What Does Mass Reopening Mean for the Event Industry?
When Washington State entered a statewide reopening on June 30th, everything was thrown into a tizzy. Here at Meydenbauer Center, we’d been talking for months about the inevitable opening of the proverbial floodgates and it would appear the time is upon us. Now, almost six full weeks from that date, we’ve learned some things and made some observations. It feels as good a time as any to dive into what mass reopening means for the event industry.
It’s easy, with the tight-knit community our industry has here in Washington, to lean into the excitement of returning to live events and you should! It’s a very exciting prospect. Yet, it’s equally important to remember that the explosion of anticipation into excitement and actionable plans is true of just about every single industry around us. It’s not just events. It’s restaurants, it’s cinema, it’s travel, arts and culture, education, and the list goes on. People like us who rely on demand for the time and attention of our target audiences find ourselves in a bit of tug-of-war with other industries all vying for the patronage of an entire population ready to do a little bit of anything and everything. Understanding these implications could prove key to honing in on engagement and event success. Let’s talk about it.
When the entire world powers down for the better part of a year, it should come as no surprise that shortages are a significant fallout. One of the biggest shortages we’ve seen is in workers. As you can imagine, many industries faced severe downsizing during the pandemic and its subsequent lockdown effects just to stay afloat. As a result, a year later we’re seeing the hiring landscape get turned on its head and the event industry is no exception.
Think about staffing needs, the positions vendors and organizers need to fill again. Now multiply that by as many companies as you can think of. With a few exceptions, almost everyone is hiring right now. By and large, this is indicative of something good. Things are opening up, employers are returning to a financial state that can disperse healthy wages, but, with the pick of the litter when it comes to potential jobs, the hiring process has slowed way down. Again, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Employees are being offered more flexibility, more wages, more options. It does, however, require careful consideration on the part of the employers.
The average national hourly pay for workers in the leisure and hospitality industry has grown 4% since earlier this year. So what does this mean for us? While event organizers might not be in the same bind as other employers, our industry at large is facing a shortage that might have an impact on serving your needs. Vendors across the board are struggling to meet the needs of a booming event demand. Venues, caterers, entertainment, AV – smaller staffing for these businesses puts more pressure on meeting demand. The biggest impact in this regard is in managing expectations. When you’re sourcing vendors for your event, you might find that what’s doable looks a little different right now. Whereas before the pandemic your vendors could have multiple teams with a higher output of services, in our current stage of reopening the rope gets pulled taut quicker than before. A large portion of our industry is ready to reopen, ready to get back to live events, but with the hiring process slowing and restaffing being the large undertaking it is for partners, you may need to adjust your expectations and lend a little patience and a little understanding as they work to meet demand and serve the needs of the many, many planners looking to put up events right now.
Then there are the shortages that we’re feeling directly. Food products have been a significant stumbling block for venues and planners. In fact, a recent event at Meydenbauer Center couldn’t get their hands on their preferred beer offering due to a shortage. It’s not just food though. Flights, hotels, car rentals, and more are experiencing a significant jump in demand. Demand drives prices up. This presents event professionals with two big considerations when planning events. Firstly, where can you make sacrifices and where can you make accommodations. If the last year taught us anything it’s that our industry has an incredible ability to adapt and the demand for that flexibility is higher than ever. We understand as well as anyone what it’s like to have a specific vision, but with shortages in full force, substitutions and alterations will be key to keeping stress down and engagement up. Additionally, it will be imperative for planners to consider the cost expectancy for their attendees. Are you asking guests to travel for this event? What level of budgeting may be required for participation? Every attendee will have a threshold for their own personal return on investment, so keeping that in mind is key.
The Big Event Boom
The boom heard around the state. Remember those floodgates we mentioned earlier? They’ve morphed into a sort of event industry avalanche in the last six weeks. And why shouldn’t it be like that? We love what we do and of course, we’re all chomping at the bit to get back to it. The concentrated nature of this boom, however, sits in stark contrast to pre-pandemic times when excitement and eagerness were spread out and averaged over time, peaking in busy seasons, and quieting down in shoulder seasons.
At our venue in Bellevue, we’ve noticed that interest in peak seasons is still prevalent though availability has been closing. While Meydenbauer Center has had immense calendar availability and flexibility for obvious reasons, as the number of planners reaching out continues to grow, that availability becomes more restricted. As a result, planners must move swiftly to ensure their preferred dates are still available. Again, though, we’d encourage anyone looking at hosting an event in the next year to (say it with us) roll with the punches.
The Delta Variant
The strangest thing about where we all sit right at this very minute is the swirling sense of both urgency and hesitation in the air. You simply cannot spend time on a digital media platform without seeing talk of the Delta Variant. It’s a concerning prospect, no doubt, but an interesting New Yorker article speaks with economists for their take on what the variant means for the economy. Sure, we’ll concede that the wild and crazy summer we might have expected with the release of the COVID-19 vaccine has proven a little less than, well, wild and crazy. Looking at the next five or six months to closing out the year, the Delta Variant poses a question that causes concern for event planners. What if we lock back down? Well, the good news is we’re not where we were a year ago. This time last year, we were about six months into a global pandemic with talks of vaccination feeling like a pipe dream. The world changed drastically over 12 months and, while feeling cautious and being safe is still as important as ever, the implications on the population at large are different.
For one thing, using the King County COVID-19 data dashboards gives a better understanding of what the state is looking at to make recommendations to businesses and how they’re disseminating information on what actions individuals should take. Ultimately, there’s no way to predict what the Delta Variant means for the event industry. Statistics like vaccination rates, cases per 100,000 residents over 7 days, hospitalizations, and death rates will help you stay informed. After last year, nobody wants to be abruptly thrown into the lion den again. We now have the tools to better understand risk and health and safety decisions.
Lastly, mass reopening currently sheds a bright spotlight on one of the best aspects of the event industry. Here in Washington especially, we have a strong community of event professionals. The comradery developed over the last year is unmatched. The thing is everyone is learning at the same time. We often get calls asking what the future looks like or what might change before the day of an event and the truth is, we don’t know. No one in the industry has a crystal ball to gaze into what the future holds. What we do have is venues working together with the state to develop top-tier best practices, earn accreditation, and share knowledge and expertise across the board. We have vendors taking everything on the chin and adapting their services to better serve our clients. We have attendees taking great care over their own health and safety as well as the health and safety of others.
We kind of have a little family we’ve built here, and we think it’s pretty cool to see the headstrong attitude and confidence that drips from every tough decision, every last-minute change, and every solution invented. We don’t want to be hyperbolic, but doesn’t it kind of seem like together we can do anything? And if it doesn’t feel that way to you, we can at least promise you that together we can make it through anything.