Science and Creativity: Safe In-Person Events in Texas

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Science and Creativity: Safe In-Person Events in Texas

By Blair Potter | Oct 16, 2020

From a forum for political candidates to a homeowners’ association meeting to a script reading for a theater group, the South Padre Island Convention Centre has hosted various in-person events over the past few weeks. Ed Caum, executive director of the City of South Padre Island CVB, says these gatherings have been highlighted by meticulous safety considerations and a local focus.

“We currently can’t have more than 50 percent occupancy in any of our rooms, and groups larger than 10 are being asked to re-evaluate if it’s an indoor event,” he says. “At each of our events, we’re following all the guidelines, so when you arrive, you have your temperature checked, and then receive a bracelet that validates your temperature has been checked. We have hand-sanitizer stations around the center, and masks are required. All of our events are set with an ingress and egress, so there is a flow through the room. We also have social distancing markers on the floors going in and out of all the rooms.”

Caum says event planners must understand their expectations in relation to the requirements, such as social distancing and masks.

“They have to follow the guidelines as outlined by us, and all the way up to the CDC (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention),” he says, noting the CVB recently released two white papers: 6 Ways CVBs Should be Helping You Make Your Next Meeting a Magical Experience and Dos and Don’ts for Virtual Conferences. “We’ve created guidelines and a checklist for clients to know what they are required to follow. We send the event planner the adopted floorplan, and our venue software notifies us if our spacing is not properly socially distanced.”

Caum says the convention center’s safety compliance plan helped the CVB provide a community service to island residents when hosting a political candidate’s forum, ensuring that everyone is well informed before heading to the voting booth.

“We set up our theater with everyone socially distanced,” he says. “We have an incumbent councilperson and two people running against that seat, and then we have a mayor’s race with two people in it. There were only 10 people in the room—a chamber representative, a moderator, one of our sound technicians and the candidates. The citizens wrote in questions that were asked by the moderator as it streamed on Facebook Live.”

WEC Grapevine: The Live Event Reimagined

Other events have included a script reading for the local theater group, El Paseo—a taped, pay-per-view performance where the socially distanced performers played their parts (which Caum described as a way to “keep the arts involved on the island”)—and a meeting for a homeowners’ association.

“We were able to set up classroom style, well below our maximum occupancy of 400 people and with chairs spaced out just over six feet apart,” he says. “People were speaking from the lectern, but everyone kept their masks on.”

Caum says that despite the pandemic, South Padre Island’s leisure business is strong.

“Our only industry on the island is hospitality—whether that be hotels, vacation rentals, retail or restaurants. There’s nobody on the island making widgets,” he says. “People want to leave the big cities. So as long as people are working from home and their children can school from home, what better place to do it than an island? We’re ready for our group business to come back just as strong.”

Bringing the Joy

San Antonio welcomed 1,356 attendees to Women of Joy in late September at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center. Casandra Matej, president and CEO of Visit San Antonio, says officials were thrilled to welcome the city’s largest convention since the pandemic hit the U.S., an event that included general sessions, evening concerts and a retail area set up in a ballroom.

“It was symbolic for us in the meeting industry as we all seek to drive a safe and fast rebound,” she says. “We look forward to welcoming many more groups to our beautiful city.”

Of course, safety procedures for the event were many, including spacing chairs six feet apart throughout the event (with groupings of four), a temperature screening/mask for everyone entering the building, disinfecting of surfaces throughout the day, signage promoting handwashing and sanitation stations throughout the event space, “stand here” floor stickers where lines could form to encourage social distancing and no merchandise refunds/exchanges/touching.
Contactless Screening for Women of Joy attendees in San Antonio

Mackenzie Borden of Phil Waldrop Ministries, who handles public relations for Women of Joy, says questions on entry signage asked attendees if they had a fever in excess of 100.4 Fahrenheit, difficulty breathing, a recent cough, loss of taste or smell or muscle or body aches. Any attendee experiencing these symptoms was asked not to enter the building.

Borden says attendees, overall, were accepting of wearing masks and sitting apart, and adapted well to the request to stay distanced.

“We dismissed by rows and sections to avoid overcrowding at doorways and guests remained in their seats during the concert,” she says. “Of course, a lot more planning was involved on the front end with the convention center and health department, but we were able to provide a very similar conference experience to our guests as we would in a pre-pandemic world. People are now used to social distancing and wearing masks and are understanding that things look a little different in 2020.”

“It was symbolic for us in the meeting industry as we all seek to drive a safe and fast rebound.”

Matej says that in addition to quick, touchless health screenings and the safety measures outlined above, extensive staff training was involved, and ventilation standards were adjusted for increased outside air intake/air change rates.

Borden says there wasn’t a big marketing push leading up to the event—with the exception of some organic posts on social feeds—because numbers needed to stay low due to pandemic-related restrictions (the 2019 event included 3,588 attendees).

Matej says businesses, hotels and the community in general has gone to great lengths to ensure that safety is the No. 1 priority.

“Our convention center has earned the Global BioRisk Advisory Council (GBAC) accreditation by implementing the industry’s highest standards for cleaning and disinfection,” she says. “Our airport was the first in the world to purchase and deploy the Xenex LightStrike UV room disinfection robot.”

Rethinking Your Approach

Beverly Anderson, director of events and catering, event management for the Hilton Anatole Dallas, says creativity and Hilton’s EventReady safety protocols were critical when planning a recent outdoor event.

“Danny Hughes, Hilton’s president of the Americas, was in town for the first time to meet in-person with his direct reports and hotel leadership as well as celebrate National Housekeeping Week,” she says. “The outdoor event was set for 20 people and included hand-passed hors d’oeuvres, homecooked Texas barbecue, lawn games like corn hole, a group photo and some time to mix and mingle around JadeWaters (our resort pool complex).”

Safety protocols included floor clings for social distancing, plexiglass partitions on food stations, reduced-capacity table seating, single-touch passed hors d’oeuvres, personal hand sanitizer and face coverings.

“A dress rehearsal is imperative prior to those first few events to get the staff comfortable with these new protocols so they implement [them] effortlessly,” Anderson says. “For example, we learned that large sheets of plexiglass, even anchored, cannot withstand a strong breeze. We have since created a new solution for future events.”

“We learned that large sheets of plexiglass, even anchored, cannot withstand a strong breeze. We have since created a new solution for future events.”

She says science and creativity are involved as her team invents solutions for guests and groups of all sizes.

“We have had to completely rethink how we plan and execute events,” she says. “The biggest impact is time. It takes a great deal of time to create meaningful events that are both safe and enjoyable for our attendees. As with all new processes, it gets easier every day as we learn what works and what doesn’t and apply those learnings. Becoming the new SMEs for safe meetings, our value has increased 10-fold prior to the onset of this pandemic.”



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Blair Potter

Blair Potter is director of media operations for MPI. He likes toys and collects cats (or is it the other way around?).