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Many of us are back to planning in-person events and while we continue to use our experience to help deliver first-class events, not everything is as it once was when it comes to event planning and execution. Over the past 12 months I worked with clients on their in-person events and here are some of the key lessons I will take with me into 2023.
1. Everything costs more. It seems the trend of increased costs is something we will need to plan for moving forward. Hotel rates, airfare and transportation seem to be the leading culprits however, rising costs in other services is being seen as well. It appears this is a trend we will need to continue planning for in 2023. It will be more important than ever to negotiate food and beverage costs such as locking in current rates for future events. Working with your venue and other suppliers early on in the planning will be necessary to help you manage your event budget accordingly.
2. Everything takes longer. Between staffing shortages and supply chain disruptions, everything is taking longer than usual, and we need to plan ahead for these delays. Staff turnover at event properties has been an issue I’ve seen firsthand this year, and this inevitably stalls production. Quite often hotel staff is juggling multiple positions to account for staff shortages and even their response time to your requests are extended.
3. Contract negotiations are different. Because of rising costs, low venue inventory, and supply chain issues properties and suppliers are being less generous with concessions and discounts. I’ve especially witnessed this while sourcing venues for clients for 2023 and 2024. As the demand for space increases, hotels are less willing to “throw in” extra goodies such as room amenities, free F&B for your staff, upgraded rooms, etc. Additionally, room rates are coming in higher, and food and beverage minimums have gone up considerably with less room for negotiation. As event planners we must be very specific about our needs and expect to go back and forth several times while negotiating contracts.
4. Travel takes extra time…and patience. This is a big one! Not only have costs for travel skyrocketed, but the time it takes – and the uncertainty of actually getting there – is playing a big part in events. Earlier this fall while attempting to fly into Houston for a client event, I woke up to a Delta alert that my flight was cancelled. Not delayed, not rescheduled…CANCELLED. After searching for alternative flights, I was fortunately able to find an option that would get me there in time for event set up for their one-day event. Luckily another Event Garde team member who lives in the Dallas-area was able to drive-in to support this client. However, I’ve seen and heard of these stories plaguing events this year. From stranded speakers, to delayed attendees, we need to anticipate that travel woes will occur – and plan accordingly. While extra room nights adds to the overall cost, flying in early, or bringing in speakers ahead of time may be worth the cost to ensure your event goes on as planned.
5. Don’t rely solely on historical data. Attendee behaviors have changed. Since the pandemic, it seems people are waiting longer to register for events, or they are making decisions on-site about adding additional sessions, tours and meals. This is a concern for meeting planners who rely on past data to predict F&B numbers and hotel room night pickups. What we used to be able to predict has become more challenging post-pandemic. Be sure you are watching your numbers more closely, and more often, as you plan your event. And, when you are onsite, prepare your banquet team for possible last-minute adjustments. This is also important to keep in mind when negotiating your contracts. Try and give yourself as much time as possible to lock in guarantees.
6. Registration numbers are still recovering. While in-person events seem to be back in full force, most events that I managed this year continued to see a decrease in attendance. This is making it difficult to predict future events when sourcing venues as we do not know when, or if, we will return to pre-pandemic numbers. Additionally, it is crucial to manage exhibitor expectations when it comes to attendance numbers. The good news is that the attendees who are there are excited to be back in person and seem to be more engaged with each other, and exhibitors throughout the event. Similarly most exhibitors I’ve talked with understand that we are still working our way back to pre-pandemic levels and they seem pleased with the progress and the opportunity to be networking, in-person, with buyers.
7. COVID protocols should still be considered. Over the year, I have worked on events that still required masks and temp checks, as well as events that had minimal COVID protocols. The big lesson-learned for me is that you need to, at the very least, have a plan in place in the event a COVID breakout happens onsite. Things to consider include, knowing the nearest testing centers, will you have tests onsite available for attendees/staff, how will you communicate an outbreak onsite, and how will the venue support you? Talk with your staff and your event partners, to determine your protocols ahead of time so that you are not caught off-guard if this happens on site. Even if you have your attendees sign waivers and plan to follow CDC guidelines, you still need a proactive plan in the event your staff, suppliers, or attendees come to you onsite with symptoms – or a positive COVID result.
Overall, 2022 was a great year as we fully emerged back into in-person events. I am excited to see the event industry continue to build back after a rough few years, but I am also more prepared to use these lessons-learned as I plan for 2023 and beyond. The key takeaway for me is that no matter how long you’ve been planning and executing events, things are certainly different and we need to be flexible.