There is a growing consensus that hybrid events will dominate in 2021, but industry best practices are still being refined. The few places currently allowing in-person events give planners the real-world models that they need to plan successful hybrid events.
Photo Credits: LILA PHOTO
Real-world examples are always preferable to theoretical plans, but opportunities to stage in-person events have been few and far between since the pandemic began.
With its warm climate affording year-round outdoor gatherings, Florida remains one of the few regions to allow in-person gatherings to continue, albeit with social distancing protocols. These advantages put Florida in a unique position to test-drive safety-conscious hybrid event formats.
As the recent ingenuity of Florida’s event industry demonstrates, it takes more than regulatory approval to organize a safe and engaging hybrid event. The regions that have been most successful at hosting and booking hybrid events have implemented well-planned health and safety protocols along with innovative hybrid solutions. In this article, we highlight how Florida’s standout examples pave the way for future hybrid events.
Being Ahead on Health & Safety Made The Palm Beaches Hybrid-Ready
Destination-wide health and safety standards are one of the most effective ways to ensure optimal event preparedness. The Palm Beaches were able to host some of the pandemic’s earliest hybrid events after implementing a comprehensive health and safety plan. Their forward-thinking initiatives also included programs that support virtual event components and other hybrid needs.
DESTINATION-LED HEALTH AND SAFETY INITIATIVES
Thanks to its active support of local facilities, The Palm Beaches became the first destination in the US to have its airport, convention center, and convention center hotel receive GBAC STAR Accreditation, a certification process considered to be the gold standard for risk-mitigating cleaning protocols.
Discover the Palm Beaches (DTPB) also can recommend suppliers and venues based on their commitment to health and safety priorities. Having spearheaded the Palm Beaches Pledge, DTPB has access to a list of local businesses following best practices. This kind of initiative not only provides event planners with a handy directory of reliable venues and suppliers, but also helps to encourage compliance in businesses across the city.
Photo Credits: LILA PHOTO
SUPPORTING HYBRID NEEDS WITH AV AND LOCAL SPEAKERS
One of the key components of any pandemic-era safety plan involves limiting crowd density, and these measures in turn require greater reliance on virtual participation to supplement attendee numbers. All of these considerations translate to extra work for event planners, and destinations can do their part by helping event planners to source AV suppliers and other local talent who have experience producing virtual events. For example, DTPB will assist event organizers with their virtual event needs through a collaborative arrangement with its sister agency, Palm Beach County Film & TV Commission.
DTPB can also help planners to minimize their event’s dependence on travel by connecting them with local speakers, dubbed “Destination Champions.” This curated list of local talent represents thought leaders across an array of industries. Sectors relevant to association and B2B events include:
- Life Sciences
- Aviation, Aerospace, and Engineering
- Insurance and Financial Services
- Environmental Initiatives
How a Palm Beach Resort’s Partnership with a Global Wellness Summit Matched Safety with Creative Formatting
Even with all of the planning to position the Palm Beaches as a top location for hybrid events, nowhere was this industry leadership more evident than with one of the destination’s most iconic resorts, The Breakers Palm Beach.
This past November, the resort helped stage the 14th annual Global Wellness Summit (Nov. 8–11, 2020). This oceanfront setting provided the backdrop for 150 in-person guests and more than 500 remote participants internationally.
Having hosted a successful Global Wellness Summit (GWS) in 2017, The Breakers earned the confidence of conference leadership to facilitate their 2020 program — originally booked for Tel Aviv but cancelled due to the pandemic. The forum’s planners were also familiar with the resort’s implementation of health and safety precautions earlier in the year.
“The Breakers was once again honored to work with the GWS team and to collaborate on this ground-breaking initiative to re-imagine safe meetings. Our longstanding partnership, supported by the resort’s comprehensive B Safe – Health & Safety Initiative, served as the foundation for this year’s program,” said Paul Leone, CEO of The Breakers Palm Beach.
