“As an industry, we have to have more patience—and more grace.”
That might sound obvious and simple. But it’s not, says Dustin Arnheim, senior vice president of sales and customer experience for Visit Baltimore.
It’s a takeaway that Arnheim says he synthesized over the last several months while helping associations prepare for their first in-person events in more than a year and a half.
We talked with Arnheim about current realities and strategies meeting planners should consider as they prepare to host members in person at large conference venues, like the Baltimore Convention Center.
Reality Check 1: Embrace the Unknown
“We are still operating in the unknown, and we will continue to operate in the unknown” for some time into the future, Arnheim says.
Meeting planners need to do scenario planning so that they can be ready to adjust to a range of possible “what if’s.” What if new health mandates drive up cancellations? What if restaurants limit seating? What if the association board requires onsite COVID-19 testing?
Create table-top drills so the association events team can adjust agilely, Arnheim says. Walk through what could happen with as many variables as make sense for the association and the event, and strategize how to adapt.
That’s the only way in the current environment to be ready when the event finally arrives, he says.
Visit Baltimore, for instance, has begun monitoring the hours of restaurants and other venues near the convention facilities and sharing those with planners close to their events. “The goal is to arm associations with the information they need to communicate with their members,” Arnheim says. “We are trying to set everyone up for success and minimize surprises.”