Reasons to Plan Your 2021 Meeting Now

By Beth Buehler

One of the many impacts of coronavirus (COVID-19) has been moving 2020 meetings and events later into the year or spilling them over into 2021. This has resulted in significant demand for gathering space next year. Destination Colorado reached out to four of its board members who represent city and mountain destinations, a destination management company, and a ski resort and offered several reasons for planning your 2021 meeting now.

Kelly Layton, Operation Altitude

Strategic messaging tied to future meetings and events is more important than ever, emphasizes Kelly Layton, who handles business development for Operation Altitude, a destination management company with offices in Vail and Denver. “Once people start to take you off their list of must-attend events (and off their budget), it is harder to get them back on. Keeping the momentum with attendees following your brand is critical … if they’ve missed out on your event once, they may decide they can live without it in the future as well.”

Another top reason to rebook as soon as possible is space availability. “We have an event that was scheduled for this November. They are trying to move to January 2021, and the venue cannot accommodate them even during that relatively low demand period [in a normal year]. They may not be able to rebook that venue any time in 2021 or potentially in 2022,” she says. “It is crazy how quickly space, especially for larger groups who have more demanding requirements, is booking up already. You cannot get started too early in planning for the upcoming boom in demand and potential shortage of options.”

Also, while Zoom has been a saving grace in a time of need, the novelty has begun to wear off, Layton suggests. “People are ‘Zoomed-out’ and ready for a more traditional way to connect. Safety protocols are solidifying, people are coming back together, and the mindset seems to suggest a desire to be together and a willingness to observe safety measures to make that happen. The planners who can successfully pull that together sooner rather than later will avoid the risk of being left behind.”

Sharon Schoeffield, Copper Mountain Resort   

Booking now allows future attendees to plan for events in their schedules and budgets, concurs Copper Mountain Resort National Sales Manager Sharon Schoeffield, and helps properties and destinations plan accordingly. Plus, there are great deals being offered as well as advantages to considering multi-year deals as “pricing will be based on current trends and everyone wanting group business,” she says.

Schoeffield has noticed that some groups are relocating and trending away from big cities due to the impact of COVID-19, creating an even greater demand for dates on mountain resort calendars. In addition, regional versus national travel is creating increased drive-market inquiries and wedding and leisure groups have moved their gatherings, resulting in competition with business meetings and events for peak dates.

She notes that Colorado is in demand due to its abundance of outdoor spaces, sun and fresh air that “allow the mind to be in a more peaceful place … and we know that the body’s health state is driven so much by the mind.” COVID-19 has resulted in more space being needed for events, and Schoeffield recommends booking components that allow attendees to get outside now. “Additional space is needed to quell fears, such as outdoor seating for meals to allow better distancing options.”

Kathy Reak, CFMP, Visit Colorado Springs

Another longtime industry pro and the immediate past president of Destination Colorado offers two reasons why groups need to start sourcing and booking their 2021 meetings. The first is the availability of space. “Many are moving their 2020 meetings to 2021, and we are sourcing a lot of interest for 2021 in general. Space I believe will be at a premium, especially as the year goes along,” says Kathy Reak, senior director of convention sales for Visit Colorado Springs.

“Second, I feel we need to support our industry, not only planners. We all need to start traveling to boost the economy, support the industry and get back to the human touch of who we are.” Reak notes, “We need people, and isolation does not suit us.”

Sarah Reynolds Lasser, Aspen Chamber Resort Association

The meetings and events industry thrives on personal connection, agrees Sarah Reynolds Lasser, senior director of business development for the Aspen Chamber Resort Association. “We can lead the charge to show how we can safely come together again.”

She says, “Along the lines of what Kathy noted regarding space being at a premium, the industry should anticipate lower capacities in event spaces, which will impact the available space to be booked. Hotels may have much lower group ceilings for room block sizes to accommodate new guidelines, which I think we should anticipate to be in place next year as well.”

We can all agree that there isn’t much that has returned to normal quite yet, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay to wait and book future meetings and events until the air clears. Otherwise, you may just lose out on the destinations, properties and venues that are a perfect fit for your group!

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.