Since the onset of the Coronavirus outbreak last year many aspects of corporate events shifted, most significantly, the meeting space. So, what are the new and necessary steps we must consider when sourcing hybrid and live meetings and events? Here, we talk with Shelby Bene, Director of Venue Sourcing in North America at BCD Meetings & Events to better understand what venue sourcing looks like in 2021.
Venue Sourcing in 2021: 5 Questions with Shelby Bene
Q: What are the most significant changes in the way you do business since COVID-19 began spreading?
Shelby: Our venue search business changed drastically in 2020. Most of our clients pivoted into the virtual meeting space, and live meeting RFPs were down significantly. However, once clients feel comfortable returning to live meetings, we sense that there will be pent-up demand. While we are still actively sourcing a fair number of larger annual programs for 2022 onward, there is a clear interest in smaller, regional meetings for the second half of 2021.
"We are often sourcing various potential options, which consider social distancing, different size meetings, and numerous locations depending on the changing state and country-level restrictions."
Sourcing during a pandemic is more complex and time-consuming as multiple moving parts need to be considered throughout the process. We are often sourcing various potential options, which consider social distancing, different size meetings, and numerous locations depending on the changing state and country-level restrictions. We are also working through more complex contracting processes as there is increased attention to the legal clauses within our contracts. Some of our venue partners are still closed, and their sales department is working with reduced hours or smaller teams, which can be a challenge.
Q: What lasting impact has 2020 had on venue sourcing?
Shelby: I don’t think we are at a place yet to honestly know the lasting impact that 2020 will have on venue sourcing. 2020 certainly reminded us that some commercial models are more fragile than others. I think it also reminded us about the importance of strong contracting clauses. We have worked incredibly hard throughout 2020 to be a dedicated advocate for our clients and our venue partners. Future forward, I think there will be a continued emphasis on negotiating the most favorable contracting clauses. Short term, I think small, regional meetings will become the norm, but our clients have all shared the sentiment that their people are ready to be back in person as soon as it’s safe.
Q: Have there been any benefits from these changes?
Shelby: I think it’s essential to look for the silver lining in all situations, and this is no exception. Despite it being an incredibly challenging time for all, I think some benefits have come out of it. For one, I don’t think we have ever been closer to our clients and our venue partners. We are all managing through similar situations, whether that’s taking on the role of teacher, setting boundaries while working from home, taking care of loved ones, or feeling the stress of our health and work. However, we have all found ways to support one another, and I could not have gotten through 2020 without my BCD family and our amazing clients and venue partners. Additionally, it’s been inspiring to see how the organization has reacted so quickly to the effects of COVID-19 and swiftly turned the focus on how we can continue to support our clients and partners. Another benefit is that we have all become experts in Force Majeure Clauses!
Q: What are the ways that venues have had to adjust from their end?
Shelby: Coming from the hotel side, I know how resilient anyone who works in hospitality is. However, this year challenged all of us, and my heart goes out to all our venue partners. While we are responsible for booking the meeting, they have the enormous responsibility of delivering on it for our clients, and a lot has changed. Depending on their location, they must consider various social distancing requirements, manage their meeting setups, and change how they deliver on F&B. From a sourcing perspective, we currently see an increase in virtual site visits, which are more challenging to conduct than in-person site visits. We also see additional flexibility on contracting terms, mostly for 2021 events. Many venues are still trying to decide how pricing will need to change to accommodate some of these new variables; however, I don’t think we know enough yet, as everything is still changing week to week.
Q: Why is venue search more important than ever for hybrid events?
Shelby: From all the research, it seems like hybrid events are a top consideration for the foreseeable future. However, they are not simple to execute, and they require significant time and detail. From a venue search perspective, it’s more important than ever to have an advocate who knows the right questions to ask and has the right relationships in place. Working with our team gives our clients a unique experience as we have in-depth venue sourcing knowledge and virtual meeting experts that can help bridge the gap to make a hybrid meeting a success. Our team will consider all aspects of the program – from the size of the meeting room for in-person attendees to space and setup needed for Production, the bandwidth of the venue being sourced, and everything in between. We also have strong venue partnerships and can facilitate an easy transition from contracting the venue to planning for the hybrid event.