How to Host an Event During COVID-19

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How to Host a Meeting During COVID-19

By Beth Buehler

Are you planning a meeting or event during the Covid-19 Pandemic? Many organizations are finding themselves in the same quandary. How do you successfully host an annual business event that people are willing and eager to attend during COVID-19? After discussing, brainstorming and partnering with Aspen Chamber Resort Association, host venues like Aspen Meadows Resort and various partners, Destination Colorado elected to move forward with its annual Customer Appreciation Event (CAE) on Oct. 7 – 8, 2020. The format was similar to past years with each detail carefully curated to ensure COVID-19 awareness and safety without sacrificing the integrity of the experience.

I was fortunate to be among the approximately 50 in attendance and am pleased to share how it worked.

The Promise

First, planners and suppliers who signed up to attend were assured the gathering would be filled with energy, fun, and inspirational ideas for the future. Also, I might note, it’s always a great networking event. Email communications with attendees emphasized, “We are committed to your safety while attending the Customer Appreciation Event and ask all attendees to promise they are symptom free for at least 10 days prior to coming to our community.”

On the flip side, the host outlined all Aspen is doing to keep people and events safe and included a postcard in welcome bags, along with a buff and face mask from two of the sponsors. “As a community we have promised to abide by the Five Commitments of Containment to curb the spread of the virus and help us keep Aspen open: We will maintain social distance, we will wash our hands often, we will cover our faces in public, we will stay home if we are sick, and we will seek testing immediately if we experience symptoms.”

Attendees were required to e-sign a liability waiver prior to arrival, have their temperature taken at registration using a contactless Spotlight Temp Station (very handy), and agree to wearing a face mask at all times except at seated meals.

Event registration in Aspen Meadows Resort's Madeleine K. Albright Pavilion.

The Great Outdoors

It couldn’t have been a more beautiful two days in Aspen with fall foliage at its finest and amazing temperatures, which allowed nearly all events and activities to be held outdoors.

The Marble Garden at Aspen Meadows Resort was the perfect gathering spot for a property tour and welcome reception, with house-made biscotti pre-wrapped in bags and tasty cocktails (with local spirits or as mocktails) served in to-go cups. Earlier in the day, attendees were invited to schedule optional tours at other local properties with meeting and event space, including The Little Nell, St. Regis Aspen and The Gant.

After the welcome reception, attendees were divided into four groups for a historic tour, with three groups walking and one group utilizing the local WE-cycle bike-sharing program, which has a bike rack on the Aspen Meadows grounds. Tour guides from the Aspen Historical Society led participants on a historical journey through the light-filled meeting space overlooking stunning fall scenery at Aspen Meadows and town to an evening reception/dinner in the spacious courtyard of Hotel Jerome.

A Laura Werlin-inspired wine and grilled cheese pairing for all participants kicked off the evening followed by rotating activities done in small groups, including chef-led food stations, tours of Hotel Jerome, and the opportunity to try out International Gifting Company’s microsite and select a gift. Seminar-style seating allowed everyone to face the stage and grilled cheese cooking demonstration and provided plenty of space between attendees. As the sun set, strings of white lights illuminated the courtyard for a perfect conclusion to the day.

Thursday, after breakfast in one of the function spaces at Aspen Meadows Resort, attendees headed out for pre-registered activities including hiking, a Jeep adventure, Taste of Aspen food tour, and plein air painting. The event wrapped up with lunch at Limelight Hotel Aspen.

Welcome reception in Aspen Meadows Resort's Marble Garden featuring house-made biscotti and mocktails or cocktails made with local spirits.
Learning how to use Aspen's WE-cycle bike-sharing program before embarking on a history tour.

The Reason Why

“It was time for our industry to come together in person. The Customer Appreciation Event showed our clients and members how we can meet safely for business events, share best practices, and energize our industry as we lead the way in Colorado to start booking group business again,” says Janie McCullough, executive director of Destination Colorado.

Key to making the event happen during the pandemic, in addition to local hosts and sponsors, were the suppliers who hosted meeting and event planners.

The bottom line is events like this can succeed with both organizers and attendees working together to keep everyone safe and healthy. Will you have to change the usual format? Most likely. Will you need to get creative? Certainly. But we’re all up to the challenge if it means meeting in person again.

A toast to meeting again at the evening reception held in Hotel Jerome's spacious courtyard. Seating was seminar-style for comfort and spacing.

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.