The journey back to the ballroom may be paved by a lot of smalls steps that help people feel comfortable gathering again, but it starts with someone taking that first big leap. This week, Smart Meetings founder and CEO Marin Bright partnered with The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Colorado, to host a group of meeting professionals in a safe, pioneering experience that paired strict CDC protocols with elevated decor, service and culinary offerings that allowed guests to relax and get business done.

“We all miss the power of meetings, and if we each do our part, we can safely come together to do the important work that all those Zoom calls just can’t accomplish,” Bright said as she laid out the responsibility of attendees to do their parts—by wearing masks when not outside, in their pod in the physically distanced ballroom, or eating.

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She made that part of the bargain a little more whimsical by providing everyone with fun, logoed face coverings with a choice of kissing lips or a mustache. To drive the message home with a smile, the SaniCrew team was onsite to dispense liquid reminders.

The second rule was more difficult for many: no hugging or handshakes. In the spirit of protecting each other, attendees agreed to greet with elbow bumps and namastes.

Data-driven Decisions

“I believe in the protocols,” said Mike Dominguez, CEO of ALHI and chair of Events Industry Council APEX COVID-19 Business Recovery Task Force, in his keynote. That is why he has been traveling for the last four months, sharing best practices and visiting member properties.

“Not everyone is ready to travel, and that is OK,” he said. But the more people see safety measures in place on airplanes (including advanced air-filtration systems with HEPA filters that bring in fresh air from above and pull from below) and in hotels (including increased sanitation procedures and decreased occupancy in restaurants and meeting spaces), the more confident they will be in making the choice to step out themselves.

Dominguez walked through data from all over the country and the world to show that after the initial bump in cases every destination experiences at some point, the numbers come down and hospitalizations and fatalities are less common—because doctors learn how to treat patients and are more prepared.

COVID-19 will not disappear for a while, however, and even a vaccine is not a silver bullet. The industry will have to learn how to take the necessary steps to keep people safe while getting back to business.

“We at least are on a road now. There may be speed bumps. But we need to stay positive and focus on the journey ahead,” he concluded.

White Glove Protocols

At a Smart Meeting Experience, safe doesn’t feel sterile. Thanks to partners at The Broadmoor, CSI DMC and Access DMC, straight-back chairs in rigid grids were eschewed in favor of pods equipped with individual sanitizing wipes and comfortably spaced soft seating with side tables.

The bulk of the event was staged in the fresh Rocky Mountain air, with living-room vignettes and rustic wood screens as backdrops on the patio to allow for one-on-one conversations that let participants keep their distance while still learning about new opportunities for planning their own safe events when the time is right.

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Team building put a net between attendees, as pros taught the finer points of pickle ball and putting.

Bento box lunches, individually wrapped snacks and chef-served buffet options delivered five-star experiences with a smile behind the mask.

To accommodate those who couldn’t attend in person, half a dozen computers were docked so planners could still learn about remote destinations, making it a hybrid event that didn’t skimp on the amenities.

“It is such a relief to be moving forward again,” Bright said. “We just have to continue being conscientious so we can keep doing this.”

The next Smart Meeting Experience is at the brand-new Grand Hyatt Nashville Nov. 8-10.

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