We have a lot to catch you up on since our last article in November! As we’ve mentioned many times throughout the pre-event planning process, the key to executing any successful event is FLEXIBILITY.
As we headed into December, just two weeks out from conference, Omicron hit the U.S. The new strain of the virus was highly contagious and posed a potential risk to in-person travelers. It was clear we needed to re-address our Safety and Security plan and make some adjustments. As is always the case for event planners, our top priority is the safety and security of our attendees. It was also important to reassure them that we would put precautions in place to keep them healthy prior to the holidays and to communicate the plans so they knew what to expect when they arrived in Las Vegas.
In this case, the pandemic was the driving force that caused a last-minute change of plans; however, all events require planning teams to be agile and flexible to address unexpected obstacles that will surely arise.
1. STAKEHOLDER ALIGNMENT
Before communicating anything to attendees, we first needed to align with our conference stakeholders, HR partners and legal counterparts to develop a strategy. We agreed the best course of action was to require all in-person (U.S. and international) attendees to provide proof of a negative PCR test prior to arriving in Vegas. This was in addition to our original requirement of proof of vaccination.
2. VENDOR PARTNERSHIP
The decision to test 750 people was made TWO WEEKS before conference. Needless to say, that seemed to be a tall task, but it was actually much easier than we initially thought. Our conference planning team did what we have encouraged our customers to do over the last 1.5 years – refer to the Hilton EventReady Playbook! In the Wellness / Medical chapter of the Playbook, we have a link to Event Planner COVID-19 testing and health screening resources. In this resource document, there are several vendor partners who provide testing and health screening, and our procurement department has already worked with these vendors on negotiated pricing. We used this resource and were able to quickly contract with Global 7 Diagnostics COVID-19 Testing to help facilitate the distribution of PCR tests to all U.S. based attendees. We worked backwards to ensure we built enough time for G7 to ship tests out to attendees and for the return of the tests, via FedEx, to the testing lab, so that the attendees could receive their results before flying out to Las Vegas.
To communicate all these changes to attendees, we took a two-pronged approach. First, we deployed an email from leadership detailing the updated protocols and necessary steps to complete PCR testing. Secondly, we held a COVID-19 Omicron Q&A call with attendees to answer any questions regarding the process and onsite procedures.
4. ONSITE CONTINGENCY PLANNING
With pre-event planning and communication completed, we turned our focus to ensuring the safety of our attendees onsite. Upon arrival, everyone received two complimentary, at-home test kits to use at their own discretion. For attendees who were unable to get their PCR test completed in time, we also provided rapid onsite testing.
To prepare for the possibility of an attendee testing positive while onsite, we developed contact tracing procedures and identified the appropriate group of stakeholders to be informed. We paired this with pre-composed email communications – one for informing close contacts and another for the broader conference audience.
5. POST-EVENT CONTINGENCY PLANNING
Mirroring our onsite communication contingency plan, we developed post-event communications for situations where attendees informed us of testing positive after returning home. We took a consistent approach in contact tracing, stakeholder identification and email communications. This allowed us to close the loop on any virus spread that may have originated onsite.