What to Expect for Meetings and Events in 2022
By Beth Buehler
It has become the $1 million question: what to expect for meetings and events in 2022?
I reached out to three Destination Colorado board members to get their perspectives and outlook on the topic: Chris Bierdeman, tourism group sales coordinator for Visit Loveland, Leslie Milne, director of sales for Monarch Casino Resort Spa Black Hawk, and Dean Savoca, M.Ed., BCC, CSP, owner of Savoca Performance Group.
If you had a crystal ball, what two or three things do you predict for the Colorado meetings and events industry in 2022? What is your outlook about the industry in general?
Chris Bierdeman: I personally think that things in our industry are going to get very busy. Everyone I talk to is getting very excited and ready to start meeting again in person. People are realizing how important face-to-face interactions are and that there is really no true substitute for the real thing.
Leslie Milne: Colorado will continue to be a sought-after destination for meetings due to our many opportunities to escape to the mountains and enjoy the outdoors. Hybrid is here to stay, and outdoor events will continue to be popular.
Dean Savoca: At this point, the only outlook I have for the future is there will always be uncertainty and change. We’ve been trying to “predict” for nearly two years and how’s that working? One thing I’ve learned from working with individuals and organizations to create positive change for the past 18 years and that’s helped me greatly for the last 18 months is that there will always be external factors outside our control, such as ever-changing government regulations. While no one foresaw a global pandemic that would decimate our industry, we persevered. The organizations that are doing this successfully have shifted their focus from trying to predict the future to being nimble in the now.
How will 2022 look different than 2021 for meetings and events?
CB: The outlook for 2022 is shaping up to be a pretty solid year for Loveland on the meetings and events front. If everything comes to fruition as planned, we’ll have a great year for meetings here!
LM: Meetings continue to rebook into 2022 and will trigger compression for meeting space. All signs point to continued, yet slow recovery.
DS: As a professional speaker, my colleagues and I have seen an increase in conference speaking opportunities that started in the fall of 2021 and is carrying into 2022. While attendance may be down for conferences and there are fewer international attendees, people still want to meet safely in person. After all, people know the value of in-person events, they crave live human connection, and this is what we do. My meetings and events industry clients are seeing more live events in 2022 and are cautiously optimistic.
What are some of the challenges?
CB: Staffing at our hotels and restaurants is still very much a challenge. Even with significantly higher wages and incentives offered, our partners have told me that hiring skilled and experienced employees is very tricky, if not nearly impossible. Many of our partners are still operating with a much smaller staff than pre-pandemic, which means it is added stress and hours for their employees to get everything done. We are also really hoping that the pandemic can start to ebb as more and more of our population is able to get vaccinated and that there will not be any new surges or more lethal strains of the virus that would lead to additional capacity or social distancing restrictions, which would cause meetings to be cancelled and/or be rescheduled again.
LM: The emergence of new COVID variants, which could mean more cancellations and lack of confidence in booking large meetings.
DS: The biggest challenge I hear from my clients is the lack of labor and how this impacts service, morale and culture. I’m currently working with meetings and events industry organizations on how to strengthen their cultures, retain their best employees and align their teams.
On the flip side, what is the outlook for opportunities?
CB: I do think that through all of this, some planners, companies and organizations have reimagined what in-person meetings will mean for the future. I know that many planners are now envisioning new experiences for their meetings and especially are looking for opportunities to incorporate more outdoor experiences for their participants. Because the outdoors are part of our DNA here in Colorado, there is a natural opportunity to promote the many open spaces available all across our beautiful state.
LM: The excitement of bringing people together again.
DS: I think one of biggest opportunities for our industry through this pandemic is that disruption leads to innovation. It’s challenged our industry not to settle but rather continue to get creative on how we can be better and add more value to our clients. We have seen this through the rapid growth of technology platforms and virtual meetings and the opportunity they provide to engage more attendees. I think the next opportunity is to continue this creativity and innovation when it comes to live events and how we drive strategic outcomes for our clients. We all know that Meetings Mean Business, how do we as an industry continue to be relentless in proving it?
How has the industry pulled together through the COVID pandemic?
CB: When we were forced to shut down, we didn’t stop. We learned to pivot. We figured out how to meet virtually and were able to take amazing strides in improving the way people can gather virtually, and it has opened the door to enhancing the meeting experiences available to us moving forward. We also learned how important our industry is to the greater human experience. People need to be able to gather in person, so as soon as it was safe to do so, our hotels, restaurants and venues have been doing everything possible to ensure that we can all do just that by taking extra precautions to ensure a safe and healthy in-person experience. It has been and is still a long road to recovery. For those of us still in this industry, we have been made stronger and more resourceful than ever!
LM: Forward-thinking industry organizations like Destination Colorado and Professional Convention Management Association have led the charge in showing planners how to still host in-person meetings safely.
DS: This industry is made of people full of grit and creativity, which has served us during this crazy time. I think the best example of our industry pulling together was the creation of the Live Events Coalition. Coming together as one voice to advocate for our industry—the industry that got hit the hardest during this pandemic—is helping to increase awareness for the outlook of jobs (12+ million) and the national economic impact of our industry (roughly $1 trillion). We increased this awareness to others, most importantly to politicians. I hope this new awareness will benefit our industry in the future. We are stronger together.
Why is Colorado a solid choice for groups/planners in 2022?
CB: We have one of the most connected airports in the country with Denver International Airport (and it continues to grow!), making it easy to get here from just about anywhere. And with our expansive outdoors available, it is a natural choice for groups looking to spread out, take in the views and get some fresh air. Finally, with the Meeting & Events Incentive Program being offered through the Colorado Tourism Office, planners can get a substantial rebate (10% of eligible hard costs) back for events that will take place before the end of 2022.
DS: Colorado boasts some of the best collaborators in the industry. Having spent nearly a decade on the Meetings Industry Council of Colorado (MIC), I have experienced firsthand the power of collaboration in our community. We are the gold standard. Other destinations have tried to duplicate what we’ve created here in Colorado. It takes a community that thinks beyond their organizations, their associations and themselves and commits to the greater good of the industry for a favorable outlook towards the future. When planners choose Colorado, they can be assured that we will all work together (including competitors) on their behalf to achieve—and surpass—their meeting objectives.
Will venue and supplier availability be tricky in 2022 or fairly normal?
CB: Because many of our events that had originally been scheduled for 2020 and 2021 were rescheduled for 2022, the outlook for our primary event venues is that there is a lot of business booked for next year. However, if groups are willing to be flexible with dates and timing, we still have plenty of openings to fit them in here in Loveland!
DS: My supplier clients in the industry are in the process of building back. Some of the businesses look different after layoffs and restructuring. So 2022 is a rebuilding year for many suppliers; their commitment remains strong, however, how they work with planners and partners may be different. As for venues, if it hosts weddings, forget about it. Booked!
Savoca remains very hopeful about the future and what the outlook for meetings and events in 2022 will be. “We already have the skills: adapting, remaining flexible, responding to challenge, and doing the near impossible. We excel in solving problems like thinking ahead, meeting needs and exceeding expectations and as an industry we have been honing these skills for years,” he observes. “Our workforce is grounded in grit and determination. If anyone can survive change, a new way of doing things or dare we even say it, the next challenge, it’s us!
Top Photo: Sheraton Denver Downtown grand reopening celebration in September 2021. Photo by Photography G.
Beth Buehler has been editor of Colorado Meetings + Events magazine for 17 years and helped launch Mountain Meetings magazine in 2013. She has planned numerous meetings and events and enjoys exploring Colorado.