Tag Archives: ILEA

COVID-19: Trust, Information, Solidarity and Change

Originally Published Meetings Today

COVID-19: Trust, Information, Solidarity and Change

One of my favorites was posted by my friend, and sometimes quoted source for Meetings Today, Bob Witeck, on Facebook:

Overheard in someone’s kitchen: “My husband purchased a world map and gave me a dart. ‘Throw this and wherever it lands, I’m taking you for a holiday when this pandemic is over.'”

“Turns out we’re spending two weeks behind the fridge.”

If only that were the most difficult choice to make….

Some topics about which I write are easy and joyful. Last month’s praise of CSMs/Event Managers was pure joy. Even writing about the option for sabbaticals was interesting research and those now on “forced sabbaticals” (aka furloughs) may find ideas to use.

I’ve delayed writing this blog as long as possible. My notes from WHO press briefings and articles and emails fill pages. By the time you read this, the information that changes hourly on who is impacted, where COVID-19 has reached new levels, and what is being done to protect healthcare providers, emergency responders and the public will have changed dramatically. [I updated the blog draft on Monday, March 30, after the governor of Virginia, issued a Stay at Home Order until June 10. Maryland and Washington, D.C., are doing similarly. CapitalPRIDE in DC has been postponed. Nothing is what or when it was.]

This is far worse in scope than anything most of us have experienced, even our on and post-9/11 time when many of us were away from home and others, like I, couldn’t get home for a week. COVID-19 remains under study and while it is, it is spreading.

Most importantly: Stay informed from your local government and trusted sources like the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), or agencies in your country or in the countries to which you would like to travel, have family or may hold meetings.

I like knowing what WHO says because we live in a global society, connected by business, travel, trade and interests. We depend on each other, and in a crisis, stopping COVID-19 in one place helps stop it in another.

Many friends and acquaintances, colleagues and strangers who populate our industry are furloughed with “indefinite” dates of return. When I saw the March 26 PBS NewsHour segment (at about 12:21—though watching the entire show is edifying and critical, including a segment on potential family and other abuse while people are staying at home), I gasped: I had talked with one of those whose story appears not long ago when hopes were high. Then, learning friends’ mother-in-law and aunt had died, one in Jamaica and one in England, and of course no one can travel, hurt me more.

There are the “crystal ball predictions” clients and others want me to make—and which, again, on WHO’s press briefing, the doctors reiterated they do not know when this will end or when even the curve will flatten and not rise again. I can’t predict.

When Did We Know and How Did We Know It?

On January 12 of this year, WHO first reported information about this virus, now referred to as “novel [meaning new] coronavirus,” or COVID-19.

At the time, it was thought to be confined to one area of China.

In an early WHO press briefing, in which I participate regularly for Meetings TodayDr. Michael Ryan, WHO’s executive director of health emergencies, was asked if the smart phone tradeshow scheduled in Barcelona should be held. He said groups should add this new virus to contingency plans as we would an outbreak of food poisoning, etc. I smiled, sadly, thinking, “If only all events had contingency plans.”

That show? It was canceled on February 12, the first of many meeting and show cancellations around the U.S. and world.

It was then I began posting on social media about the risk this virus posed. It was then I was countered by those who said, “Still meet,” “It’s confined,” “It only hits people older than 80,” which was then revised by posters to “over 65.”

Now we know that as this has moved around the world, those who are younger than 40, even teens and children, are contracting COVID-19—some cases are mild, others require hospitalization. This virus doesn’t seem to understand it’s not to discriminate based on age and borders, income or circumstances.

Even earlier than January 12, and quoted from the Charleston, SC, Post & Courier: “Mike Schmidt, an epidemiologist in Charleston, had seen it coming. On New Year’s Day, he was at home, going through emails when a report caught his eye: an outbreak in China. Probably a new coronavirus. That could be bad, he thought.”

With such easy access to news, many more could have been aware. Those who create contingency plans would have looked for what might impact them or their events.

