say about their personal experiences.
Q. Tell us about your experience with air travel during the pandemic?
“I thought the airline did a fabulous job communicating the onboarding process while at the airport. What has changed was communication and announcements about thanking us for taking care of each other. I felt the plane was actually safer/cleaner than the airport itself.”
Pamela Wuest, Account Lead (PW)
“I have flown a few times since the pandemic started, and the differences were minimal! I first flew in May, and the crowds were noticeably smaller with roughly half the stores and food venues in the airports closed. I have also flown a few times in September and October, and there were definitely more people than there had been in May and most of the stores in the airports had re-opened. Other than wearing a mask on the flight and minimal in-flight snacks/drinks, the only difference I noticed was that the airplanes seem cleaner. The improved cleaning processes and MENTION of those processes in the pre-flight briefing is appreciated!“
Adrienne Tooley, CMM, CMP-HC – Sr. Program Manager (AT)
“It was very smooth and I felt safe. Everyone kept their distance from each other at the airport.”
Tina Madden, Co-CEO and Chief Customer Officer (TM)
“I had a very good comfort level with the amount of Covid preventive measures in place. Quite simply put ‘just wear your mask’.”
David Guse, VP & Data Protection Officer (DG)
“Great, no issues at all. Aircraft was clean and they allowed for the distance between passengers.”
Peter Duncan, Strategic Account Manager (PD)
Q. How did you feel being onsite managing an event or conducting a site visit?
“I traveled for a site visit. I felt like it was my responsibility to protect myself and others so I was extra diligent. Since I was traveling with a client that was more relaxed with the safety measures, I found myself in a position of doing something different than the client. Normally, I would follow my client’s lead, but in this case, I followed our company’s protocol and policy for contactless visits and wearing a mask at all times. It’s important to note that you may be in the position of managing a variety of different viewpoints and practices while on-site so be prepared to do what you feel is best for all of us.”
“It was great to be onsite, and planning for in-person events again! I attended a planning visit for a program scheduled for April 2021, and it was great to see the precautions the hotel has put into place already. These included temperature for checking all their staff daily who then have to wear a wristband to show they have been checked and updates to how they manage buffets and coffee breaks. It was sad to see how empty the hotel was and to hear how low their occupancy is right now compared to what it would normally be. I am hopeful that changes in the coming months.”
“I was actually an attendee at a conference and it felt great. I was even able to meet new people and network safely being at a distance with a mask on. It made a difference to be in person.”
“Everyone has been fantastic during this time. The general understanding by all has shown the thoughtfulness of the human race to me. You’re wearing your mask because you care about others. I have been onsite now since August 1 supporting an event. I am tested weekly and am happy to report I have been negative for Covid. I simply follow the easy-to-follow preventive measures that have been in place and practiced by all.”
“I felt safe no worries. Wear your mask and wash your hands – all good.”
Q, What did you observe about the guests or attendees and their comfort level with being at a meeting?
“At an essential pharma event in Maine, people seemed to be very comfortable with being onsite. It was the same with the planning visit. Our clients were very comfortable with being onsite, and almost felt like some of the precautions we discussed were unnecessary. It was hard for them to imagine that we would still be in the position to need such precautions for an April 2021 event. That being said from a planning perspective, we’re trying to think about the event in two ways; how would the event look both with and without all the precautions in place?“
“Everyone seemed comfortable. We all kept our distance and were respectful and careful. We all understood that we were all part in of keeping the meeting safe.”
“The wearing your mask covering your nose and mouth takes some getting used to and we do constantly remind attendees to keep their masks up when talking. I was surprised and relieved of everyone’s participation and taking precaution.”
“After the initial registration and review everyone seemed to easily get in the groove of the meeting.”
Q, What was the biggest difference between being onsite post vs. pre-pandemic?
“In speaking for myself, I felt a higher level of awareness, caution and some anxiety at times.”
