New Year, New Ways of Meeting
While pundits, pros and the wittiest T-shirts proclaimed 2020 to be a dumpster fire of a year (they aren’t totally wrong), it was one that also proved the resiliency of the meetings industry, which pivoted in the face of an unprecedented downturn, navigating mass cancellations, spinning up virtual events and finding new ways to make business work, generate revenue and help members connect. And while we’re optimistic as the new year begins, association pros will have to work hard, persevere and be the engine in moving the industry forward.
What can we expect?
Virtual Persistence, Small Steps
2021 won’t be a flipped switch. As the nation – and the world – waits for full rollout of a vaccine and the nation recovers from a divisive election cycle, virtual meetings will persist and likely inspire a wave of new technology designed to keep us close in touch. As the spin up to virtual came at light speed, it will be awhile before we see which innovations stick around for the long haul, but smart planners and associations will keep their fingers on the pulse of the digital way of doing business in order to perform optimally and stay relevant as the post-COVID meetings world takes shape.
Hybrid events – with smaller core groups attending in person while larger numbers attend virtually – will grow in scope, with digital engagement thick in the mix. Again, tech will be key in facilitating this new mashup.
Are you still amid rescheduling? You’re not alone. Much of early 2021 could be consumed by getting those cancellations back on the schedule – probably in virtual form. While the world has its fingers crossed for in-person events to return, many are leery of inconsistencies in both interest in and enforcement of safety protocols.
Passing on Lower Costs
The hospitality industry, of course, wants meetings back. Planners with an eye toward the future – and with the confidence of their associations – may be able to capitalize on lower rates now as they look to book smaller hybrid or in-person events in the short term, larger ones in the long term, as business begins to normalize and the future outlook becomes clearer.
Just Non-Dues It
It’s no mystery why virtual events and webinars exploded in 2020 but capitalizing on the positives can take revenues to new levels in 2021 (right when you really need them).
Turning a three-day tradeshow into an extended event may not yield the registration fees an in-person gathering might have, but it can bump attendance significantly, bringing in hundreds more people who wouldn’t have traveled to attend in person.
It’s also a boon for exhibitors, who’ll have more of a budget for mail-out swag (imagine the killer bags you can send out pre- and post-conference!) and increased opportunities for digital sponsoring/ad content, like webinars and educational sessions. Similarly, smaller online events can be seen as opportunities for intensified branding with a single partner, helping them reach their audience – and you fill the coffers.
Lone Star State Planning
Live from Austin
Bunkhouse Group – whose hospitality portfolio includes the Hotel San Jose and Hotel St. Cecilia – has opened Summer House on Music Lane, a wordily-named full-service restaurant inside the Hotel Magdalena.
For now, the restaurant is dinner only, with both indoor and outdoor seating and a full bar with a focus on sparkling wines. The restaurant is available for private events, along with the property’s other meetings-related features, which include an event lawn (4,000 square feet of indoor/outdoor space), pool bar (outdoors, 2,500 square feet) and Terrace Suite (indoors, 700 square feet).
The Axton Group recently closed on the Renaissance Austin Hotel, one of the city’s largest, for $70 million. Plans for the 492-room property, which boasts views of both downtown Austin and Texas Hill Country, include renovations to its public spaces and meeting rooms as it positions itself as a prominent venue for post-pandemic meetings and events. First on the refurbishment roster: the hotel’s entrance, lobby and atrium along with updates to meeting and banquet spaces, which right now total 77,600 square feet, indoors and out.
Get Soaked in Round Rock
The nation’s largest waterpark – also a home for future meetings and conventions – is now open in Round Rock. Kalahari Round Rock, a massive 1.5 million square foot property, including the largest indoor waterpark in the United States, an indoor amusement space and 20 dining options along with a hotel, spa and a 200,000-square foot convention center including multiple ballrooms, meeting rooms, a conference center, outdoor space and more.
Incubating Business in Bryan
With the purchase of the old NutraBolt building, the city of Bryan is hoping to spark start-ups and entrepreneurial cross-pollination, part of which includes plans for meeting rooms and outdoor collaboration spaces amid the Lake Walk Innovation Center’s 47,000 square feet of space. The city projects the center will be completed in early 2021.
Photo credit: iStock.com/Chee Gin Tan