The State of the Industry: Future Event Prep, Wellness and F&B

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The State of the Industry: Future Event Prep, Wellness and F&B

By Blair Potter | May 11, 2020

The coronavirus. Is it possible to talk about anything else right now? Yes, because the meeting industry is critical for human connectivity and economies around the world, and we must prepare for what happens next.

Here, in part one of our annual “State of the Industry” report, a cross section of MPI members discuss how COVID-19 will impact future prep, wellness initiatives, F&B trends and social issues. Check out part two next week, in which we discuss being ready for the “next coronavirus,” industry activism, automation and site selection politics. You can also read the full report in the May issue of The Meeting Professional.

A huge thanks to these MPI members for taking the time to share their insights:

-Jim Clapes, events manager, Specialty Food Association (MPI Greater New York Chapter)
-Brad Dean, CEO, Discover Puerto Rico (MPI South Florida Chapter)
-Mahoganey Jones, CMP, DES, HMCC, national corporate sales manager, Halifax Convention Centre (MPI Toronto Chapter)
-Tracy Judge, MS, CMP, founder and chief connector, Soundings Connect (MPI International Board of Directors)
-Elaine Morena, regional vice president - Northeast, Associated Luxury Hotels International (MPI Greater New York Chapter)
-Gérard Réus, CED, DES, SEPC, CEO, REUS Event Design (MPI France-Switzerland Chapter)
-Pawntra Shadab, CTA, VP of events and marketing, Elite Productions International (MPI Orange County Chapter)
-Brent Taylor, CMP, DES, CMM, president, Timewise Event Management Inc. (MPI International Board of Directors)
-Michel Wohlmuth, executive director, Creatividad (MPI Latin American Advisory Council)

How will your future event prep be different based on the impact of the coronavirus?

“For us, future event prep based on the impact of the coronavirus includes revised contract clauses to protect our client events and standard operating procedures to support our team. We are currently working on creating best practices to implement as soon as possible.” -Pawntra Shadab

“Make sure you are protecting the welfare of your organization and the integrity of your meeting as much as possible and fight for cancellation clauses that allow for more desirable terms and penalties that won’t be as financially impactful should you need to cancel. But it’s going to be a tug of war.” -Jim Clapes

“We will be giving more consideration to force majeure clauses in supplier contracts; there will be an expectation for greater clarity. We will be confirming what specific types of disruptions will be covered in future insurance policies—perhaps a specific rider on pandemics will be warranted. And we will be invoicing our clients more regularly for work completed.” -Brent Taylor

“Having a risk management plan more thoroughly planned out. I will also stress the importance of identifying the meeting purpose to be able to redesign the experience as needed.” -Mahoganey Jones

“The COVID-19 situation has been an interesting time for the industry, and what we’ve found at ALHI is that the flow of accurate information is key in situations such as this. COVID-19 received over a billion media impressions—far more than any other pandemic—and yet there was a lot of misinformation out in the marketplace and a lot of fear.

“Our President and CEO Michael Dominguez stepped up to ensure our members and clients had access to straightforward data from the World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, and were able to assess the situation with the facts even though it was a time of high emotion around the world.” -Elaine Morena 

“We are certainly taking significant precaution in the areas of sanitization and encouraging our local partners to do the same within meeting spaces, hotel properties and beyond. We’ve already seen a jump in this, as well, with enhanced cleaning procedures at high-contact areas and additional hand-sanitation stations in key facilities like our convention center in San Juan.

“Communication has also been key in mitigating this situation, among our DMO with local partners, as well as with planners. Ensuring a solid method of communication to openly share updates with partners and planners is critical, and we’ll keep these lines of communication open for the future to ensure all are aware of the latest information available on any given subject that may impact an event.” -Brad Dean

How are you promoting wellness for your attendees and also taking care of yourself?

“At our events we offer a mindful meditation session to start the day. We incorporate meeting and event setups that encourage connection and collaboration and we work with our hotel partners to provide food and beverage offerings that are healthy and appealing, catering to our attendees’ various dietary needs—paleo, Mediterranean, etc.—while also embracing the food culture of the destination.

“We also recently hosted an event on wellbeing where the conversation was about the science of wellness around light, air, water and sleep. Why is it appropriate to have the right lighting in indoor environments? Why is air quality important for alertness and mental acuity? This discussion captivated the audience and helped them look at wellness at a deeper level.

“Personally, I use a meditation app that I love, and I have a great fitness app that helps guide me through workouts in my hotel room when I’m on the road. I’m a foodie; I like to eat healthy, and I like to experience food that reflects a destination’s history and culture, so I eat without self-judgment and just walk a few more steps! It’s all about balance.” -Elaine Morena 

“We are going through some intense times right now in the world. Many of us are worried about our safety and how we take care of ourselves and those we love. It is important that we focus on what we can control, not on what we cannot. Keeping our thoughts and feelings in a positive state rather than indulging in fear will help keep our immune systems high.