Facts = Knowledge; Our Responses Are Tested

As I posted facts, I was accused by some of “causing fear”. Some who said “keep meeting” were praised for their posts of encouragement. I am a fact-based person and someone who looks broadly at the “what-ifs.” Others seemed to want to say, as my sweet maternal grandmother (z”l) in a saying oft quoted, “See the pretty birdie,” meaning: “Let’s not look at what is painful or bad; just smile and move on”.

How can we responsibly plan without information and forward-thinking?

I posted data gleaned from pages of notes taken during the press briefings and from websites and articles read. It was scientific and medical data presented by those who are in the middle of fighting this new, and currently unreliably treatable, virus.

We know trials on treatments and vaccines are being tested around the world. Scientists and doctors are cooperating to try to find how to stop this. We as an industry are hit horribly—in every single country—and want to stop this. We can’t if we ignore data.

Strangely, in an industry that relies on data for how hotels make money, how those in revenue management determine the value of meetings and how ROI is measured for meetings, this was a cause to put one’s fingers in one’s ears and say, “Nah-nah-nah.”

A Personal/Professional Decision

I was long-ago contracted to fly to Oregon on March 7 to speak at an industry conference. In consultation with many, and discouragement by family, I still chose to honor my commitment.

I knew the facts: Four airports, one for a total of 16 hours on the roundtrip because of layovers; four planes; time at a conference with people from a state that at the time was hardest hit. I knew how to physically distance (social connections are encouraged through safe means) and I knew that groups had not yet decided to put room between participants in sessions.

With a compromised immune system, I weighed my risk. If I’d been advising a client, I’d have said, “Don’t go.” I chose to go.

Was I afraid? I don’t know. I was cautious with hospital-grade wipes, latex gloves and distancing. I came home and self-quarantined for 14 days. So far, kinehora—the Yiddish equivalent of “knock wood”—I’m ok. I am grateful that ExhibitorLive, a show at which I’ve spoken for years, postponed from late March to August although I am guessing that too may be in flux.

The choice to fear came because so many were countering facts and echoing some that were bogus from heads of state. In a number of recent WHO press briefings came questions from Brazil about their country’s leader’s calling for mass demonstrations—that is, not physically distancing. WHO is careful not to take positions that appear political. Instead on this and like gatherings, they “just say no”.

When I first drafted this, the U.S. president wanted to partially reopen the U.S. economy by April 12. That changed, before this will be live, to April 30, and by the time you read this, it may have changed again.

The D.C. Metro area (which includes the states of Virginia and Maryland) where I live is on stay-at-home until June 10. The curve is not flattening and the numbers of confirmed cases in the U.S. and around most of the world are rising. We don’t know how many cases there are or were; too many can’t be tested because there are not enough test kits nor labs to process them.

We’re not ready to reopen. Even in China’s Wuhan province the government is prohibiting outside people from coming in and reinfecting the population.

Industry’s Mixed Messages

Somewhere, the industry organizations must be having conversations about a concerted effort to rethink how we do business and meet.  I’ve tried to find more words of caution and all I can find are words reflecting a positive outcome—that we’ll come through this, that we are resilient.

We are and we will. We just don’t know when. Until then, we must make contingency plans for meeting and for trade shows.

One of the worst emails sent was this one: “As safe as riding a bus,” because riding a bus apparently wasn’t and isn’t safe, let alone meeting in groups of more than…well, the numbers kept changing: in D.C., first 1,000, then 250, then 10. I like Germany’s 2.

On March 20, I was glad MPI published this article from The Atlantic. It was much more clear about what should be done.

I’m Ok. Our Industry Could Do Better

Here’s what we need and can’t seem to find. I thank the colleague who first suggested some of these on ASAE’s Collaborate, to which I added: “Let’s come up with more. We now have time, working at home, or sadly furloughed.” [In the comments please share your stories, and if you know of organizations to which we can donate to help colleagues, please post the information.]

From DMOs, on your web pages we need accurate information on the policies for “stay at home” business operations (especially for hotels and food service, updated as changes are made). (I did find that the US National Governor’s Association has a great matrix.) We still need DMOs’ help on their sites.

