Getting Ready for a New Workforce: What Meeting and Event Industry Leaders Should Know

Key Takeaways:

  • Recovery will be difficult because of challenges in hiring and poor perceptions of hospitality jobs.
  • Meeting and event companies will need to continue to offer remote work and other flexible work options.
  • Early indicators show a demand for in-person and hybrid meetings.
  • Business travel may change to more multi-day trips and fewer day trips, reduced frequency of meetings.

As meeting and event executives look at key metrics such as the labor force participation rate and venue booking data, the reality is that the hospitality workforce has changed.

Industry leaders will have to address its workforce needs as well those of meeting and event clients who are also confronting changes in how their employees want to meet and travel, according to experts in two panels at Event Leaders Live: Business, Design & Strategy Summit on June 3.

In “The Human Side of Recovery: How People Will Restore Our Industry,” Steve O’Malley, executive vice president and COO at Maritz Global Events, predicted a difficult road back. “I wish I could say this is over, but it’s not close to being over,” he said. “The recovery from this pandemic will be as difficult as what we went through in a different way as the downturn. My fear is we as an industry are underestimating how steep the curve back up is going to be.”

With a significant portion of the hospitality workforce diminished because of layoffs, furloughs, and people who left for other industries, companies now need to do some cheerleading and confidence-building to bring back that workforce.

“As things begin to open up, there’s a bit of trust that we’re going to have to rebuild with the working population to invite them back into the great work that we do,” O’Malley said. “We as an industry have a PR issue we need to address.”

Rob Adams, president and CEO of the meeting and incentive agency Bishop-McCann, said employers will need to be more flexible with remote work and other options to accommodate employees. To mitigate hiring challenges, he suggested strategies such as staying connected to furloughed or laid-off employees, establishing a return-to-work plan, showing empathy as workers return to a changed industry, and accommodating remote-work options. He also advised leadership to project confidence that the industry is going to come back.

There are signs of that recovery already. In a panel on how changes in work flexibility and business travel will impact meetings, Ryan Simonetti, CEO and co-founder of the meeting space and coworking company Convene, reported strong pent-up demand for in-person and hybrid meetings for the remainder of 2021 and beyond.

“We’re seeing a pretty big influx of demand for smaller meetings, strategic offsites, even client meetings where you see the need for companies and teams—even the most progressive ones who are along the remote-first curve—needing to get together for culture, collaboration, building trusts and relationships,” Simonetti said.

Key dates he’s looking at are September, when a large cohort of employees are expected to return to the office—and in April, when it’s possible to analyze six months of data.

Suzanne Neufang, CEO and executive director of the Global Business Travel Association, cautioned that businesses are still being strict about approving travel for in-person meetings.

She also predicted that the standard in-person quarterly meeting with clients might become annual meetings and that road warriors would plan more multi-city trips rather than several day trips.

“Traveler sentiment says they do want to get back on the road again as soon as they get back in offices,” she said. “There’s a parallel there.”

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