“I truly believe in the power of the human spirit to triumph. Yes, it is challenging, but on a spiritual level, it’s also giving us a great opportunity to simply take a moment for self-care; reach out to friends, family and colleagues; finish a book; or even start a new hobby. It’s given me time to reflect and reminded me of how grateful I am for what I do have at this time. If anyone can get through this, its meeting and event professionals. We are creative, resilient and make miracles happen.” -Pawntra Shadab, CTA

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“My current focus this year has been supporting our team and freelancers through a challenging time while keeping our business afloat and planning for a sustainable future. Being a leader is always tough and leading in unpredictable times like this adds another layer of stress. As leaders we can best take care of our teams by taking care of ourselves first. A combination of polarity therapy, craniosacral therapy and somatic healing has been a game changer for me the last five years.

“Stress and challenge in our lives has a real impact on our bodies, as does the opposite response state of relaxation and calm. Our involuntary, or autonomic, nervous system creates our physiological response to threat and safety. As leaders, our teams feed off of our energy whether we realize it or not. It is important for us to keep our nervous systems in check, to the best of our ability anyway.” -Tracy Judge, MS, CMP

“If you’re not incorporating health and wellness at your meeting or event, you’re not paying attention! I’ve done yoga for more than half my life and have been meditating for the past several years, so the infusion of wellness at events is incredibly important to me, and attendees rightfully have grown to expect it. However, you don’t need to hire a yoga instructor in order to give your meeting attendees a sense of balance.

“My No. 1 recommendation to planners is to avoid over programming. We all know how exhausting meetings can be. By simply giving attendees a longer lunch break (I recommend 90 minutes) or more time to spend at their leisure between the end of your daily educational programming and any scheduled evening events, your participants will be able to bring their best selves to your event.” -Jim Clapes

“If anyone can get through this, it’s meeting and event professionals. We are creative, resilient and make miracles happen.”

“I’ve enjoyed the shift to be able to promote wellness at events by offering meditation, yoga and mindfulness sessions, as well as menus being adapted to support healthy eating.” -Mahoganey Jones

“Planners are taking all necessary measures in order to preserve the health and safety of those attending their events, including the introduction of specific filtering measures at entry points, sanitary checks, public awareness-raising initiatives, the provision of protective equipment and the implementation of onsite medical services. Attendees can find out about general information and recommendations at the various entry points and at the event’s information desks to reassure them.

“Event catering will offer more vegetarian and vegan options than meat options, in respect for the animal world, the environment and everyone’s health. As for beverages, changes are implemented regarding alcohol, which is increasingly shunned in favor of non-alcoholic cocktails. Caterers will stock up on quality, local and seasonal food products, fight and limit waste and create original and healthy menus.” -Gérard Réus

How is your company addressing human trafficking or other significant social issues?

“At Creatividad, we are fully committed to avoiding and eliminating prostitution, pornography and trafficking of girls, boys and adolescents for sexual purposes. During my presidency of the MPI Mexico Chapter last year, I promoted and signed the Tourism Child-Protection Code of Conduct with all the Associations of the Meeting Industry in Mexico (COMIR) on Global Meetings Industry Day, with MPI Board Chair Steve O’Malley as a witness of honor.” -Michel Wohlmuth

“An important issue that our island has prioritized is sustainability. The Puerto Rico Energy Public Policy Act passed in March 2019 and set a 100 percent renewable energy mandate for 2050. Puerto Rico also created the first ‘Design and Operation Guide for Sustainable Tourism Facilities,’ endorsing participating tourism facilities that comply with sustainable practice criteria. It is recognized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and there are 11 properties in the program.” -Brad Dean

What F&B trends are you most excited about?

“There are endless format possibilities. Culinary shows with staging (music, lighting effects). Chefs cook in front of you, and we invite you to participate in future tastings to entice you. A participative show! Or in the kitchen, you are invited to execute a recipe, where tips are revealed to you for a final tasting.

“But also, plancha workshops, molecular activities, chocolate, creation of fresh fruit skewers, oyster bars, crazy cupcake lessons, table decor or floral art, tapas preparation, healthy aperitif or a “smoothie factory” bike. Finger food is trendy. In nomadic mode, snacking or other picnics are also appreciated.

“Under luxurious Berber tents on the beach, on the banks of a river with a tavern formula for a bucolic side. Aboard a boat. In the woods with a trailer for a more bohemian theme.

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“Originality and staging are constantly evolving, and the providers work our imagination. Customers are looking for taste and emotional experiences.” -Gérard Réus

“The addition of local flavors and focus on inclusive menus.” -Mahoganey Jones

“Sources find that more people are choosing not to drink alcohol. By some estimates, 30 percent now prefer to abstain, so I am intrigued by this trend towards zero-proof drinks at events. I am also excited to see and experience our industry innovating classic dishes in the meatless and paleo cuisine categories.” -Elaine Morena 



Blair Potter
Blair Potter

Blair Potter is managing editor for The Meeting Professional. He likes toys and collects cats (or is it the other way around?).