For example: (date, time, cause/claim/grounds and references the source):

  • March 12, 1:00 p.m.: The mayor claimed a state of emergency.
  • March 14, 1:00 p.m.: Governor declares no gathering of people larger than 1,000.
  • March 16, 1:00 p.m.: Governor declares no gathering of people larger than 25.
  • April 27, 1:00 p.m.: Governor declares you can now gather up to 1,000 people.
  • Dates when the orders were first issued by states, cities and countries, and changed as updated.
  • Hotels open and hotels closed, with their current projected reopening dates, again, updated as changes occur.
  • Plans for convention centers and hotels that are being or may be used to house those who are either housing insecure, first responders, medical personnel and mild or quarantined COVID-19 cases.
  • Capacity of local hospitals and health care to test, quarantine/isolate and treat the local population and an influx of visitors. (I think Austin, Texas, made a great decision to cancel SXSW. Sure, it’s a pain in the tush. What if an outbreak of COVID-19 occurred?)

From hotel owners, management companies and brands, we need:

  • How owners, management companies and brands are determining which hotels to close and for how long.
  • Hotel closings and current projected reopening dates or permanent closures.
  • The process to notify clients with meetings between closing and their events, especially for those to be held between now and August 31, 2020.
  • Which staff positions are furloughed and expected date of return.
  • Staff positions eliminated and process to refill.
  • Process to reopen hotels and timing including bringing staffing back to contracted or site-inspection levels.
  • How are you factoring physical distancing for staffing? Room sets? F&B? Trade shows—booths and foot traffic?
  • If renovations were in progress, what the new projections are for completion.

These are my starter lists. I’ve not even posted questions for AV, production, decorating, exhibit design, etc., companies. Add your questions in the comments. I’d like the industry to speak to us and us to join in with a voice of concern for our colleagues who are, like many planners, furloughed, and some who will lose everything during this time.

In researching more for this, I am also grateful to David Eisenstadt, of Jerusalem, Israel, a tour executive, who provided insights, though not written here, about the state of tourism in their country at a time – Passover, Easter, and the beginning of Ramadan – when it would be flooded with tourists.

5 Ways We All Can Help

1. Stay at home if you are able. Community transmission is the greatest danger. You may be or think you are healthy, but you may also carry COVID-19 to others.

2. Read even if you feel afraid of what you will learn. Information is power and until we know more about COVID-19 and what our industry partners are doing, it is tough for us to make decisions.

3. DONATE to help others. A list follows with a few suggestions. Add your own in the comments. The more we can help others, the better we will all be.

4. Call it what it is: COVID-19 or Novel Coronavirus. It is not Chinese flu. Period. This is stressed by WHO and others. Please read what my friend, and frequent Meetings Today contributor, John Chen, of Geoteaming has provided in part 2 of this blog. For all the industry organizations that have stressed inclusion and diversity, we need your help in being explicit about this virus and taking away the hate some have inserted in naming it or blaming the spread of it. Note that Italy and now the U.S. have more cases than China did. Viruses know no borders. Stop the hate.

5. Relook at sponsorships for national, international and chapter industry meetings. Hotels have furloughed people who need jobs. Asking for money for booze and food or to sponsor entertainment or to provide rebates for anything by our own industry seems incredibly selfish. Let’s learn to have self-reliant industry meetings and help our partners recover.

I close with thoughts first of wellness and safety for each of you, for all who are part of our broad industry including restaurants, and entertainment venues, and all around the world. We are interconnected and must remain so, selflessly and safely. This is to help you via the UNWTO and its Global Crisis Committee:

#TRAVELTOMORROW: By staying home today, we can travel tomorrow.

“Coordination is paramount. Tourism has proven in the past to be a reliable partner to lead recovery for societies and communities, but only if the economic policies of governments and the support packages of donor and financing agencies reflect how the sector touches on every part of society.”

Postscript

If you are a U.S.-eligible votergo to this link and register or check your registration. Many U.S. states and territories have “cleaned” their voter registration rolls. Check, too, to see if in fact you are registered and where you should vote.