The Global Wellness Summit and The Breakers made safety a priority from the inception of this proof-of-concept hybrid event. Dr. Richard Carmona, the 17th surgeon general of the United States and a member of the GWS board, was designated the conference’s medical advisor. His oversight, the resort’s elevated health and safety protocols, and the Global Wellness Summit’s creative approach collectively produced a healthy conference, which involved:
- Making rapid COVID-19 testing mandatory for all attendees at check-in
- Using multiple forms of UVC light technology to purify the air and disinfect surfaces
- Implementing self-imposed reduced capacities to support social distancing
- Upholding other standard risk-mitigation protocols, including mask-wearing, temperature checks, sanitizing stations, and individually packaged food
- Customizing floor plans and staggered entrance and exit times for all events
- Utilizing exceptional outdoor spaces, including courtyards, gardens, lawns, terraces, private beachfront and al fresco restaurants
The three-day Global Wellness Summit also used creative formatting choices to optimize the hybrid experience for both in-person attendees and remote participants. In keeping with the event’s wellness theme, in-person delegates could choose from a variety of socially-distanced exercise equipment, instead of a ballroom chair. (Note: if introducing exercise, a highly ventilated area is recommended to prevent potentially exacerbating the aerosolization of the virus.) While social distancing imperatives may limit attendance numbers, this also leaves more room for furniture choices that might otherwise be difficult to finance at scale or even accommodate physically.
Another way that this conference turned health and safety measures to its advantage was by hosting a playful “Mask-erade” party with socially-distanced dancing.
The event organizers also used innovative approaches to provide virtual participants with a more intimate experience. At its hybrid lunch, “Global Wellness Institute Ambassadors” were connected to one another via video chat, which bridged the gap between in-person and virtual attendees, allowing those seated far apart a dining companion.
Photo Credits: LILA PHOTO
Miami Sets the Bar for Health and Safety with Hybrid Value
Third-party certification processes are one way to verify health and safety compliance, but destinations can also proactively develop their own control mechanisms.
Both the City of Miami Beach and its top B2B venue, the Miami Beach Convention Center (MBCC), have shown industry leadership with the strict implementation of measures designed to reduce the risk of viral transmission. Aware that hybrid events will be the norm for at least the first half of 2021, the MBCC has also invested in a new hybrid production studio.
VERIFYING HEALTH AND SAFETY PLEDGES WITH MONTHLY REPORTING
Many destinations have created some form of health and safety pledge for local businesses, but the City of Miami’s MB Standard goes a step further by requiring destinations to verify their compliance with a set of strict protocols. These include:
- Having all employees tested for Covid-19 within a week of submitting their application for certification
- Performing monthly Covid-19 testing of all employees
- Conducting temperature and health screenings of all employees on a daily basis
- Having a contact tracing protocol in place
- Providing monthly reports to the city with data on the efficacy of their health screening efforts (required information includes how many employees were tested, what the results of those tests were, and measures taken based on the results)
Photo Credits: LILA PHOTO
The MBCC Pairs Health Ambassadors With Updated AV
Even with such strict controls in place, the Miami Beach Convention Center (MBCC) decided to go above and beyond the requirements set by the MB Standard.
The facility has taken a two-pronged approach to helping event planners stage successful hybrid events. On the one hand, they’re providing hands-on guidance with implementing effective health and safety measures; and on the other, they’re making infrastructure investments that will facilitate hassle-free virtual event components.
To ensure that event organizers are up-to-date on health and safety best practice, the MBCC has appointed two health ambassadors whose role is to:
- Guide event organizers when designing their health and safety plans
- Conduct sanitation checks
- Coordinate with local teams
- Remain informed of public health guidance
- Similarly, a well-designed production studio can ease the burden of arranging professional-quality AV support along with reliable streaming bandwidth. MBCC recently opened its new Art Deco Studio, a facility designed specifically for socially-distanced hybrid events. It features:
- Cameras, mics, floor-mounted lights, CAT 6 cabling, green screens, and other cutting-edge AV equipment along with the necessary computer support to ensure consistent streaming quality
- Free WiFi and a selection of additional bandwidth and data packages
- Strategic seating and layout options to meet social distancing requirements
As an added bonus, the MBCC is giving planners the option to use its own website for a customized event landing page. Web hosting packages include video streaming capability along with banner ads, graphics, and messaging opportunities. They can even provide analytics on attendee engagement and other key metrics.
A CVB LEADS WITH A PROOF-OF-CONCEPT EVENT
If CVBs want to show that hybrid events can be held safely, they always have the option to host their own — and that’s exactly what the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau (GMCVB) did for its Annual Meeting in October 2020.
The event was hosted at the MBCC, ensuring both rigid hygiene protocols and adequate space for social distancing. In-person attendees had their temperatures checked upon entry and had to wear masks throughout the event. Just over 150 in-person attendees were spread out across the MBCC’s 60,000-square-foot Grand Ballroom.
