The meetings and events industry is returning with a lot of confidence, and face-to-face gatherings are trending upward with the potential to surpass pre-pandemic numbers. For example, this past spring, Georgia International Convention Center (GICC) hosted Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Incorporated’s 69th South Atlantic Regional Conference, a gathering of 8,000 members from Georgia, Florida and South Carolina. 

Another notable example is The Collegiate Esports Commissioner’s Cup, held in May 2022 at the Gateway Center Arena. This was the largest-ever single gathering of esports conference commissioners, university leaders, and gaming communities, which brought 63 teams and 480 athletes together from across the country to compete for the ultimate titles. These gatherings illustrated some emerging trends we are seeing that may require meeting professionals to rethink how they approach gathering.

Meeting Trend No.1: Less Is Faster

While in-person meetings are on the rise, meeting planners are booking much more short-term with less prep time. Prior to the pandemic, large events were booked up to three years in advance, whereas now, many are booked within the year.

Planners are also taking on more responsibility to cut their costs. For example, instead of hiring a third-party vendor, they are doing it themselves, becoming their own designers. In many ways, there is a trend toward self-sufficiency.

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As a result, they are doing smaller, more frequent shows. So, we are finding things are happening on a much shorter timeline. Many of those shows with long lead times are being replaced with this book-plan-execute within the same year.

Smaller and more targeted events, as well as larger company and industry-wide events, are breathing new life into the event world and will continue to thrive. 

Meeting Trend No. 2: Creative Staffing

Labor shortages are significant factors on the planner and venue side. Everyone from restaurants to convention centers are impacted by the fact that the labor pool is now much smaller and labor costs are much higher. This is an unwelcome trend, but it is undoubtedly part of the new normal.

We are finding that younger people aren’t all that interested in entry-level, labor-intensive positions. To combat that, we are now cross-training staff. Planning looks different because we might have a longer lead time for load-in. After all, we consistently have fewer people doing what it takes to get the same end result.

The interesting part about that for someone who may be new to the hospitality industry, is that even if you don’t have a lot of experience, if you have a desire to serve, you will be rewarded and moved up the ladder much quicker.

 Meeting Trend No. 3: New Age of Security

Meeting professionals and attendees are focusing on safety. Georgia International Convention Center successfully achieved Global Biorisk Advisory Council (GBAC) Star Facility Accreditation, reserved for facilities that demonstrate the ability to prepare for, respond to, and recover from bio risk and infectious disease situations. One thing we have learned is to expect the unexpected, so we felt that being named a GBAC Star Facility is essential to make our attendees, employees, and stakeholders feel safe and secure. 

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A focus on sanitation, cleanliness and hygiene is not going to go away any time soon. Many of the protocols implemented to combat Covid at the start and throughout the pandemic are here to stay. While mask mandates seem to be moving more toward an individual preference rather than organizationally mandated, we still have them available throughout the facility to our guests, as well as hand sanitation stands.

 Additionally, instead of offering the traditional buffet as we have in the past, there has been an uptick in plated meals and individually packed options.

 All vaccines are important for protecting ourselves and those around us. We always have and always will receive our annual vaccinations. 

 Andrea Smalls is director of event operations at Georgia International Convention Center. Smalls recently earned the designation as a certified venue executive from the International Association of Venue Managers.