Visit Phoenix reflects on lessons learned from the pandemic and how they’re changing the game.
As the one-year mark of the pandemic approaches, the meetings industry is more eager than ever to move forward—but it’s poised to do so in new ways that don’t precisely mirror pre-COVID patterns.
There’s little doubt that the innovative solutions implemented throughout the past year for staying connected have permanently changed the game. In fact, they are set to drive business forward, both technologically and interpersonally, long after the pandemic recedes.
According to Lorne Edwards, Visit Phoenix’s senior vice president of sales and services, the industry’s path forward is all about “bold collaboration.” That means disrupting typical ways of doing business to facilitate more diverse, accessible and wellness-minded programming.
Here, Edwards reflects on the lessons learned from the pandemic’s impact and offers three tenets to set the stage for the new age of meetings and events.
1. A More Inclusive Future
Last year showed the industry its vulnerabilities, and Edwards says that this period of reflection and education has illuminated a new awareness—an invaluable tool that has already helped shore up a more inclusive future.
“We have not shied away from tough questions, which have led to some uncomfortable conversations that we’re not used to having,” Edwards says. “That means asking, ‘How can we facilitate a better reflection of the diversity of any given audience, and the industry at large, at every step in the meeting-planning process?’”
The result has been a call to action for greater accessibility, increased inclusivity and more diverse programming—all welcome changes.
“This is more than a moment; it’s a movement,” Edwards says. “And these conversations are going to reveal a great deal about your attendees: how they identify and what types of representation and inclusion efforts are important to them. Success will be dependent on the depth and consistency of these discussions.”
2. Virtual, Hybrid and Small Meetings
While virtual and hybrid meetings solutions offer attendees convenient access to data and education, impactful participation opportunities and invaluable networking spaces, they will never entirely take the place of face-to-face meetings. To that end, Greater Phoenix has safely and successfully hosted countless small meetings since reopening last October.
“The needs and goals of each association vary, and so do our innovative engagement strategies,” Edwards says. “Our hotels, resorts and convention center have made monumental strides to meet planners where they are—safely—with customized solutions to reach and engage an even wider audience, wherever they’re sitting.”
Greater Phoenix is best known for its resort-dotted landscape and its wide-open spaces and, according to Edwards, these features have become an integral part of the meetings conversation.
“Things like the trade show floor and dinner service may look a bit different for now,” he says, “but the energy and engagement of a face-to-face opportunity simply cannot be replicated.”
3. A New Take On Itineraries
As best practices for virtual, hybrid and small in-person meetings have emerged in recent months, an increased emphasis on attendee care and comfort has quickly become a top priority.
“We’ve had opportunities to experience every type of meeting for ourselves,” Edwards says. “Observations in these environments have revealed a great deal about what impacts an attendee’s confidence in safety protocols and the importance of placing wellness at the forefront.”
While face masks, hand sanitizer and social distancing are the new minimum threshold for convening, Phoenix has zeroed in on overall wellness—one of the destination’s biggest draws— and translated it to meetings itineraries.
This means championing new wellness trends as opportunities to reset outdoors as well as experiences that feed mind, body and soul.
“We’ve brought yoga instructors into people’s homes digitally, invited attendees on meditation walks and brought back networking, thanks to our exceptional outdoor venues,” Edwards says. “This approach lets your attendees know that you value what’s important to them, that they don’t have to pursue this important balance in the evenings. Rather, it’s incorporated throughout and always top of mind.