Vote in upcoming primaries and national electionsThere are ballot issues and people running for office who will impact what we do in this industry. On Twitter at @meetingstoday, we post links to issues in upcoming elections that impact our industry. Voting is a precious right fought for by many. It is a responsibility of us all. Because of COVID-19, many US states and territories have changed their primary dates and/or have added special elections. Please check your state’s or territory’s dates at their board of elections.

Hospitality Education Must Change to Include All Life Events

Originally published Meetings Focus.

Hospitality Education Must Change to Include All Life Events

Meetings and conferences are not going away. However, many people who are going into our industry are looking for something different to learn and in which to be involved.

We need to expand what is taught in hospitality schools and elsewhere in our industry and to think about components of life events that need professional planners—dare I say “Party Planners” (thank you Debbi Presley for your insights and for founding Party Planners Network)—and the intricacies beyond the usual “rates-dates-space” and décor.

The industry needs to teach skills that are not the usual and include, if one isn’t born with it, how to be empathetic or show empathy and how to ask better questions.

Those of us involved in planning meetings know it all begins with goals and objectives, demographics and budget. It’s the same for life-cycle events.

When planning life-cycle events we need to learn to:

  • Ask better, deeper questions that are not able to be answered with “yes” or “no.”
  • Use resources in and outside our usual contacts, such as reaching out to “Death Doulas”—those who offer medical and emotional support to those who are dying.
  • Learn the intricacies of cultures.
  • Guide our clients to events that will fulfill their needs.

Nowhere are these skills more important than in planning life-cycle events. Though one can certainly see that these would all prove useful in regular meeting planning as well.

The May 3 Friday with Joan newsletter looked specifically at end-of-life events, spurred by this article about celebration-of-life events from The Washington Post and by deaths of three friends and my own personal involvement in planning a life celebration for one.

End-of-life events and other life-cycle events require at least as much planning and care as a meeting or convention. The timeframes may be different; the attendance lesser and the setting more intimate. Still we need to be taught to consider how to help others.

Sharron Bonner of Bright Ideas Events, an active International Live Events Association (ILEA) member, said when planning life-cycle and especially end-of-life events one needs:

  • Compassion and understanding for human emotion/connection to the event
  • Flexibility in deadlines because of grief
  • Listening ability directed toward the family or loved ones to talk about the deceased
  • Ability to add intimate personal touches about the deceased to the event

Everything Sharron and others said seem to fit all life events.

Is It a Party or a Celebration?

We also have to consider if these events are parties.

Or are they celebrations? The definitions are so similar that I found my own biases against the term “party planner” changing.

Even in Judaism, sitting shiva after a death is, in addition to a religious observance, is often a celebration of the person’s life. I always value those times, though with tears frequently shed, we hear stories never told and laugh and eat. Oh, and food!

Always plenty of food which seems to be cross-cultural. Isn’t that a party?

I asked those who teach full-time in hospitality if they had ever considered planning and managing weddings? This confirmed what I’ve found in my own teaching: many who have side businesses and start their own full-time businesses or study hospitality want to do this.

A few ILEA members who provided input for this article said that there are more who are becoming interested in end-of-life events though it is not necessarily their focus.

The Many Variations of Life-Cycle Events

Instead of just focusing on wedding and “special event” planning, which rarely includes other than weddings, life-cycle events, I think the industry needs to teach more about how to plan more broadly and help students understand all the possibilities for event planning.

These include:

Reveals or Baby Showers

Helping someone determine which of these types of events is best for them is tricky.

Before I’m accused of being “politically correct” in discussing this, well, in addition to hating the term “politically correct,” in the hospitality industry it is our responsibility is to know the right questions to ask and terms to use with those for whom we are planning life events.

This article “Gender Party Reveal vs. Baby Shower” describes what could be the same and could be different for “reveals” and “baby showers.” Not addressed here are families of one or two dads who may be the pregnant person nor does it address adoption.

