Meeting Mentor Magazine

March 2021

NACA Braves the COVID Storm to Hold In-Person Convention

By Joelle Ward, CIS

While most of us dread hurricane season, it’s prime time for action for the National Association of Catastrophe Adjusters, who in 2020 had to deal with the most active and the fifth costliest Atlantic hurricane season on record. Once the season is well past, they gather for their annual convention in January each year to network, learn, and most importantly, to make the important one-on-one connections they need to further their careers.

But, with the COVID-19 storm still raging last fall, the convention planners had to make a go/no-go decision. It wasn’t even close.

NACA President Jarrod Roecker said, “The main reasons NACA decided to move forward with the NACA convention, in my opinion, is that, 1) true networking needed for our members to gain employment is done in person in professional and casual environments which cannot be effectively achieved in a digital format, and 2) our nonprofit organization has one large convention a year as our primary revenue source. At this time, our organization is dependent on this convention for survival.” Adjusters also need to get the continuing education credits to re-certify, which is an additional benefit of attending the conference.

A Change in Venue
While the convention was originally scheduled to be held in Las Vegas, the group realized in the fall that Las Vegas wasn’t going to work for their needs due to limitations on meeting group sizes, which at that time were no more than 250 people in any one space.

There was no way to know how large or small the event was going to be. On one hand, the members have just come off a busy year due to the large number of hurricanes, which always bodes well for attendance. On the other hand, with the pandemic raging across the country, NACA was unsure how many people will want to take the risk of attending the convention. But if the turnout did reach more than 250, the idea of creating several separate meetings to accommodate the city’s limitations just wasn’t financially or practically feasible. They were able to negotiate rebooking their meeting at the Vegas hotel for 2024 to avoid breaching their contract and starting looking for other options.

Texas and Florida, which at the time had the least restrictions on in-person events, seemed to be the best options for NACA’s in-person convention. NACA quickly pivoted to Orlando, where they were able to find affordable rates at the Orlando Hilton. While January normally is high season in Florida, the hotel, which is connected to the convention center and ordinarily would charge $300/room night rates, offered NACA rates of $100 — and waived attrition and cancellation fees, giving NACA a sense of security in knowing that if they did have to cancel at the last minute, they wouldn’t be facing big financial repercussions. The hotel also waived its resort fees, in addition to offering complimentary parking and restaurant vouchers. The meeting space and rooms were exactly what NACA was looking for.

NACA also had to examine its budget, because room sets were going to be different and would greatly increase AV costs. Rather than the traditional large screen in each meeting rooms, the rooms were set sideways with two screens. NACA worked closely with its AV partner to add these additional resources while keeping the costs down. Numerous calls were held with the hotel’s convention services manager, the AV representative, the electrical representative and the internet provider, so that everyone understood NACA’s objectives for holding this event, and they all worked together to make it happen. Communication was key in making this happen, and NACA was able to keep AV $2,000 below the original budget.

Kicking into High Gear for Safety

Once it was decided that Orlando was a go, NACA kicked into high gear in determining what steps they needed to take to make their in-person convention both successful and safe. The first order of business was to recreate the exhibit hall floor plan. GES, NACA’s exhibits vendor, came up with a “sawtooth” plan that allowed space in between each booth. Single booths were connected only by one corner of the 10×10 booths. Exhibitors with double booths, to their delight, had no other booths around them. Especially because they do one-on-one interviews in their booths, they wanted privacy.

Because the one-on-one interviews were taking place throughout the week, NACA ordered sneeze guards for each of the 40-inch, star-based tables in the booths, and the interviews were set at 15 minutes each to limit exposure. All of the tables also had a bottle of hand sanitizer. Arrow floor decals were ordered to guide attendees along one-way aisles, with one entrance and one exit, and refreshment breaks were separated in the back of the hall to limit congestion around the coffee urns.

At registration, counter-wide sneeze guards were added to protect volunteers and attendees, and stanchions were erected to require a single line. “Stand Here” floor decals, with NACA’s logo, were placed six feet apart and started six feet from the registration counters. While NACA did hand out meeting bags, the volunteers were fully masked when assembling the bags, and NACA limited the materials to be included in the bags. Meeting signs addressing safety protocols also were set up in the pre-function area alongside convention signage.

Communicating with Attendees
NACA began notifying attendees of safety precautions well in advance of the event. They created a special section of the convention website called “Keeping You Safe During the Pandemic,” which included information about staying safe, a code of conduct NACA was asking all attendees to follow, and a detailed program instituted by the hotel that outlined cleaning and safety measures it implemented for the safety of its guests.

Once participants started downloading the convention’s mobile app, NACA sent push notifications to remind them about wearing masks and keeping distance at the event. These were repeated as more participants signed onto the app in the run-up to the convention. The same information posted on the website was included on the mobile app, and attendees were reminded during the event about staying safe.

Attendees also were asked to report back to NACA if they become ill after leaving the convention. While there is no way to guarantee a COVID-free event, NACA did whatever it could to allow attendees to gather to conduct their business.

Creating Safe F&B Events
Food and beverage played a huge role in creating a safe environment for attendees. The welcome reception was held outdoors, and because the contract was negotiated to eliminate bartender fees, NACA was able to add an additional bar set up to facilitate shorter lines. Because the hotel’s catering menus were more expensive than what NACA was accustomed to, and because there was limited seating (to accommodate networking, high boys were scattered around the outside space), the food was selected to allow for “easy eating.” The traditional cheese platter turned into individual small plates, for instance, that held a variety of cheeses and crackers. They also gave attendees two drink tickets to reduce lines at the bar stations.

The tables for lunch started out bare, with just rolled up silverware on the tables. It made the room look stark compared to the nice designs hotels usually provide during meals, but given the COVID situation, there were no complaints from attendees! The desserts were set up individually on side tables.

NACA also ordered grab-and-go boxes in the exhibit for one of the lunches, which helped limited additional contact.

While the food and beverage was more expensive than what they were used to, NACA worked with sponsors to make up the difference.

Exceeding Expectations
While NACA anticipated drawing 250 attendees, there were a total of 407 check-ins during the convention, and NACA exceeded its room block — because of the nature of their business, attendees needed this event to happen. More than 1,000 individual meetings were held over the four-day event (which we know because they were arranged through the mobile app), and those were done as safely as possible.

“Attendees absolutely benefited from attending the convention,” said Roecker. “The relationships made at NACA conventions change people’s lives. Adjusters looking for work get a chance to get past the veil of the internet and not just be a resume on the computer screen but actually meet decision makers in person,” he said.

“For many, the NACA convention gets them work and income-producing opportunities that they would have only dreamed of prior.”

Joelle Ward, CIS, a Global Account Executive with ConferenceDirect. She can be reached at joelle.ward@conferencedirect.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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About MeetingMentor
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