Additionally, staff members acted as social-distancing ambassadors by stationing themselves at key locations where they could direct traffic.
Of course, a successful hybrid event is just as much about engaging remote audiences as it is about ensuring safety for in-person attendees. With close to 500 virtual participants tuning in, the GMCVB Annual Meeting used advanced AV recording equipment to ensure optimal image quality when capturing live performances. Pre-recorded content was also broadcast at strategic points to further elevate the production value.
Tampa Bay Gets Inventive for Event Recovery
No destination can host events without a robust network of venues and suppliers, and Tampa Bay has addressed this need by creating innovative programs designed to help businesses adapt to the new demands of the pandemic. These initiatives include regulatory accommodations that maximize outdoor space along with funding support for hybrid AV requirements.
MAKING HEALTH AND SAFETY WORK FOR BUSINESSES
Tampa has been building its capacity to host in-person events since the first lockdowns took effect.
Tampa Bay’s “Lift Up Local Program” takes advantage of the city’s warm year-round temperatures by allowing restaurants and bars to extend their patio space onto sidewalks and nearby property. Thanks to this program, businesses can bypass the usual permit process and avoid the standard application fees. At the same time, the program introduces new safety requirements. Participating businesses are expected to:
- Tampa Bay’s “Lift Up Local Program” takes advantage of the city’s warm year-round temperatures by allowing restaurants and bars to extend their patio space onto sidewalks and nearby property. Thanks to this program, businesses can bypass the usual permit process and avoid the standard application fees. At the same time, the program introduces new safety requirements. Participating businesses are expected to:
- Keep tables at least 6 feet apart
- Ensure that servers are wearing masks at all times
- Encourage staff to be tested for Covid-19, even when they do not show any symptoms
Providing an added level of support for local businesses, Tampa Bay’s Hillsborough Back to Business Toolkit offers extensive guidance on health and safety best practices.
DESTINATIONS PROVIDE FUNDING FOR HYBRID EVENTS
When it comes to live event components, having to balance higher expenditures with reduced revenue potential presents a major challenge. In recognition of these difficulties, Visit Tampa Bay has introduced a new grant designed to assist with the AV and tech-related costs typically associated with putting on hybrid events.
The grant’s eligibility requirements mean that the funding will support event planners and boost the local economy. To qualify, the event must be held at partner facilities in the Hillsborough County area, include one night of overnight accommodation, and occur before Dec. 31, 2021.
Aware that online marketing can present a major learning curve for hybrid event planners, Visit Tampa Bay is also offering event organizers customizable promotional packages. Their services include custom landing pages hosted on the Visit Tampa Bay website, along with general marketing support and consultation services.
HOW SYNAPSE SUMMIT PIONEERED A MULTI-LOCATION MODEL
One hybrid event concept that has been gaining traction is the idea of hosting an interconnected series of smaller events, in this way reducing both crowd density and the need to travel. Tampa Bay’s Synapse Summit (March 8-11, 2021) will turn this model into a reality.
Over 90 percent of the event’s content will be available online, but some of the programming will be held in person with limited attendance numbers. Although the event is normally held in Tampa, this year’s face-to-face sessions will be spread out at different locations across the state.
The event also uses an innovative pricing system designed to maximize accessibility while also providing a viable revenue stream for event organizers. General admission tickets are free, while GA+ tickets offer a variety of additional features at a cost of $49. VIP tickets, available at $149 each, provide access to exclusive online experiences along with the opportunity to attend socially-distanced in-person events at select locations.
Photo Credits: The Breakers Palm Beach
Socially-distanced hybrid events may be a new format, but event planners don’t need to start from scratch. Even by global standards, Florida has been a forerunner in the effort to reopen events; by allowing in-person gatherings to take place, Florida has furnished real-world examples that help to establish workable best practices in the era of Covid-19.
The state’s most effective health and safety programs include:
- Support in pursuing GBAC Star Accreditation
- Destination-led health and safety pledges, ideally with built-in reporting mechanisms
- Highly-qualified health advisors and designated “Health Ambassadors”
- Flexible regulatory policies around the use of outdoor space
In terms of support for virtual programming, other useful initiatives include:
- Grants designed to help finance the additional AV and tech costs
- Website and marketing support
- Investment in state-of-the-art production studios
We may be living in unprecedented times, but some have already set precedents that can help event planners move forward.