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Delta leads to rethinking for live business events in fall

In May 2018, some 4,500 businesspeople attend the

In May 2018, some 4,500 businesspeople attend the HIA-LI Trade Show. Organizers of the 2021 event scheduled for Oct. 14 in Melville are considering masking and proof of vaccination requirements among other measures. Credit: Bob Giglione

Just when it seemed like in-person networking and business events were going to be the norm again, the rising delta variant has caused some uncertainty as event planners reexamine bookings for upcoming gatherings.

Based on a survey of 826 event planners in August, approximately one-third (32.6%) said they had either delayed, rescheduled, moved or canceled their in-person meeting/event over the previous six-week period as a result of the new wave of COVID-19 cases, according to Northstar Meetings Group. Another 18.5% respondents said they planned to take one of those actions, with final decisions still to be determined.

"The delta variant and cases picking up so rapidly has been a setback for the industry," says Loren Edelstein, vice president and content director at Northstar, a media and information services company for the events industry based in Secaucus, New Jersey.

Still, close to 49% of planners reported sticking to plans for in-person events, according to the survey.

But they’re definitely stepping up precautions, Edelstein says. Fifty-nine percent of those going forward with plans say they’ll reduce the number of in-person attendees expected and 51.39% will require more rigorous health and safety protocols than previously planned, according to Northstar’s survey.

"Half will require masks indoors," Edelstein says. "That’s huge."

Mask resisters?

Still, business groups need to know their audience. Some attendees might resist masks and event organizers must make key decisions on how they’ll handle that, Edelstein says.

Laura Palker, president of the National Trade Show Alliance and CEO of Melville-based Trade Show Solutions Center, which plans and produces live and virtual trade shows and events, says organizers are trying to mitigate risk with more signage, masks and CDC compliance measures.

She’s also seen smaller attendance at shows.

For example, a recent facilities show in Maryland she attended with client, Amityville-based Imperial Cleaning produced only 65% of pre-pandemic registration numbers but "drew more key decision makers and buyers," Palker says.

She also saw the use of colored wrist bands to indicate attendees' comfort level: Green was a willingness to shake hands; yellow signified fist bumps/elbow taps were OK; and red signaled no physical contact.

Ready to adjust

HIA-LI president/CEO Terri Alessi-Miceli says the group is cognizant of safety and will request attendees of its annual trade show on Oct. 14 at Hilton Long Island in Melville to wear masks if CDC guidelines in effect at that time call for it. "The HIA-LI is watching closely and will change protocol, if need be, based on the conditions closer to the event," she said. They could possibly request attendees show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test within 72 hours.

"We’re watching it like every other organization," she says, noting the event has in past years drawn 5,000 attendees.

Last year the trade show was virtual and this year will be in-person, but with "some sort of livestream" of its educational programs for people looking to attend virtually, Alessi-Miceli says. She said they polled members in August and an overwhelming majority wanted to get back to in-person events.

David Gustin, president of the Melville Chamber of Commerce, said the group is planning to hold its business expo in-person this year on Oct. 12 at the Hilton Long Island. It was canceled last year, but has drawn 2,000 people in the past.

Gustin said the chamber will follow local and state guidelines and masks will be requested for attendees, but not vaccination proof, although if conditions worsen that could change. He said it has already booked at least 65 vendor tables.

For those planning events later in the year there’s more uncertainty.

Going hybrid

LISTnet president Paul Trapani said up until recently they were planning a completely in-person event for their Long Island SummIT Awards planned for Nov. 8 at the Digital Ballpark in Plainview.

But because of delta, LISTnet will hold a hybrid event with award winners and some other guests in-person and an option for guests to purchase tickets to attend virtually.

They figured that was prudent, given the event’s still "a little more than two months away," Trapani says.

The uncertainty of delta prompted organizers of Long Island Fight for Charity, a charity boxing event that raises over $200,000 annually, to move its event from this November to March 28, 2022, says co-founder Matt Silver, director of sales for BizComm360.com, a platform for virtual and in-person events.

"For the event to be successful, we need 1,000 attendees," he says. With delta rising, they were concerned government restrictions may make that difficult and even more about the health and safety of attendees and boxers. "We hope we’ll be able to hold it in March to maximize fundraising efforts," he said.

Palker says groups looking to hold events might consider utilizing prepackaged food instead of a buffet. Also check the venue's safety protocols, consider limiting event size and see more tips at https://www.eventbrite.com/l/covid19-event-safety/, Palker suggests.

COVID measures planners expect to adopt at next event:

· Require masks indoors (50.07%)

· Adhere to state and local mandates only (47.85%)

· Undecided/to be determined (30.37%)

· Require proof of COVID-19 vaccination (28.16%)

· Require proof of recent negative COVID test (20.94%)

· Conduct daily temperature checks (18.17%)

Source: Northstar Meetings Group August PULSE Survey

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