Though it may feel like it at times, the COVID-19 pandemic won’t last forever. When life returns to some semblance of normalcy, many industries will have new protocols and procedures in place. The events and venues industry is one that's been hard hit by the pandemic. Large groups of people gathering together are deemed unsafe for the time being. When in the future these events are allowed, even if it is in the distant future, what can venue planning professionals do to protect attendees? Here's what Johnson & Wales professor and online instructor, Lee Esckilsen, predicts what will likely change in the event planning space in the post-COVID-19 world.
Before the question, how will venues need to operate differently to meet the needs of the public health during COVID-19, is answered, it should be established what public assembly venues and their management do.
Venue managers have two significant responsibilities every day they open the doors of their venue for an event. First, they must strive to provide a safe, secure, and clean environment and now after COVID-19, a sanitary environment, for the guests, sports & entertainment participants, and the venue employees. Second, they must endeavor to provide an exceptional event experience for both the guests and the event participants.
If the guests, participants, and employees do not feel that the venue is safe, secure, clean, and sanitary they will not return. If they also do not think they will have an exceptional guest experience, they will not come back.
These two significant responsibilities that venue managers have are the same regardless of the type of venue that they manage (stadiums, ballparks, arenas, theaters, amphitheaters, convention centers) or the type or an event that is scheduled in their venue.
Once venues have convinced the public that they will be safe in the venue and their guest experience will not be diminished and they begin to attend events, they will see changes in many areas.
What Will Events Be Like?
The changes may start in the venue’s parking lot. Vehicles might be directed to park in every other space diminishing the capacity of the parking lot. There is also a possibility tailgating at football games and other events may be prohibited.
At the entrance of the venue, in addition to the requirement for guests to go through a magnetometer for metal detection, they may also have their temperature checked by infrared technology or simply a non-touch handheld thermometer. Also, at the entrance guests will not put their cell phones and keys in a small box to go around the magnetometer. Another method is yet to be determined to maintain the “touchless” environment.
Also, at the entrance guests will continue to have their e-ticket scanned. The use of hard tickets or paper tickets will probably be prohibited.
Finally, guests may be asked to wear masks as they enter the venue and while they are inside except for the instances when they are eating and drinking.
Once the guests are in the venue, they may immediately see staff instructing them to follow the markings on the lobby and concourse floors that show them which direction to walk so that there is a flow of people in the common areas to alleviate congestion and promote social distancing.
Guests will also be asked to social distance in elevators, escalators and bathrooms which will slow down the movement of people within the venue during ingress, event breaks (intermission, between periods or half-time) and egress.
Food & beverage and concession stands
Guests will also immediately notice as they approach food and beverage areas, or a concession stand that event staff are monitoring guests and asking them to socially distance as they wait in the lines.
The next thing they will notice is that all items on the menu will be pre-wrapped or pre-packaged. After ordering their food guests will also notice that condiment stands are missing. Guests will probably be given small packets of mustard, ketchup, relish, salt, and pepper as they are served their food.
Another difference will be how people pay for their food and beverage. This process will be predominantly “touchless” and “cashless”. Guests will pay for what they order using one of the many electronic payment systems or a traditional credit card.
Premium seating (clubs and suites)
In the premium seating areas, guests will notice venue staff servicing the suites and clubs will probably be wearing masks and gloves. In these areas, much like the concession stands, food and beverage will most likely be prepackaged or pre-wrapped.
General seating areas
The general seating area will be the most significant challenge for public assembly venue managers. Keeping guests separated by social distancing regulations and best practices such as seating guests in every third seat and every other row will significantly decrease the capacity for venues. In some cases, the limited number of seats that are available for sale may financially preclude events from being profitable and therefore will not be booked.
Also, at the end of an event, venue staff may systematically allow seating sections to exit the venue to allow for social distancing. This may considerably slow the process of egress and aggravate some guests.
Cleaning, cleaning, cleaning
One of the most important and visible challenges for public assembly venues as they begin to reopen after COVID-19 will be cleaning, cleaning, cleaning. Prior to the pandemic, venue cleaning staff were usually dressed in discrete uniforms and trained to clean common areas while the event was in progress and out of sight of the guests. In the future, the cleaning and sanitizing strategy will be to have a significant amount of cleaning staff in the venue during the event in visible uniforms so the guest will feel confident the venue is kept clean and sanitary while it is occupied.
Finally, numerous hand sanitizer dispensers will widely be dispersed in the venue so that people can constantly clean their hands.
Normal for Now
As time evolves, the best minds in science and medicine will develop a vaccine and medication to subdue the symptoms of COVID-19, unfortunately, this may be many months away. Until then, guests will be asked to stay home if they have COVID-19 symptoms. If they are healthy and attend an event in the venue, make sure that they are wearing a mask. For the foreseeable future, this may be the new normal.
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