After a hopeful summer, filled with festivals, industry events, and a whole lot of catching up, event planners and professionals find themselves in a pickle yet again. COVID-19 cases are rising, rules and regulations around COVID-19 compliance for events are changing every month, and now, in-person events are getting canceled left and right all over again. The Brew Crew decided it’s high time they share their thoughts about the dramatic return of COVID-19 in 2021 and see how their opinions have shifted since the last time they discussed it.
In a conversation that highlights both their knowledge as well as their personalities, Nick, Will, and Thuy dissect how the pandemic has impacted several sectors within the industry: corporate events, social events, and weddings, among others. They conclude that it’s not just a health crisis anymore – COVID-19 is, as of 2021, also a PR and an HR issue. So, quickly brew something up and press play!
It’s 2021 & COVID-19 Is Back: Now What?
Nick introduces today’s topic: COVID-19 is back and it’s starting to affect the events industry again. “You have in-person events that are making strides towards adding restrictions, such as face masks and COVID vaccination proof. I see in the forums that some corporate events have been postponed. It’s March 2020 all over again.”
“The CDC said which states have a high COVID transmission risk,” adds Will. “Now, you must wear a mask indoors even if you’re vaccinated. And that bothers a lot of people. They’re thinking: ‘I just got vaccinated, I’m supposed to be good. Why do I have to do this?’ It seems like a complete reversal of all the progress that was made. Now everyone’s starting to realize that maybe this isn’t quite over yet.”
COVID-19 In 2021 Across The Events Industry
Thuy emphasizes that not all sectors within the events industry have been hit the same way. “The corporate world has always been cautious with COVID-19 in 2021 and making a return to in-person events. That’s why I haven’t done any fully in-person projects, but it definitely affects the social and wedding industry.”
Nick doesn’t fully agree, though. “The social and the wedding industry isn’t bothered by any of this stuff. They’re just moving along. They don’t have the same risk fears because there is an assumption that every person does whatever they choose to do of their own volition. When it comes to social events, it’s just a bunch of individuals. Therefore, no one is being forced to do anything. And the liability falls upon the person themselves choosing to do what they do.”
“The vendors that live in both the corporate and the social world are okay right now because there’s such a flood for social coming back,” he explains. “Everyone who was supposed to get married last year didn’t. Many of them postponed to this year and are getting married this year on top of the people who would have gotten married this year anyway. So in any other year, this would have been the biggest wedding year ever because it was two years’ worth of weddings.”
Nick shares his personal thoughts about the pandemic. “I don’t think people have the ability to sustain endless variations of COVID-19 without there being dire consequences. So, what we’re going to do is probably becoming a bit cleaner with our processes. Maybe – I’m pretty pessimistic about that too.”
“Then, we’re just going to be able to find an acceptable amount of loss,” he says. “But when it comes to corporate and large-scale events, those are the ones where people are going to do the math on it. Can we really afford to lose key team members and productivity and make people sick because we’ve made them go to a show? My answer is no, especially with billions of dollars being poured into virtual outlets to make them even more attractive.”
“At some point, it’s going to be a statistics question,” agrees Will. “They’re going to calculate what are the chances. Right now, COVID-19 is so big in the news that no event wants to get on a headline that says ‘five people contracted COVID-19 here’ or ‘it’s a superspreader event’.”
He reminds listeners about the 2017 – PAX West and the swine flu outbreak that took place there. “It got known as the ‘PAX pox’,” he laughs. “Before, no one would cancel their event because of a flu outbreak within their event. They would all just agree that that’s Murphy’s law. Something bad ended up happening. But now, no one wants to host the superspreader event. If this is going to continue, at what point are people going to decide that this is a PR question rather than it is a health and safety question?” he wonders.
While the news is not encouraging these days, Nick still thinks it’s not as bad as it was in March 2020. “I don’t think COVID-19 in 2021 can hit as hard as before because people are not as scared,” says Nick. “With each movement of this, there are going to be an increasing number of people who are going to cross over from fearful to ‘I’m going to get some COVID-19 eventually’.”
He is one of the latter. “In the last two in-person events I’ve attended, I know people personally who got COVID-19 there and I’m going to another in-person event anyway. If I’m faced with a one in a few hundred or a thousand chances of getting a really bad cold that knocks me out for a few days, so be it. As someone who’s been traveling for years, I’ve been playing that game for a long time.”
However, he wouldn’t go as far as to produce events in 2021. “If I’m an organization that’s trying to produce an event, I don’t think I’m going to do it this year. Personally, if I’m holding other people’s lives in my hand, I’m not producing events of any kind of scale.”
COVID-19 In The Events Industry: An HR Challenge
While Will looked at COVID-19 in 2021 from a PR standpoint, Nick thinks it’s more of an HR issue. “I’m not going to put team members in a position of risk. Our organization is sending people to an event but it has told everyone that if they don’t want to go, they really don’t have to. There’s going to be some middle ground whereas last year there wasn’t any. It was just ‘no one’s traveling.”
“Individuals are going to make choices and decide what’s an acceptable risk, but organizations are going to be less likely to do that. After all, ‘acceptable risk’ when you’re putting other people at risk is a bad form. When you bring it down to dollars and cents, you’re putting people at harm for profit. It’s a bad look and it probably doesn’t fit many people’s mission statements. Also with where we’re at right now in technology, some opportunities can mitigate the risk to the organization while still accomplishing goals,” he adds.
Event profs share their opinions about COVID-19 in 2021 on social media and encourage others to do so too, which doesn’t sit well with Will and Nick. “I think in-person events professionals are some of the worst people to ask any of this stuff,” says Nick. “As Will pointed out, they have too much at stake. I’m reading a lot of polls right now. And there are so many people saying: ‘We need to get live events back together because this is part of human nature’. Well, no one’s debating any of that human nature stuff. But it doesn’t mean that you put people in jeopardy simply because it’s in your best professional interest or it’s the thing that you’ve dedicated your life to.”
Nick’s tone might’ve been somewhat somber throughout the episode, but his final message is encouraging and informative. “Last year, there were unlimited amounts of free content and an unprecedented amount of money being put into the industry. And it’s all gone into tools that we needed that we didn’t have before.”
What is an event planner to do these days? “Those who held their breath for this to be over are in for a rude awakening because 2019 is never coming back,” Nick says. “No matter what, you need to learn how to do things differently. Specialize when it’s the good times. And when it’s not the good times, go broad and learn different skills.”
And if you can’t learn those skills, lean on those who have them. “Now it’s a time to reach out to your community. You don’t necessarily have to have all the skills yourself. Last year, one of the biggest lessons that came out was the fact that people’s communities kept them afloat.”
“Maybe COVID-19 goes away eventually, but what won’t go away is uncertainty and instability,” concludes Nick. “Those are the things that have always been a part of this world.”
Remember! As long as we stand together and help each other out, we are sure to weather any storms that come our way. Stay tuned for more Event Brew wisdom and most importantly, stay safe!