In late October, 35 meeting planners from around the state gathered at Kentucky International Convention Center. Sitting far apart and wearing masks, they gathered with over 100 other event profs who joined them virtually. They were all invited by Louisville Tourism to learn about the city’s new capabilities in hosting hybrid events exactly like the one they were attending. True to its Kentucky bourbon roots, the name of the event was Barreling Ahead.
“The event drew nearly 140 registered attendees, giving planners an opportunity to hear industry experts discuss national trends as well as see Louisville’s safety adaptations with regard to the Global Biorisk [Advisory Council] accreditation,” explains Cleo Battle, COO of Louisville Tourism. “Despite the challenges 2020 has brought our city and nation, Louisville has adapted and is ready to welcome back convention business.”
With the chance to showcase the GBAC STAR accreditation at both KICC and Kentucky Exposition Center, site tours of outdoor spaces like Fourth Street Live! entertainment district, and loads of current education—including David DuBois, president and CEO of IAEE, discussing the future of the meetings industry—both in-person and virtual attendees were able to experience how a hybrid meeting looked in Louisville.
“Barreling Ahead was a great opportunity to showcase how our facility can deliver events that are both safe and effective. For the past several months, we’ve focused on upgrading our cleaning protocols, earning GBAC accreditation. Additionally, we recognize technology’s key role in the future of events, adding a streaming studio to complement our state-of-the-art conference theater,” says Blake Henry, general manager of KICC.
In early December, Discover Dunwoody (Georgia) also hosted a small FAM for meeting planners from Maritz Global Events, showcasing some of the incredible things the local hotels and destination partners have done to offer a safe meeting place in this upscale suburb of Atlanta where State Farm and Arby's have massive headquarters.
“Maritz was scheduled to have a client event in Dunwoody and had to cancel due to the pandemic,” explains Steven Schumacher, director of sales at Discover Dunwoody. “So I invited the Maritz team to come together and see how we could host a safe meeting into 2021 and beyond.”
The event was named WeConnect Again and allowed the Maritz team of planners to gather in person—some planners came from as far as Florida and Texas—to stay at the chic, new Hyatt Place Atlanta Perimeter Center and see its meeting capabilities. But it wasn’t just the Hyatt team that was thrilled to have them there.
The whole of Dunwoody was excited to have the planners in attendance. Schumacher arranged for the planners to hear what other hotels in the area were up to and assess the city’s COVID-19 Risk Management Plan for themselves. Discover Dunwoody used some of its CARES ACT funds for tourism to host the planners and show them what Le Meridien Atlanta Perimeter, Crowne Plaza Atlanta Perimeter at Ravinia, Atlanta Marriott Perimeter Center and Sonesta ES Suites at Perimeter Center were up to during the pandemic. Even the mayor of Dunwoody came to talk to the group. “In Dunwoody, all the hotels work together to help one another out,” said one hotel sales representative during the event, while all the other hotel reps in the room nodded enthusiastically. This virtual FAM tour shows much of what the planners were able to see in person.
“It was awesome to have a group meeting again,” says Schumacher. “We showed we can meet in a safe way if the proper planning is put into effect.” Schumacher also showed off local businesses and their group meeting capabilities. Pre-wrapped grab-and-go breakfast items from Alon’s Bakery and cold-pressed juices from Arden’s Garden were both present in the meetings. “We’re ready to host groups,” says Schumacher. “I hope we showed that to them during this experience.”