5 Questions to Guide Your Event’s COVID Safety Protocol Plan

At Achieve, our team has been working tirelessly to plan and prepare for hosting safe events. Each day we are learning new ways to lay the groundwork for experiences that are both safe and engaging for attendees. Our team has been busy getting certified as Pandemic Compliance Advisors, as well as traveling to experience and assess safety protocols in top incentive destinations.

We also know that experience is the best teacher. That’s why we are proud to share the thoughts and perspective of our very own team member, Ashley Lawson, who recently planned a live event with SITE Midwest, our regional chapter of Society for Incentive Travel Excellence. In this Safe Travels blog, Ashley provides the insights she gathered as she organized this safe meeting for event industry leaders:

As event planners, we are tasked with the enormous responsibility of ensuring our attendees’ safety. Every decision we make affects the individual, the group and the community, as well as the families of the attendees upon their return home. This responsibility requires that we get every detail right and that we put in the necessary, and often enormous, amount of research, preparation, foresight, and empathy to ensure the utmost safety for our attendees.

When organizing our SITE Midwest Executive Board Retreat in Cancún, Mexico, I gained invaluable insight on the challenges and complexities of designing and executing a safe event. In doing so, it became very clear that safe planning isn’t just about shifting safety to the number one planning priority, it’s first about shifting your entire mindset. Safe planning first requires you to think differently and more holistically.

Here are the five questions that helped me navigate my decision-making when planning a safe event during the COVID-19 global pandemic:

  1. Are the safety protocols easy for the attendee to follow?

As you are developing your event’s protocols, do everything possible to ensure that each measure is easy, pain-free, and cost-free for the attendee.

Leading up to the event, it was decided that every attendee provide a negative COVID-19 test prior to their travel day. Not only does this requirement give attendees peace of mind knowing that everyone was tested beforehand, but it can also influence an individual’s behavior prior to the event. If someone knows that they need to produce a negative test result, they may make safer decisions regarding their activities leading up to the event.

While some states have testing easily and readily available, circumstances vary significantly from region to region. And in some cases, rapid testing may be quite costly for the individual.

To combat these potential challenges and ensure attendees could easily meet the pre-travel testing protocol, we partnered with a company that ships self-collection kits. The kit includes simple, easy-to-follow directions for nasal swabbing, instructions for how to “activate” the test via an online portal, and a pre-stamped overnight envelope. The lab receives the test and provides emailed results within 48 hours.

By eliminating many of the pain points of testing, we made it easier for our attendees to agree to this safety measure.

COVID-19 at home test

2. Can my safety protocols be easily monitored and enforced?

As the meeting planner, you must be able to determine whether everyone is following the safety protocols that you implement. Doing so requires that you essentially police every action your attendees take, which might sound tricky, but actually gives you an opportunity to get creative in a brand new way.

With our retreat, I wanted to make sure that everyone wore clean face masks each day. Upon entering the very first gathering, attendees were greeted with three face masks next to their name placard. Each face mask had the day of the week printed on them. Doing this accomplished several goals:

  • Attendees had easy access to free, clean masks each day,
  • Attendees could easily spot that their fellow attendees were wearing clean masks, allowing them to feel safer and more comfortable, and
  • A quick scan each day allowed me to monitor that everyone was indeed following mask protocol.
covid safety protocol face masks

To get even more creative, you could establish a theme for each day and/or evening activity and provide masks with designs that compliment those themes. Looking back, I would suggest ordering masks that have adjustable ear loops as everyone has different face sizes and shapes. If the face mask isn’t comfortable or doesn’t fit well, it won’t be effective.

3. How will the most safety conscious person feel in every situation?

Each guest you welcome to your event will bring a different perspective about their safety needs. To ensure you are creating an inclusive environment, it’s essential that everyone feels safe and comfortable. Make sure you look at each protocol, practice, and setup through the lens of someone who is very safety conscious.

This mindset should begin during the pre-event journey for your attendees. For many of your guests, this could be their very first time traveling or attending an event in over a year. They may, in fact, be experiencing a lot of anxiety leading up to the event. This is an opportunity to dazzle them with helpful pre-event communications.

