Planning Last-Minute Meetings

By Beth Buehler

The meetings and events industry is typically all about planning ahead, creating checklists to make sure everything gets done, and having people and processes in place so gatherings go off without a hitch. Then, coronavirus (COVID-19) hit like a huge storm and totally shifted how life and meetings are happening … at least for now. Everyone had to let go of “normal” and put on their flexibility hats, which is often where innovation happens or when you find out the value of simple things like getting a haircut!

For now, the spinning arrow of what’s next will likely land on last-minute meetings, as organizations and individuals decide they are okay with meeting in person again or that important topics like strategic planning, a new product release, updated policies and procedures, and fund-raising shortfalls just can’t wait. So here are five thoughts about planning last-minute meetings and why Colorado is a great place to make these types of gatherings both a reality and fun.

Meetings in Colorado destinations like Vail after months of stay at home are a beautiful thing. Courtesy Sonnenalp Hotel.

Make sure that your people are good with traveling for a meeting. Depending on the industry, the age range and health status of the potential attendees, and how people will get to the meeting (e.g., automobile or plane), there may be a variety of opinions about meeting at this time. Even within my book club, there are differing thoughts on the topic of meeting in person or through an online meeting platform, and I expect it to be a hybrid approach for our next couple gatherings. The bottom line is to know your group and when it feels right to meet in person again, and that typically means asking. Plus, most organizations have new policies in place regarding working in person and business travel, so take them into consideration as well.

Consider the meeting profile. This is first and foremost in planning any meeting, but it has to be really dialed in for last-minute meetings as there are no extra minutes to spare. What type of meeting are you considering, how many people will be attending  and what kind of transportation is needed while at the meeting? How many lodging rooms are required (it’s not the time to double people up), what kind of meeting space is desired, and are options available to get outside for breaks, receptions, dinner and activities?

Colorado’s waterways provide all sorts of summer and fall experiences. Courtesy Visit Golden.

Understand the COVID-19 regulations. Before going too far down the path of selecting a destination, it is vital to understand what a state’s and a particular community’s COVID-19 policies are and what they are expected to look like in the near future. Know how many people can get together, if masks are required in public places, and if a community is truly ready and interested in hosting visitors again. Local representatives from properties, venues and destination marketing organizations can provide the inside scoop. There are several Colorado communities ready to serve groups again!

Work with properties to get creative with outdoor and indoor spaces. Courtesy Winter Park Mountain Lodge.

See what destination experiences are available. Attendees, like almost everyone, are craving normal, and for many that means trying new things and experiencing places once again. Find out what attractions in a destination are open, how much notice is needed to secure tickets, what activities outfitters can provide, and if things like history and mural art walking tours are up and running again. Even in the era of COVID-19, Colorado is ideally positioned to get people outside for fresh air and fun. Places like the national parks, Denver Botanic Gardens, Denver Zoo, Lost Forest adventure park at Snowmass, Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park in Glenwood Springs, and Royal Gorge Bridge and Park an hour from Colorado Springs are terrific experiences and just a few of Colorado’s attractions that have reopened or are reopening very soon. Most have gathering spaces as well!

Lots of fresh air and fun at the Lost Forest in Snowmass. Courtesy Aspen Skiing Company.

Rally the troops for guidance and assistance. When organizing a last-minute meeting, you need to tap all available resources to save time and find the best fit. Especially in this new reality, seek out industry professionals such as destination management companies (DMCs) that are used to working with meeting and events and are linked to properties and suppliers who have figured out smart ways to adjust business practices to keep everyone safe. Destination Colorado has more than 120 members that serve the meetings and events industry and are part of a simple RFP process that allows meeting planners to connect with several entities at once. Some destination marketing organizations (DMOs), especially those in larger communities, also have a similar process.

Attractions around the state are reopening as the time seems right. Courtesy Visit Longmont.

Last-minute meetings are fully expected at this time as organizations get back up and running and lodging properties and venues likely have dates to fill due to cancelled or postponed gatherings. You may just need to be flexible, especially if you have a specific destination or property in mind, as there will be some competition from meetings that have been rescheduled from earlier in the year. Colorado is open for business, so check out the options!

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.