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Omaha Magazine

Book it! Local Event Planners Expect Elevated Demand Throughout 2022

Oct 01, 2021 03:22PM ● By Scott Stewart
402 events employee in warehouse

Photo by Bill Sitzmann

 The hand sanitizer is here to stay. Event planners agree the pandemic will have a lingering effect on their industry. Unfortunately, the threat of variants of the coronavirus means uncertainty will persist, too.

This past summer brought more business than some firms could handle, as pent-up demand boiled over and vaccines facilitated the loosening of masking and other safety precautions.

“Everyone and their mom wanted to get married and have an event in the year 2021,” said Steven Finkle, CEO and events director for 402 Events, a full-service event planning company.

Since Jan. 1 hit this year, events started picking up, Finkle said, and they only got bigger as the mercury started rising. By midyear, Finkle said his firm surpassed 2020’s tally and was on track to exceed the 181 events they did in 2019. This summer he was optimistic that trend would continue. “We are seeing dates get fully booked out that are over 18 months in advance, and that’s just insane for us,” Finkle said. In September, he noted that people were again becoming cautious.

“We’re still executing some corporate events, but there are definitely some that are downscaling or putting more COVID precautions in place,” he said. “Some are still rescheduling, but it’s few and far between for those.”

Ashley Curzon, event production director at Planit Inc., said some gatherings are still taking a hybrid approach that offers in-person sessions that can also be attended virtually.

“The hybrid aspect is definitely here to stay for quite some time,” Curzon said. “They’re able to attract a lot more audience, but then we’re also seeing the attendees enjoy having the virtual option because it’s less time away from their desk and it’s more budget-friendly.”

However, hybrid events also mean fewer opportunities for networking and a substantially different experience.

There are additional costs for event organizers, too, largely associated with the audiovisual requirements to livestream proceedings, which can be offset with sponsorship opportunities.

“That’s kind of a concern for clients,” Curzon said. “We have longstanding partnerships with our AV companies, so that really helps for us to keep costs lower for our clients.”

Some clients prefer to record their event or offer a livestream, Finkle said, but will fall short of producing a full-fledge virtual option.

For those attending in person, an abundance of hand sanitizing stations should be expected. Events are more likely to have medical staff on site. Floor plans are designed to avoid attendee congestion to allow for social distancing.

Finkle said he expects buffet stations will continue having attendants. But he doesn’t expect Plexiglass dividers or similarly overt measures to return anytime soon.

Instead, event technology has been embraced to help keep people safe, such as using a mobile app for conferences and having a fully touch-free check-in experience using QR codes.

“We’re seeing a desire to host events outdoors,” Curzon said. “Whether it’s a lunch, or a wellness activity, or a reception, that’s pretty popular.”

Event planners are also including pandemic clauses in contracts, allowing for rescheduling in the event of lockdowns. With those assurances, many event organizers are planning more lavish soirees, making sure they wow their guests—especially if it’s been a while.

Finkle expects larger, more elaborate events to continue into 2023 for sure, along with elevated guest counts. A typical wedding, for example, has about 20% of the guest count either not respond or RSVP they can’t attend.

“That number has now gone down to 10% or under,” Finkle said. “Everyone is just looking for an excuse to get out and have some fun.”

As some corporations move away from a traditional office, Finkle predicts some monthly or quarterly events will be discontinued in favor of bigger annual events. Corporate holiday parties had been falling out of vogue, but they could get a shot in the arm as pandemic worries wane.

“We are seeing a lot more people put in the extra effort and spend the extra money to make the guest experience 10 times better,” Finkle said. 

Improvement to guest experiences can include live-action stations and buffets, where food is made in front of guests. Finkle said one station that’s popular features a frozen board where rolled ice cream is prepared fresh, instead of distributing little cups on a table.

Circus themes are a popular way to bring in live performers such as aerialists, Finkle said. Events are also being held in larger areas, with high-end leather lounge areas and other more intimate gathering spaces that allow for in-depth conversation.

“It’s an excuse for people to sit down and chat with each other, which is something that specifically a lot of corporate functions are wanting—which is for everyone to socialize,” Finkle said. 

Looking forward to 2022, Curzon expects business-to-business events to keep getting bigger.

“People are definitely still doing hybrid events, but it’s that in-person, live event aspect that is really coming back,” Curzon said. “Going into next year, we’re going to start seeing larger events.”

Curzon said that 700-person conferences have already been booked, and major events continue to provide insights into how to craft safety protocols to keep attendees safe. 

Those who have held in-person events haven’t had to put much effort into marketing them.

“We’ve found that businesses haven’t really needed to generate a lot of buzz through internal efforts,” Curzon said. “I think it’s happening a little bit more organically because people are so eager to participate in live meetings and events again. People want to meet face-to-face.”

People are actively seeking events to attend, which Curzon said is bolstered by communicating safety protocols in advance via emails and at the event through signage and mobile apps.

Gathering a crowd is often as simple as telling people there’s an event with free food or drinks.

“That’s literally the only excuse people need,”
Finkle said.

As a result, though, Finkle said alcohol and food orders are substantially higher compared to two years ago. Working with a professional can help make sure the right orders are placed.

“We’re anxious to help our clients get back to events and help accomplish their goals,” Curzon said. “It is important to be proactive in getting your contract signed. You also need to be flexible.”

The pent-up demand for events means industry employees are stretched thin. That is on top of the supply-chain disruption and labor shortages seen throughout the broader economy.

Shortages can make holding that perfect event that much more challenging, so Finkle said it’s critical to book early.

“Try to elevate the guest experience,” Finkle said. “You want an event that they will remember.” 

Visit 402eventservices.com or planitincevents.com for more information. Note: Ashley Curzon took a position at another company after the deadline for this issue.

This article originally appeared in the October issue of B2B Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.  

Photo by Bill Sitzmann