Outlook for Meetings & Events in 2021 and 2022

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Outlook for Meetings & Events in 2021 and 2022

With face-to-face meetings underway again, Destination Colorado takes a look at what’s happening in Colorado. 

By Beth Buehler

There has been a lot of conversation surrounding the compression of meetings and events in 2021 and 2022 due to gatherings that were postponed and not even scheduled during the COVID-19 pandemic. Is there competition for meeting and event venues, is it a buyer’s or seller’s market and what types of groups are meeting again?

To find out more, Destination Colorado checked in with Visit Fort Collins, Beaver Run Resort & Conference Center in Breckenridge and Operation Altitude, a destination management company (DMC) with offices in Vail and Denver.

A group of people seated at a bar raise their glasses for a toast, as though celebrating the end of successful meetings. They are surrounded by drink taps and a menu board in the background.
Cheers to meeting again! A scene from one of Fort Collins many breweries. Courtesy Visit Fort Collins/Richard Haro.

Are you seeing a compression of meetings from now through the rest of 2021 and beyond?

Melissa Layton, Principal, Operation Altitude: I am seeing a lack of availability in 2021—and even into 2022 and 2023—at venues and hotels based on groups rescheduling their events from 2020 to 2021. It’s a sellers’ market out there these days and to compound the problem, it is difficult to get timely responses. So many sales people were furloughed during COVID-19, and hotels and venues appear to be understaffed.

For example, we postponed an annual Ski Summit for 500 guests from February 2021 to February 2022.

Bruce Horii, Sales & Marketing Director, Beaver Run Resort & Conference Center, Breckenridge: We were fortunate to keep a few of our 2021 mainstays in June, July and August and had multiple plans of operations based on possible COVID-19 protocols. Creative thinking was evident for the early groups, and my favorite was an education association called InnEdCo, which was originally scheduled to operate as a three-day conference for 400 people. We split it into two conferences that took place over two days with 150 to 200 people each, with a buffer day in between to enjoy Breckenridge and the mountain setting. September and October 2021 will be operating similar to normal, while also picking up some rescheduled groups from 2020.

Erik Barstow, Director of Sales, Visit Fort Collins: We are seeing a bit of compression in the latter half of 2021, but I would not describe it as substantial.

If not, why do you think that is the case?

EB: One of our largest demand generators is Colorado State University, and they are operating at about 25 percent capacity regarding summer conference activities. We expect the fall to bring a partial return for group business, but our bigger recovery will happen in 2022.

Will this trend continue into 2022?

ML: Yes, groups are ready to meet in person again after a year-and-a-half hiatus.  Demand is high for group space. We already have quite a few groups on our calendar for August – December this year and into 2022.

BH: The plan for 2022 is optimistic. Our winter 2022 groups seem to be moving forward but many of these groups have varying degrees of international involvement. That segment continues to carry many unknowns. Vaccinations are playing a major role in the management of the pandemic, which is the reason we maintain a positive outlook.

EB: We expect 2022 to be a banner year for group business. While uncertainty remains, the importance of in-person meetings is widely recognized, and there is a sense that we can no longer wait and need to move forward.

What types of meetings and events have come back to face-to-face first? 

ML: All industries are raring to get their people together again … pharmaceuticals, financials and industries across the board.

BH: For Beaver Run, our first to return are smaller corporate groups, which have booked within a shorter window. On the larger front, association groups and education groups seem to be recovering quicker. Much of that seems to stem from the ability of those audiences to get vaccinated at a stronger rate. The motivation within education to return at a quicker rate seems to stem from the tough year educators have endured. Teachers and administrators are anxious to put this past year in the rearview mirror but to also improve their programs by learning from what they have gone through.

EB: Amateur sports and social gatherings (reunions, weddings, etc.) have come back first for us. We’ve seen some association business return with corporate coming back a bit slower.

What is the size of these events and what types of venues have they been utilizing/requesting? 

ML: We have business on the calendar that ranges from 75 to 1,500 attendees. The groups are using all kinds of venues, including hotel meeting space and off-site dinner venues. We have pharmaceutical groups in Vail in August and their numbers are 75 and 165 attendees and another in Denver for 1,500 in November. We have financial groups of 200 in October and 800+ in December, and incentives for 400 in January and 500 in February.

BH: It has not been uncommon for corporate groups to range from 20 to 50 people and to utilize a mixture of indoor meeting facilities and elements of enjoyment and team-building at outdoor facilities. Most of these groups have booked fairly close in. Our associations have varied from around 150 to 200, and some are getting closer to the 1,000 to 1,200 range by late July. These were on the books but had to be adjusted and revised due to the unknown nature of what COVID-19 was going to allow.

EB: Our typical group size ranges from 25 to 250 attendees, although we can certainly host larger groups. We’ve seen groups from 20 to 125 requesting proposals most often for the remainder of 2021, with larger groups for our market looking at 2022 and 2023.  We’ve not seen a major shift in the types of venues being requested.

Is the compression and impacts from COVID-19 having any influence on pricing and negotiating? 

ML: It’s a classic example of economic supply and demand. Demand is high, availability is slim, and prices are at a premium. Suppliers are in the position where it’s “take it or leave it” so negotiating isn’t really an option because they’ll sell the space anyway. All of the hotels we rebooked from 2020 to 2021 have higher F&B pricing and room rates.

BH: At Beaver Run, we have operated in a very sensitive manner, knowing what everyone in COVID-19 times has gone through. So we took an approach of leniency during the pandemic and worked with organizations to look to the future and focused on long-term relationships, rather than holding firm to contracts without some flexibility and compassion. Pricing has increased slightly but more of a function of normal yearly increases rather than an opportunity to take advantage of aftereffects of the pandemic.

EB: Prices are tightly related to arrival pattern and seasonality in our market, and it will take some time to gather data on pricing for group business. Our average daily rate (ADR) is currently down from 2019 levels but hotels are generally looking to maintain rate integrity for future years on the group side. Supply chain issues, food and beverage cost increases, and the possible need to upgrade digital capacities mean hotels will need to be strategic in managing revenue.

Any additional thoughts on the topic? 

ML: Luckily, it’s back to business as normal and group demand is even higher than in 2019.

BH: Many groups, by contracts and a spirit of cooperation, are choosing to get back to meeting in person after frustration with and the impersonal nature of virtual meetings. There also exists a pent-up demand to network and get back to rebuilding the relationships that they felt were lost over the last year and a half. You can feel a sense of positive return as groups get back to meeting in person and sharing and growing from the pandemic experience.

EB: 2022 and 2023 could be banner years for many destinations!

A view of an urban outdoor space at dusk with large modern sculptures, a building with illuminated advertisements, tents set up for meetings, and people on the grounds.
Sculpture Park at Denver Performing Arts Complex is a beautiful outdoor event venue option. Courtesy Operation Altitude.

Beth Buehler has been editor of Colorado Meetings + Events magazine for 16 years and helped launch Mountain Meetings magazine in 2013. She has planned numerous meetings and events and enjoys exploring Colorado.