While continuously adapting, we are proud to have made it through the hardships of countless event cancellations and closures over the past months. We have been able to adapt and focus, and now we may see another opportunity to pivot, beyond virtual events. In the months ahead, health authorities speculate that the event industry will soon begin to thrive again. But how soon, and in what capacity?

Although the number of reported cases in Canada are slowly decreasing, it is difficult to imagine indoor gatherings of more than 50 people before Canada Day. Considering the pace of the vaccine rollout, I do not expect to see indoor gatherings of more than dozens until this summer. However, we may see larger outdoor gatherings around that time. Celebrating Victoria Day with an extended family BBQ should be nice way to kick-off summer.

Control Requires Flexibility

We have been counselling our clients to wait until September for indoor gatherings of more than 50 people. This also helps us to be in control – we want to continue to be predictive and flexible, rather than reactionary. It seems safer to plan for the fall and gain a sense of control, as we listen to healthcare leaders both domestically and internationally. On many recent occasions Dr. Anthony Fauci has mused about large groups attending sporting events the second half of this year.

I am very hopeful about whether it will be safe to gather come Labour Day and beyond. I’ve seen plans for events with groups of hundreds indoors and events that require travel as early as September and October 2021. We are actively working with our clients to plan events in many Canadian cities as early as mid-September. We will not make any contractual commitments to venues or formal announcements to association members before April.

Read The Pandemic Presents Opportunities for Partnership to learn a bit more about pandemic planning.

Hopes for Q3 & Q4

All the uncertainty about what will come in the second half of 2021 is allowing for a lot of flexibility. We are not being pushed my hotels or convention centres to sign contracts, rather they are happy to “pencil-in” dates and to look at contracts in the spring. Association members know that it is hard to make commitments now and are showing their willingness to wait on event news. Some of this willingness to wait on the part of members is due to the fact that so many hope that we can meet in person again soon.

Certainly, vulnerable populations will be vaccinated in the next three to six months. In Canada, the vaccine rollout has had a slow start, and we are still uncertain how it will impact events. Some of the general population will have to wait for six months to receive the vaccine. That’s fine, but we must remain patient and responsible until we can safely gather once again. If there were ever a time that I want to believe a politician it is now, I hope that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s insistence that all adult Canadians who wish to be vaccinated by September is indeed true.

As you think about your association’s return to in person events, consider how a regional roll-out might help national associations. Reducing the need to travel, at least initially, will be a key selling point. How will you manage capacity limits that are likely to remain in place for the balance of the year? Have you thought about starting with outdoor events like a golf outing or patio networking event? Lots to consider and now is the time to plan.

Read my colleague’s article, How Association Leaders Can Boost Morale During a Pandemic to learn how to get the best out of an association’s membership during a crisis.

Today’s Planning Leads to Long-Term Success

Our approach is to plan today for a safe return to events in the second half of the year. We don’t want to be caught flat footed when the time is right for these events to return. The planning work that we do now will be valuable should things be delayed.

Personally, I am very excited about the prospect of having family and friends over for a barbeque come Spring. We are all looking forward to gathering and sharing among our families, friends, and communities. Hopefully, we will arrive there in 2021. Until then we will continue adapt and deliver signature virtual events for our clients.