Ahead of our SITE Midwest Retreat, I shared this video I had created about my experience flying to Cancún, Mexico, highlighting the changes at the airport, during transportation, and at the resort.

We also provided a “safe packing list” (with a reminder that TSA now allows one liquid hand sanitizer container up to 12 ounces per passenger in carry-on bags) and a link to the online destination health survey that travelers were required to fill out upon arrival.

By giving attendees a step-by-step guide of the new protocols they will experience, they are able to feel more prepared for their travel day and can focus more on getting excited for your event.

Additionally, I recommend that you continue to share communications on-site and relay information about the safety protocols that are in effect during the meeting. As attendees arrived at our first meeting, they were greeted by the Sanitation Team who had immediately finished disinfecting the meeting room. This was intentional timing as we wanted our attendees to see the protocols in action.

sanitation team at Paradisus Cancun hotel

4. Are my safety protocols fun for the attendee?

As a result of COVID-19, our hospitality partners have had no choice but to restructure their value systems and operating procedures—prioritizing safety over service, guest experience, and ultimately, fun. This means that most interactions involve a sterilization routine (temperature checks and hand sanitizer) or digitized communication (QR codes for menus, daily activities, or booking spa appointments).

As meeting leaders, we have a unique opportunity to reimagine how we usher in the next era of events. To ensure we scattered fun throughout our SITE Midwest retreat, we kicked off our one-on-one planning meetings (outdoors in large pool palapas) with a champagne toast. It seemed like the most appropriate and festive way to reconnect after a long year. But because safety comes first, we did a quick “bottoms up” cheers, where we clinked glasses from the bottom of each champagne flute. A simple, slight change to tradition allowed us to keep safety top of mind.

mimosa cheers

We also wanted to host an interactive experience but needed to rethink how we could make it safe. We decided to plan a mixology class where each attendee had their own private high-top table (six feet away from others). We made sure that each high-top was prepared with all of the necessary cocktail fixings so attendees were not handling each other’s ingredients or utensils.

COVID-19 mixology class

To ensure our virtual attendees could also be engaged with this activity, we mailed them cocktail kits that included all of the ingredients.

virtual event attendee gift
virtual event attendee gift items

As you are building out your event components, think about how you can reintroduce fun and personalization to the sanitized, digitized experience your attendees will encounter.

5. This event meets safety regulations, but does it also appear to be safe?

When the corporate world is ready for a safe return to gathering in person, they will be considering every potential liability. This means that in addition to following safety protocols, event planners need to create events that look completely safe. In the worst-case scenario that an attendee does contract COVID-19 during the event, it needs to be very clear that the event experience was in strict compliance with safety protocols at all times.

Let me give you an example. When planning the meeting setup for our retreat, our hotel partner generously offered to provide beautiful, chic furniture for our guests. Initially, the idea was that there would be individual chairs and large couches that could be shared by two people. The couches were about seven feet long so it “seemed” to fit the six-foot social distancing rule.

While it would have been appealing, it did not appear to be visibly safe (should photos be posted of the event) and thus did not meet the test of providing comfort to liability-conscious businesses. Ultimately, we decided to substitute the couches for individual chairs for each of the attendees.

COVID-19 meeting set up

We also had “Sanctuary Seat” name placards so attendees could select the chair placement that was most suitable for them (and remain in that seat for the duration of the event) – another visual strategy to showcase that safety comes first.

As you are planning your event, think in terms of the photo snapshots your attendees will take. The more you are able to visually reflect the safe environment of your event, the more comfortable your guests – and virtual onlookers – will feel, and the less risk you take of appearing to have compromised anyone’s safety.

Planning safe events requires a brand new way of thinking. While it can be overwhelming to manage the many moving parts of a great, safe event, use these questions to help guide your decision-making. Keep a mental checklist for each protocol you implement. If the protocol is easy, free, fun, and enforceable, you’re off to a great start in getting your attendees to happily adopt them.

If you are interested in accessing more resources for hosting safe events, check out our recent Safe Travels BlogCovid-19 Site Inspection Checklist. In it, we share the top five questions to ask your hotel partner to understand how prepared they are to safely host your attendees.

Looking for additional information about the partners we worked with to host this safe event? Schedule a meeting with us today to learn more!

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