Convention and conference venues are laying the groundwork for reopening

New data shows how event spaces can help attendees feel more comfortable when in-person meetings return.
Photograph: Shutterstock

The coronavirus pandemic forced the cancellation of thousands of trade shows, conventions, conferences and other big events around the globe, and the fallout may extend until the end of the year. Despite the merits of Zoom and other virtual platforms, consumers say they miss live, face-to-face interactions, according to a recent poll by Harris Interactive.

However, that doesn’t mean that they’re ready to gather in large groups to conduct business and socialize just yet.

When asked what factors would make them more comfortable, conference-goers in the U.S. and U.K. cited proper social distancing as their top priority (53% and 55%, respectively). Personal protective equipment (PPE) was cited as the most important factor to French and Spanish respondents: 57% of those in France and 62% in Spain want to see staff wear both masks and gloves, while 49% of U.S. survey participants are in favor of compulsory mask wearing for everyone inside a venue.

Mandatory use of hand sanitizer at facility entrances ranked as a top three factor in all four countries.

This Harris Interactive data was presented by Claire Morris, global head of marketing for Sodexo Sports & Leisure, during a webinar the company hosted earlier this month. Sodexo operates convention halls, stadiums and other large venues, and Centerplate, its catering division, provides the food and beverage service. 

But consumers still crave those face-to-face meetings. After several months of lockdown, 47% of U.S. respondents say they most like attending conventions and conferences to get out of the house. And in all four countries, the majority of those who feel comfortable attending a large gathering want the opportunity to keep up to date with their specific industry.

Steve Pangburn, CEO of Sodexo Sports & Leisure, said the company is laying the groundwork for “a sustainable reopening.” A new initiative called Rise with Sodexo is the blueprint. The plan includes sanitation protocols, contactless payment implementation, online ordering for catering and an increase in grab-and-go concepts and pop-ups. Pangburn stressed that even in these uncertain times, local sourcing, food waste reduction and other sustainability measures will still be a priority.

Hybrid events that combine live streaming and live participation may be the “next normal,” Pangburn said. Until then, said Rip Rippetoe, another panelist and president and CEO of the San Diego Convention Center Corp., “building consumer confidence is as important as creating a safe environment.”

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