If you’re not familiar with “reveals,” read more here in the guidelines from Parents magazine about “How to Host a Gender Reveal Party” from the perspective of the parent(s).

Planning a party for people who are opting not to declare a gender for their child who prefer their child to determine their identify at a later date requires more thinking.

The term these parents may use is “theybies.”

For those advising what is the best—reveal or baby shower—useful articles included:

Birthdays

For most of us, the first and then the 5s and 0s are often marked by parties, and yet, for those who observe birthdays and want a fuss, any year is worth celebrating.

Each biological or chosen family will form its own traditions.

Sometimes birthdays—especially surprise parties—can be painful events. I always felt awkward opening presents in front of people, pretending great glee when I might not have felt it! As an Introvert—child and adult—it was and sometimes still is exhausting to be around lots of people for any more than an hour.

Parties for me should be limited in scope and numbers.

Know your clients and their preferences. Seek out answers to the personalities and preferences of those for whom a surprise party is thought to be a good idea.

Graduations

“In my day,” which I write with a chuckle at how old that sounds, we waited until high school before celebrating graduation. For many now, graduation from pre-school, kindergarten and each year of grammar school is celebrated. For many families, graduation is a very special occasion especially if the person graduating is the first in their family to graduate from any school or waited until they were older to return to school and graduate.

Just as there are guidelines for all kinds of parties, our industry needs to teach more about the sensitivities of cultures and graduations. A search turned up many resources of cultural graduations being celebrated. This one was especially interesting.

With a focus on inclusion and diversity, the more we teach and learn the better.

Age Events

Beyond birthdays, cultures and religions have different celebrations.

In Judaism, there are bat, bar and b’nai mitzvahs, usually at age 13, though as this article from Tablet Mag shows, one can achieve the learning and celebrate at any age.

In Mexican, Cuban, Puerto Rican, Central and South American cultures, Quinceañeras are very special occasions for coming of age of young women.

Similar coming-of-age events are held among other cultures.

As our world becomes more diverse in its makeup and more people move about to live or work, our industry could teach “inclusion and diversity” much more broadly than it has so that those learning become familiar with others’ life events.

Engagement, Marriage and Divorce

Planning weddings is still the goal of many who enter hospitality.

Marriage has changed and now there are many specializing in same-gender marriages. Is our industry teaching enough about the language and customs to consider?

Divorce parties? Yes. Touchy ground depending on the circumstances of the divorce and those invited to attend. You can as I did search to find more information.

Why not expose those studying hospitality to all options for parties and events?

Retirement

A question often asked by colleagues: What’s the best way to honor a retiring CEO, board member, colleague or co-worker? With so many Baby Boomers either choosing to continue working or retiring, it is best to consider the person and the circumstances of their retirement—was it voluntary or forced?—when planning.

This article, simply titled “Retirement Party Ideas,” from U.S. News & World Report was the most thoughtful article I found about how to plan a retirement event.

Good Industry Learning and Teaching News

Mercyhurst University is planning a course that will include end-of-life events and hopes to partner with a funeral home to help this become part of the curriculum.

Read this related article for interviews with Peter Zohos of Mercyhurst University, Andrew Smeltzer of Geo. H. Lewis & Sons and Debbi Presley, founder of Party Planners Network.

Special thanks to Lynn Spachuk—a birth doula and death doula—for her invaluable guidance and to Marq Few, a birth doula and death-doula-in-training, for his thoughts.

And an extra special thanks to Fran Solomon, founder and board member of HealGrief, who helped me with my own grief over the death of friends.

Closing Note From Joan: None of the resources cited are endorsing any products, publication, person or service as a result of its use or citation.

Please add resources and comments below or send to me at FridayWithJoan@aol.com.

(I can also publish comments anonymously at your request).

This blog post is dedicated to the memory of Judy Flanagan, CMP, CMM, of Haddonfield, NJ, who died April 22, 2019. A CMP, CMM, and a past president of the MPI Philadelphia Area Chapter, she is missed terribly by many friends, family and colleagues.

May her memory be only for a blessing.