By Beth Buehler
As elected officials on local, state and federal levels release plans that gradually return life back to normal after COVID-19, groups will be making important decisions about when to start gathering again. Many meetings and events have been postponed to the last half of the year, and some planners find themselves searching for new in-state meeting locations while searching for dates available. New business is being booked but perhaps on a bit smaller scale or in a hybrid fashion that allows some to attend from afar via technology. And face-to-face meetings can’t come soon enough, at least once it’s safe!
However, I feel like one point in the conversation has been missing. How far will groups be willing to travel and what form of transportation will they be seeking as we ease back into meeting in person? It’s not a question of if it will happen (Zoom calls are nice but I’m ready to sign off for a while), it’s a matter of when and what it will look like.
If I had a crystal ball to look into future, I’d expect to see meetings and events being held closer to home for a while and gatherings perhaps divided into regions instead of a big group connecting in one place in 2020. That means both planners and suppliers zoning in on drive markets for a period of time.
Colorado is poised to serve that market well since there are so many great properties, activities, destinations and opportunities to go outdoors. It’s a bucket list state for many business and leisure travelers, plus Coloradoans like to spend a fair amount of leisure time exploring their own state. Also, there is a fair amount of crossing borders between the Centennial State and Utah, New Mexico, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Arizona.
Here is a quick checklist for meetings that are staying closer to home as the days of COVID-19 impact ease up.
How far are attendees willing to drive? You may already know this based on feedback from prior meetings, but it may have changed with COVID-19. So ask! Send out a quick survey or ask in a board or team meeting if you are trying to schedule a retreat for example.
Are there alternate forms of ground transportation that would be acceptable? Again, it might be wise to see if people would ride on an Amtrak train or charter bus if several attendees are traveling from the same location. Again, a good question for the short survey.
Check a map and see what destinations fall within your chosen radius. You might see communities you’ve never thought of before but have the ability and experience in hosting groups such as Loveland or Golden for example. Like always, it will depend on the number of people expected to attend. Reach out to local destination marketing organizations and check their websites; it is usually quickly evident if they have the capacity and interest in hosting meetings and events.
Destination Colorado’s website is helpful in this regard as well, as it is one central site that has destinations, lodging properties, venues and other suppliers that serve the meetings and events industry, saving time from time-consuming internet searches. One of the best features is the fact that a contact, contact information and website is listed for each destination, property and service provider and there is an easy RFP process to reach out to several entities at once.
Consider bringing your group to two destinations. With drive markets, it also can work to have city and mountain meetings (like Denver and Winter Park). Or visit two mountain towns that are near to each other, like some combination of Copper Mountain, Breckenridge and Keystone all in Summit County.
Another fun idea includes a couple days at Gateway Canyons Resort & Spa in tiny but beautiful Gateway and a couple days in the heart of wine and orchard country in the Grand Junction area just to the north. There also happens to be some great golf courses there! Attendees often like the chance to experience two destinations, and both experiences could be a mix of meetings and activities or host the meetings in one community and have team-building, community service projects and fun outings in the other.
What will be acceptable in terms of meeting size and activities? As mentioned earlier, it seems like people may want to get back into the swing of gathering in smaller groups, which opens up the number of venues and destinations that can host. Get creative and look at somewhere new. Attendees might appreciate it. Or maybe it’s time to drill down into very specific topics on certain days, break the meeting into sections so that not everyone is getting together in one big space, and have a progressive dinner that involves a variety of restaurants within walking distance or different themed meals scattered throughout a hotel.
Colorado has all sorts of great outdoor activities year-round, and it just seems natural that people may prefer interacting part of the time outdoors so that people can spread out and shake out the stay-at-home blues that likely have hit all of us at one time or another.
You’ll probably want to add more things to this checklist, but these five things to consider will get the ball rolling as meetings stay closer to home for a while after COVID-19. Destination Colorado members stand ready to assist meeting and event planners as we all work toward meeting in person again!
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.