Honorable Mention Chapter Award
Honorable Mention Chapter Award

Pandemic precautions help create a better in-person event

Sep 24, 2021, 14:30 PM by Blair Potter
Cory Hibbard says the hardest part of organizing an event during the pandemic was the need to essentially plan two events.

Cory Hibbard says the hardest part of organizing an event during the pandemic was the need to essentially plan two events—one with pandemic-era requirements such as capacity limits, social distancing and a mask mandate, and one without.

“We had to create two layouts for every one of our 50+ sessions over the four days and hoped for the best,” says Hibbard, chairman of United Franchise Group (UFG) World Expo 2021, held in June at the Palm Beach County (Fla.) Convention Center (PBCCC). “We also added sanitizing stations, adjusted to allow for more open space and took a few other precautions that actually made for a better event. We will most likely continue some of these as best practices in the future.”

He says that since the company is celebrating its 35th anniversary this year, the decision was made to forge ahead with planning the expo until they were no longer able to do so—which, fortunately, did not come to pass.

“As the time got closer, Palm Beach County slowly started to reopen, and by the time the event was here, we were able to host all 1,100 people,” Hibbard says.

“We had to create two layouts for every one of our 50+ sessions over the four days and hoped for the best.”

He attributes the success of the 2021 expo—the company’s largest to date, with hundreds of vendors spanning 100,000 square feet of trade show floor—to a dedicated group of staff and franchisees, as well as partners at Discover The Palm Beaches, the PBCCC and the Hilton West Palm Beach.

“This is the first time we’ve hosted our World Expo (which we host every three years) in our own backyard,” he says. “Being a perfect-sized facility, the PBCCC allowed us to fully utilize the entire space, making it a fully rented, private facility for the entirety of the event. In years past in other markets, we have only had a fraction of the overall space, which limits our ability to brand, market and clearly direct traffic.”

Hibbard says attendees were able to explore the city by foot and staff members were just down the road standing by to help.

“We normally fly in a limited number of staff to run the event, but nobody was off limits this year, which contributed to the overall experience,” he says.

‘It was important to work together’

Kelly Cavers, senior vice president of group sales and destination services for Discover The Palm Beaches, says it was an honor to have UFG showcase its hometown of West Palm Beach after having hosted franchisees in cities all over the world.

The PBCCC already offered 350,000 square feet of meeting space and a courtyard space overlooking the downtown area prior to the pandemic, but Cavers says the desire to provide planners with more outdoor options led to the creation of the 5,000-square-foot, open-air Skyroom, built from an outdoor area that was underutilized.

“It gives planners a beautiful, open-air venue to take advantage of our desirable weather throughout the year,” she says.

Cavers says Discover The Palm Beaches and its partners took quick action during the pandemic to achieve GBAC STAR™ accreditation, the highest industry standard for health and safety, on a destination-wide basis so that the PBCCC, airport and adjacent hotels would be ready to welcome visitors when travel restrictions lifted.

“We knew it was important to work together as a team with the convention center, hotels and various attractions and facilities to create more rigorous processes and protocols that could be maintained by our partners across the destination, and to partner with a reputable third-party organization who could authenticate our safety protocols,” she says.

The city is booking an ample mix of business including national, regional and local events and conferences while keeping health and safety the top priority, according to Cavers.

“Groups have been steadily coming back in 2021 and 2022, and we anticipate returning to 2019 levels in the next two to three years,” she says. “With lots of beautiful outdoor spaces that can foster wellness, connection and inspiration, we know that the Palm Beaches will be a popular destination in the coming months and years.”

United Franchise Group World Expo 2021, courtesy UFG
Palm Beach County Convention Center, courtesy Discover The Palm Beaches

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