Outdoor & Virtual Meeting Destinations – A New Fad?

The pandemic continues to rage on despite the initial vaccine distribution.  Covid-19 and superspreading is not going away anytime soon.  This puts a huge burden on organizations and their planners hosting in-person events and meetings.  Planners and incentive specialists continue to work with their organizations to find creative ways to continue holding meetings, events and incentives.  Many have been forced to dive in head-first into the virtual meeting world.  It is not ideal and frankly, not easy to do.  Doing on-line meetings provides a set of challenges and the waters to navigate through them do not always flow smoothly. 

However, more destinations realize the challenges of meetings in this pandemic world and are coming up with creative and helpful ideas all while keeping safety in mind.  I found that several destination management organizations are promoting various, creative ways to entice planners to use their destinations.  But how can there be a in-person meeting with social distancing and COVID-19 restrictions?  Destinations are working to find suitable solutions combining in-person with virtual, adding more technology and experts to their offerings.

Being thrown into this new and certainly different event planning world has forced so many on both the planner and supplier side to really think outside the box on how to make events interesting and engaging.  Attending so many virtual meetings can be a snoozer – BORING!  How can they be more interesting and something potential attendees want to participate in?

Now several destinations are marketing their unique outdoor settings and moderate, seasonal climates conducive to being outdoors.  Coming into 2021, as an industry, we are not holding very many in-person events or ones at 100% capacity.  However, more organizations are considering a combination of an in-person and virtual event.  Destinations are taking advantage of this AND are indicating that they are ready to provide more socially distanced options once in-person meetings in full begin again, hopefully within the year.

So, what does this look like and how will it work?  Consider a meeting where partial attendees are on site, meeting in an outdoor space and the others “experiencing” the outdoor space and surroundings virtually?  We now know there is less risk of infection being outdoors and maintaining social distance.  Hotels and venues are now having to take their meeting space outdoors and get creative with using existing outdoor furniture and adding expanded Wi-Fi capabilities and other technology to host an outdoor in-person meeting with a virtual meeting.

 

A few destinations I’ve seen marketing their great outdoor space are noted below.

Planner Confidence Index: When do you expect to resume operating face to face events?

Sanibel and Fort Myers, Florida

In Sanibel and Fort Myers, many resorts are on board with the outdoor partial meeting concept and have hired certified hybrid specialists to manage this type of event and are also adding state-of-the-art technology.  They are also working hard to maintain costs by using outdoor, existing furniture, and keeping attendance on site at a manageable number.

Huntington Beach, California

Being on the Pacific Coast Highway, Huntington Beach offers 10 miles of coastline. HB Premier Resorts are capitalizing on this offering unique outdoor hybrid meeting options.  Huntington Beach is also promoting the benefits health wise, of being outdoors and how nature and being outdoors promotes good brain health and overall well being.  

Phoenix

Phoenix has a campaign now called “Room to Meet” with an emphasis on their outdoor space with weather conducive to meetings in the fall and winter when climates are more moderate.  Nextstar Network held a very successful hybrid event at the Marriott Desert Ridge Resort in the fall of 2020 proving that this type of meeting can work and be successful. 

Blue Ridge – Virginia

Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge is promoting now more of their rooftop gardens, lakefront patios, museums, mountaintop vineyards and rustic lodges as available space to use for meetings.

Las Vegas, Wichita and even countries such as Australia are getting on this outdoor offering bandwagon and capitalizing on their weather and unusual outdoor assets.

However, these Outdoor Hybrid Events come with challenges.  Technology presents the biggest challenge.  The outdoor space needs reliable WiFi and this in itself requires more staff.  These come with costs.  But a plus to these type meetings is that speakers can be in the destination and every attendee can experience the background they are speaking from.  Also, it provides great storytelling options for both the in-person and virtual attendee.  Those attending on-line can still get up close perspectives of the destination.

Even with the challenges these type of events hold, it does seem like a refreshing alternative to consider.  I am happy destination management organizations are getting creative in promoting optional spaces, especially outdoors.   It will be interesting to see how these types of meetings and events unfold in the coming year as we continue to swim in the pandemic waters.  We will all stay tuned.

 

 

Julie

Julie Martinez, CMP, CMM is a meeting, event and incentive planning specialist providing consulting, strategic planning and on-site management.  She is a member and contributor of I-Meet, the online business community for people who plan meetings and events. Please connect with her on LinkedIn and follow her Twitter.

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