Meeting Mentor Magazine

June 2024

Good News for Meetings as States Reopen for Groups

California is the latest state to announce relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions to allow group gatherings, including meetings and events.

The news last week that California is planning to fully reopen its economy on June 15 — including reopening all venues to a capacity of up to 5,000 until October 1. Though there are caveats in place, such as continuing progress in vaccinations and reduced COVID-19 cases, compliance with ETS/Cal OSHA and masking, testing, and/or testing/vaccination verification for larger events, the news that one of the country’s larger meeting destinations would again be opening its doors to larger meetings was greeted with enthusiasm by the meetings and travel industry.

“I was excited to receive a note from my San Diego salesperson that their phone has been ringing off the hook since California’s announcement that they are opening to large groups. As soon as California says they’re going, we’re all going,” said Michael Dominguez, president and CEO of Associated Luxury Hotels International, during a Global Meetings Industry Day (GMID) virtual presentation hosted by Meeting Professionals International (MPI) on April 8.

He added, “That is really optimistic news for us as we start to see more and more states that are starting to announce open up.”

Related: The Future of Face-to-Face Meetings: View from the Top

“The governor’s reopening plan is tremendous news for some of the hardest-hit areas of the economy, especially the conventions and large meetings sector that has been completely shut down for 14 months,” said U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow. The state previously had been reopening on a county-by-county basis based on a color-coded Blueprint for a Safer Economy (for an update on specific counties, see the Blueprint Activities and Business Tiers Chart).

“California’s new guidance allowing such gatherings up to 5,000 people is in full agreement with current science and the CDC’s assessment that it is safe for vaccinated individuals to travel. Other states should follow this example of a science-driven reopening, especially as more and more Americans get vaccinated.” While he added that the news that the state will require international travelers to be vaccinated to visit the state was unnecessary since CDC already mandates that international travelers be able to provide a negative COVID-19 test, “On balance, California’s reopening guidance is a major step in the right direction.”

Progress Around the Country

But California isn’t the only state making progress toward bringing back in-person meetings and events. Georgia Governor Brian Kemp has announced that the ban on gatherings of more than 50 people was lifted as of April 8 — and there will be no limits on the number of attendees allowed to participate in conventions, as long as the meeting organizers follow the state’s 20 safety requirements. North Carolina also now will allow meeting venues to host groups up to 50% of capacity, with no cap on the total number allowed in the facilities. As of April 1, event venues in Virginia can operate at 30% capacity.

Dominguez, in his GMID session, said, “I think it’s important not to overthink this. For those of us that are old enough to remember September 11 2001, we thought it would change our travel environment forever. You fast forward 20 years and my TSA experience at the airport my security experience at an airport has changed. Not much else has. And I think that’s an important way to look at this.

Related: Travel Stamps and Vaccine Passports —Travel Necessities for Future Conventions?

“It’s important to realize we’re in that in between period where we’re not sure exactly where it’s going. It’s important to give us time” before thinking any pandemic-related changes to the industry will be permanent.

For those who plan international meetings and events, it’s important to do your homework, he said, because the vaccine rollout, COVID cases, and travel requirements vary considerably from country to country. While China and Korea have been successfully hosting meetings for quite some time, Japan’s uneven vaccine rollout has set it back when it comes to reopening for meetings and international travel.

Reopening Plans Good News for Job Seekers

Dominguez also said he expected destination reopening will be more of a floodgate than a trickle. “I think it will be a floodgate once we get the all-clear.” Which will be good news for meeting professionals who have been laid off or furloughed during the pandemic shutdown of meetings and events.

RelatedYes, You Can Find a Job in Today’s Depressed Market

But it’s a bit of a Catch-22, he said. “They don’t yet have the business to bring everybody back, but they need [those workers] back to get the business. I think everybody should be optimistic.”

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About MeetingMentor
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