Meeting again

Meeting again

< Back to Articles | Topics: Working Together

Contributors:

Sara Ericsson

Stephanie Purcell says 2020 is what starting at square one looks like for the event and meetings industry, which has been hit hard by COVID-19. The industry was the first hit and looked like it might be the last to recover, but the hard work put in by Nova Scotians during the early days of the pandemic has meant that things are now settling into a new normal. Small businesses are open, restaurants are serving their guests and people are beginning to meet again, slowly but surely, as we adjust to the current circumstances.

This move back to meetings is a silver lining for people like Purcell, Agent and Founder of VOX Management Agency, Jessica Muzzerall, Director of Sales and Marketing at the Halifax Marriott Harbourfront Hotel, and Dave O’Connor, President of Glow the Event Store. They all agree that while things are not yet back to normal, they surely are on an upward trend. It’s evidence of the remarkable strength of the industry and its members collaborating on the facilitation of in-person opportunities for the rest of us.

“The professionals are still trying to figure it out. It’s a big part for them to make sure that people want to show up and are comfortable going through all of these new practices. It can definitely be uncomfortable at some points — it’s a new world for everybody — but people in our industry are talking about this one on one every day and they are doing it together,” says Purcell.

S
Stephanie Purcell says collaboration has been key in the return to events.

COLLABORATION IS KEY

In a regular year, Purcell and her team at VOX would work alongside event planners as they booked talent for events and helped in the consulting of existing industry protocols to ensure the proper planning of an event. But when COVID-19 changed things, it “put a hard halt on the industry,” according to Purcell. “It changed everything for everyone and created a whole new set of guidelines to follow that were never a necessity before.”

Despite it being old hat for industry professionals to self-educate on protocols, Purcell says relearning what planning parameters now exist has been challenging, as changes are constant as COVID-19 evolves. This is what inspired Purcell to team up with her industry colleagues and form the Meetings and Events Coalition of Nova Scotia, bringing the industry together and starting conversations on how to safely resume meetings and events. She says it has also started a dialogue in the media, with health stakeholders and within businesses and has fostered cohesiveness within the event industry itself.

“I’ve never seen so much togetherness and strength in our industry as I have in pulling this group together,” she says. Purcell hopes this coalition helps to highlight what she says should be a collaborative approach between the industry and the Nova Scotia Health Authority in the creation of public health protocols that will keep people safe, but also allow the industry to start back up again in Halifax.

“It’s really important for us to get people back to work. This [pandemic] is going to be with us for a while, so we have to start putting protocols into practice as we settle into this new normal,” says Purcell. “If we don’t start coming back, we could lose venues, professionals will move on and so will Halifax’s artists. We have a strong event culture here and a great place to meet, so let’s do what we can to not lose that.”

BV
Jessica Muzzerall says hotels have been the perfect place to meet before and since COVID-19, as they are cared for by teams of professionals whose biggest job is ensuring guests’ safety and security.

LET THE PROFESSIONALS LEAD

Meeting venues have also been hard at work, implementing public health protocols and arranging meeting rooms to accommodate social distancing so that the city’s business community can start meeting in person again. Hotels have always facilitated meetings and events in Halifax, according to Muzzerall, who says such booking represented 30 to 40 per cent of the hotel’s business before the pandemic.

Muzzerall says meetings also made up a similar percentage of the city’s economy, as visitors go to restaurants, work at coffee shops or frequent and support other small businesses, most of which stopped completely when the pandemic first hit. “We saw a near 100 per cent drop of events happening at the hotel. … But we were able to focus on getting people to rebook rather than cancel, which ensures they come back to Halifax and back to the hotel,” she says.

Muzzerall says the most important factor in facilitating meetings is ensuring that people feel safe and comfortable when meeting in person, as they see that proper protocols are in place. This, in turn, ensures that Halifax can get back to business and that its downtown area can start welcoming meetings once again.

For anyone wondering what space to book for their meetings, Muzzerall says hotels remain among the best hosts, thanks to their teams of professionals. “We have safety protocols in place through Marriott’s Commitment to Clean program and follow public health guidelines. We have done all of the legwork for businesses and planners to make it a seamless planning process in hosting your meeting here. It makes it easy for them and also safe for attendees, so everyone feels comfortable,” she says.

BV
Dave O’Connor believes the events industry can make a speedy and safe return as long as collaboration and support are prioritized.

SUPPORT ENSURES SUCCESS

Collaborating with fellow coalition members was a positive experience and reprieve from the negativity surrounding COVID-19, according to O’Connor, whose business has also had to adapt so it can continue to supply events safely. That initial negativity has waned, adds O’Connor, who says he’s noticed the tides beginning to turn. “We’ve got a long way to go, but are we better than we were in the spring? One-hundred per cent,” he says.

O’Connor says his business also had a strict cleaning process for inventory before and after events, even before the pandemic, but that a new elevated approach has since been put in place that goes above and beyond public health protocols to ensure not only the inventory’s safety, but that of event guests who interact with it.

“A lot of things that people are doing at their place of business are also easily doable out at an event — and we are here to supply what is needed to make that happen,” he says. “We have stanchions to direct crowds, signage, personal protective equipment and many other things that can help event planners ensure a safe and rewarding event for all.”

O’Connor says he and other coalition members have not only gotten word out that meetings and events can now happen safely, but they have also taken the lead to come up with a new way of doing things. Glow, for example, now supplies mobile sanitizing stations for events and has invested in new lines of products that are geared toward social distancing rather than crowds. He says this can-do attitude will be key in continuing to foster the feeling of safety at events and to encourage more support from government and other organizations toward a return to meetings again.

“We have to find a way to say ‘yes, we can’ rather than ‘no, we can’t.’ Could we be going faster towards a return to meeting in a controlled, safe way? I do believe so and this is where we need the government’s help. It’s easy to say ‘no,’ but you see businesses opening up and following the rules. This can be done for events, too,” says O’Connor.

< Back to Articles | Topics: Working Together

Stay Connected

Subscribe to our weekly e-newsletter and receive important updates on Halifax Chamber events, Member benefits and advocacy news.

Need recovery support?