After over a year of the industry hosting exclusively virtual events, travel companies were finally able to meet again in person when Cvent hosted its CONNECT Conference in Las Vegas in early August 2021. The conference gave attendees an opportunity to network with other hospitality professionals to discuss event planning best practices, planning technology, and tips for event recovery.
This year, Onyx had several colleagues in attendance, including Tony Wagner, senior vice president, commercial & strategic relationships, Hayley Kenslea, vice president of marketing, Jim Casale, vice president, product management, global payments, and Dee Thomas, director of product management, and we’ve caught up with them to get some insights into their experiences from the conference.
First, what did it feel like being at an in-person event after such a long time?
HK: It was great to be back! The Forum at Caesar’s Palace is a brand new venue. It was very modern, spacious and felt like the perfect fit for the size and scope of this event. The Cvent attendees and showrunners did a great job of following precautions. Masks were required indoors, and were provided everywhere. People were clearly excited to be reunited with colleagues they hadn’t seen in some time. Overall, there were general feelings of joy and excitement at returning.
DT: Yes — It was nice to be back in front of people and out from behind the Zoom screen, although Cvent also offered a hybrid option to enable remote participation to those who needed it. There was more opportunity for a personal connection before jumping into a business discussion.
TW: Liberating! If was my first conference since January 2020 and the opportunity to engage directly with customers, industry peers, and partners was truly energizing.
How did attendees appear to respond to being at the conference?
TW: Relieved, energized & cautiously optimistic. First, I felt that those in attendance were thankful the worst appeared to be behind our industry. Secondly, nearly all conversations were forward-focused, centering around how our industry and their companies prepare for increased demand, new customer expectations, and how they’ll support both with the reality of fewer staff in the short to mid-term. Optimism was extremely high in the first two days of the conference and a bit more cautious on day 3 as the impacts of the Delta Variant on recent Q4 event bookings started to set in a bit.
HK: Again, there were general feelings of joy and excitement, with everyone willing to say hello and meet new people. The events were well attended and exhibition hall was full.
DT: With the strict mask policy in place for Vegas right now, everyone was compliant to that extent and seemed to adjust well to wearing them during conversations. One thing that Cvent did was make accommodations for individuals who didn’t want to sit at a big table with lots of people by providing more socially distant seating (small table with just a couple of chairs in a separate room). The other thing I thought was a great idea was they provided badge ribbons with indication of how the person felt about interactions with others, eg. “Elbow bumps”, “I give hugs”, “Handshakes accepted”. It was a lighthearted approach but effective.
The evening events were also a nice opportunity to connect with people on a more personal level, which you don’t seem to get as much through phone and video calls.
I have to say the biggest benefit of meeting face to face again is the opportunity to strike up a conversation with someone you don’t know who works for a company with which you aren’t familiar. This is something that has less likelihood to happen in a virtual setting.
As expected, safety and security have become top concerns for consumers since COVID-19 arose. What can be learned from Cvent CONNECT 2021 in terms of how to host successful hybrid events with the backdrop of an ongoing pandemic?
First, in order to inspire confidence with meeting attendees, planners and venues will need to take steps to ensure that everyone feels that their health is not endangered.
- Clearly outline safety protocols. While many people are enjoying the perks of being in-person, there are still several individuals who have reservations about some of the pre-COVID norms. When planning an event, be sure to point out what your team is doing to ensure attendee safety. This can include limited crowd sizes, mask and/or vaccination requirements, availability of sanitizer, or – as many companies have begun offering – best practices regarding social distancing and greetings.
- Automate as much as possible. Event attendees are already used to automation during the registration process, but in these times, it would be beneficial to include automation in event execution. Planners can set up digital check-in and check-out, or utilize QR codes to access certain areas or meetings. In addition, on-demand presentations or speeches can be presented in hybrid form to give attendees more information without requiring additional face time at an event.
- Provide packaged food and beverage options. Rather than cafeteria or buffet options, pre-packaged food and beverages can be used to minimize contamination and can help speed up cleaning efforts.
- Continue offering a virtual experience to those who cannot join in person. While nothing compares to an in person experience, hybrid events offer the flexibility of remote “attendance” to those who may not have the ability to make the journey to the conference location.
What were some of the key takeaways from the conference?
DT: For me, it was seeing the Cvent roadmap, learning more about their products and more about how they are used by their customer base.
There was also definitely a focus on what Cvent is doing to support virtual and hybrid meetings, given the current ”new normal” of life since early 2020. As is the case with many companies, necessity drives innovation and they have really developed a lot of new technology in a short period of time to support the virtual attendee. I’m excited to see these new plans come to fruition.
TW: Three items come to mind:
- The ability for the M&E industry to pivot & embrace virtual & hybrid meetings and how the investments made in 2020 & 2021 will advance the industry’s standing and long term recovery
- Reggie — Cvent’s CEO — highlighted the rise of the ‘Fourth Pillar, the Continuous Event, where digital content and engagement continues for extended periods of time. Not only is this a great ROI for marketers, but to me, an opportunity for the M&E industry to raise their value and monetize supporting ongoing content creation and engagement.
- Although tactical, a great reminder on how to look good participating virtually through lighting and camera placement!
What do you think is next for meetings and events?
TW: A return, heavily, in the first half of 2022 on in-person events. I think interpersonal relationships are important and most – but not all — attendees and executives holding events will want to return in-person. However, there will likely be pressure to continue to expand virtual hybrid offers to increase reach, reduce costs (for CFO’s) and accommodate virus concerns.
This is definitely going to be a shift for planners and host hotels, but the market will require it in order to reassure customers. There’s already so much technology out there that can help us ease into things — think contactless payments and immersive virtual event experiences — and new solutions are popping up every day.
Finally as stated earlier, I agree with Reggie that the industry has an opportunity to develop a continuous event approach with ongoing content & engagement. Let’s seize the opportunity
How can Onyx’s GroupPay help in this “new normal” for group meetings and events?
JC: Onyx’s GroupPay solution was developed specifically to help M&E professionals automate aspects of registration and accelerate receipt of commission payments. Many of our clients have stated that transaction matching and reconciliation were large pain points and that’s become more pronounced as flexible cancellations and rescheduling have become the norm. Plus post Covid, liquidity and acceleration of cash flow are top of mind across all sectors of travel and hospitality.
Our tool helps minimize these issues and gives better insight into how events are performing and where commission payments stand. When coupled with other receivable best practices, we see GroupPay as an important ingredient to address the new reality brought on by Covid, while risk proofing receivable processing for the next time an industry impacting event occurs.
TW: Jim hit it well, but I’ll drive it home. For Agencies – it’s capturing more commission revenue, reducing the time to receive your earned commissions, and enabling staff to be re-deployed to managing increased event demand instead of manually capturing line-item invoice detail and chasing commissions. For Hotels — it’s reducing manual working processing group commissions, reducing payment cycle time, and improving visibility to partner performance. Onyx’s GroupPay solution can help your business scale back as the needed demand returns!
If you’re ready to see GroupPay in action, contact us today to schedule a demo.