“The unknown is SO big right now. No one can predict what anything is going to look like, even 6 months from now. In the past, the hotel could have predicted occupancy levels, what other groups in-house would be doing, and could tell us what we could and couldn’t do, etc. Now, everything is up in the air. Even when we asked about the additional space in the hotel or requesting additional load-in time, the hotel is much more uncertain. It’s interesting to see how flexible some properties are now, compared to the pre-pandemic. When it’s a sellers’ market, some hotels can be very inflexible and restrictive, because they are trying to fit as many groups in as possible. I dislike that this situation has put so many of them in a place of needing to be more flexible, but it’s nice to see the perspective of “let’s figure out how to make this work together” return to the profession.“
“The thoughtful traffic flow and less moving around with staggered release times and doors marked with exit or entrance only signs was noticeably different. It was interesting attending a meeting here the presenters moved from room to room and attendees stayed in place for the various breakout sessions. I was happy to see that the food was just as good even with the hotel having to serve it differently.”
“All the Covid practices in place were a big difference. These included wearing a mask; sanitizing stations everywhere; washing hands frequently; the use of the hotel gym by scheduled apt only with only one person at a time allowed in the gym; keeping attendees 6ft apart when in a line; seated in smaller and groups 4 to a table.”
Q. What are your thoughts, based on your experience, of the return of face-to-face meetings, conferences and incentives?
“I plan to be mindful that anxiety levels for attendees and staff may be higher than usual. As a planner, I would insist on clear event protocols and safety guidelines coming from the client to their attendees. Enforcing them onsite could be, at times, challenging for onsite staff. Clear messaging and communicating expectations before and during the program will go a long way.“
“In-person events are definitely do-able, if the right precautions are put into place, people are willing to look at things differently, and all the attendees will play by the rules. I do think it’s going to be tougher for larger groups, as the amount of space needed to conduct an event in a safe environment is much greater than it normally would be. But, if we are able to think outside of the box and look at workarounds, we can make it happen! And, people want to be back together. video conferencing fatigue is real.“
“It can be done safely as long as we are all in it together and very thoughtful in our approach and protocols.”
“They can for sure happen following basic guidelines of Covid preventative measures. M&IW has put together guidelines for following these best practices.”
“I can’t wait for the return of in person meetings. I miss the social aspect and synergy of in person meetings.”
Q. Is there any other insight you would like to share about your thoughts on running a face-to-face meeting during a pandemic or post-pandemic?
“Meeting planners should not rely on the venue to ensure safety. As professionals we need to ask the hard questions of our supplier partners to prove how they are providing a clean, safe environment and are following the strictest of guidelines. We cannot assume the venue/DMC/production company has a plan, and we need to remember that the attendees’ safety may rely on us working closely together with our supplier partners to ensure everything is buttoned up.“
“I think it’s going to take seeing more and more groups successfully hold events for our industry to really come back again. People want to see that others did it first, and that it was done successfully. The more we can share about groups who are meeting in person, the safer people will feel about moving forward. We have to start small, and be smart about it. My events are a mix of incentive and educational conferences, and I believe it will be easier to move forward with my incentive trips. This is mainly due to the flexibility we have on what type of spaces we can use for our larger gatherings. For example, we can use outdoor spaces (weather pending) for our incentive welcome and awards dinners, which will allow us to incorporate physical distancing guidelines. That would much more difficult for an educational event that needs heavy audio-visual support.”
“There is something to say about F2F meetings even during a pandemic. Engaging and actually being with another human being is so positive. I can only say for everyone I have met and all the M&IW representatives that have traveled onsite that I was able to SEE again, I enjoy “being” human for that together interaction.
The one theme that reigns through our program managers and leadership’s personal accounts is the willingness and desire to keep each other’s safe to promote the return to face-to-face meetings and events. While the pandemic may be keeping us physically distant from each other, it is bringing communities together like never before. And, when the time is right, travel and face-to-face meetings will return with great enthusiasm.