Planning Association Meetings During COVID-19 

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Above image: Destination Colorado Headwaters Center, Winter Park

By Beth Buehler   

Colorado is a popular place for association meetings for a number of reasons. The top two reasons tend to be that the state is a bucket list destination for many attendees and has the ready infrastructure of top-notch hotels, resorts, ranches, camp, convention centers, standalone venues and other suppliers. 

For many associations, conferences, educational sessions and events are important streams of revenue, so there is extra motivation to be creative while still keeping attendees safe, healthy and happy, which are always priorities even in non-pandemic times. Destination Colorado connected with Denver-based meeting professionals Devon Binder, CMM, CMP, DES, owner of Red Door Alliances, LLC, and Tiffany Carson, CMP, CPE operations manager for the Colorado Society of CPAs, on the topic of planning association meetings during COVID-19. 

DCDevonBinder (1)
Devon Binder,
Owner of Red Door Alliances, LLC

While several of her association clients have migrated over to virtual meetings and modified offerings and formats “none are looking to cancel anything in 2021,” Binder says “However, there have been some initial discussions with my clients about the hybrid model for 2021.”      

She emphasizes that associations and corporations should be looking at their three-year meeting and event strategy. “There are a lot of unknowns right now. As fast as our industry was hit, it is not going to be as fast of a recovery. Associations and corporate clients need to look at a combination of smaller regional meetings, hybrid options or virtual events, such as monthly educational town halls or full conferences.” 

Binder also recommends that associations consider “building and/or updating their on-demand offering for relevant professional development. This will help members who have been financially impacted keep up with professional development and continuing education requirements.”  

Sharing across associations or providing access at a discount to an event if you are a member of another association has been another outcome of COVID-19, she notes, and there is wisdom in investing in a good learning management software (LMS) or virtual platforms not as a short-term solution but as an ongoing one. “What a lot of people don’t understand is that the virtual conference or hybrid option increases your reach, attendance and brand awareness and in most cases will increase your face-to-face attendance the following year. It is OK to not make back an immediate ROI but to look at the indirect return down the road.”         

State or regional association meetings and gatherings within driving distance are likely be the first to get back to meeting face-to-face, she predicts, and then industries where members weren’t as financially impacted as others. “I would also look at the demographics of the association such as age and who the members serve. Do they serve people that are more of a risk? I think a lot of this will depend on when a vaccine becomes available.”        

In terms of considering if associations will start gathering sooner than corporate entities, Bender says it will depend on the industry and the level of impact the pandemic had on that sector.   

As a planner for the Colorado Society of CPAs, Carson observes, “Association business is very different in that we are still running at warp speed right now; people are trying to wrap their brains around the economy and learn what all this means for them, their co-workers and their profession. I believe associations have a unique opportunity to offer this assistance.”

While her association has elected to move everything virtual for the remainder of 2020, Carson observes that the meetings and events industry is moving the fastest to gather again. “They will be leading the charge, and associations are absolutely looking to them for best practices, ideas, etc.” 

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Tiffany Carson,
CMP, CPE, Operations Manager
for the Colorado Society of CPAs

Next, it will be companies looking to associations to lead the way and offer advice, etc. “So, it is my belief that associations will be essential in the reemergence of live events. … We are so lucky to live in a time when technology is ever-changing, as this offers us the opportunity to move forward together.”

Destination Colorado Limelight Hotel Aspen Penthouse

Destination Colorado and its more than 120 members from across the state stand ready to assist with planning meetings and events during COVID-19 by providing the latest details, RFPs, and venue information for the new and rebooked business. We’ll all get through this together and associations are likely to venture forth sooner rather than later! 

Beth Buehler has been editor of Colorado Meetings + Events magazine for 15 years and helped launch Mountain Meetings magazine in 2013. She has planned numerous meetings and events and enjoys exploring Colorado.