The events industry is getting ready for a new landscape as provincial and local governments country-wide lift pandemic-related restrictions on businesses and group gatherings. Recognizing people may be uneasy and even anxious about attending larger exhibitions like conferences and trade shows when they are allowed to resume, organizers and venues are taking steps now to impart consumer confidence.
“We have been preparing for a return of events by building a list of potential measures that sit under the cornerstones of physical distancing, cleaning and hygiene practices, and protect and detect,” says Patti Stewart, executive vice-president, Canada, at Informa Connect.
These enhanced measures, which together form Informa AllSecure, were developed in collaboration with associations, suppliers, contractors and other event stakeholders. They will be employed at all Informa events in addition to mandated municipal guidelines and any venue or location-specific regulations to satisfy attendees that the environment is safe and controlled.
Priority commitments include enhanced cleaning before, during and after events, with a focus on high-touch areas such as door handles, restrooms and food and beverage areas; supplementary hand-washing facilities and hand sanitizing stations; contactless registration; crowd control measures like a one-way traffic system, staggered entry times, and relevant signage and floor markings; minimizing self-serve buffets in favour of pre-packaged food; and pre-entry screening, where applicable, using temperature checks or thermal scanning. Attendees will also be asked to don a face mask on entry and contact tracing will be implemented, if necessary and subject to local privacy regulations.
“We will be conveying (these measures) in the run up to events, so customers can be assured of what will be delivered on-site,” says Stewart.
Similar to event organizers, venues are taking necessary steps to manage attendees’ apprehension and to reopen safely. For instance, the Toronto Congress Centre (TCC) has launched a program to ensure both physical safety and psychological well-being. Aptly titled Customer Health and Safety Ensured (C.H.A.S.E), it was created with the latest science surrounding sanitation practices and preventive technology, and addresses every aspect of the facility, says the TCC in a press release.
“I do not believe there is an ‘on switch’ for the economy to reopen but the onus lies with us to design a plan to keep people safe,” says TCC CEO, David Sutton. “Our C.H.A.S.E program is our comprehensive response to COVID-19.”
Measures the trade and convention centre is putting in place through C.H.A.S.E include electrostatic disinfection; a phase-in of automatic hand dryers equipped with internal ultraviolet light disinfectant; the application of antimicrobial long-lasting coating sprays on all high-touch surfaces; top-to-bottom host booth cleaning, when requested; and physical distancing ambassadors, among others.
The TCC is also pursuing Global Biorisk Advisory Council (GBAC) Star accreditation — the first venue in Canada to do so. Administered by GBAC, a division of the worldwide cleaning industry association ISSA, the performance-based program outlines best practices, protocols and procedures to control and minimize the risk associated with virulent agents like the strain of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Certification provides third-party validation that a facility has proven systems in place to deliver a clean and healthy environment that is safe for business.
“Through the program we will continue to lead our industry out of this crisis and hope to instil a sense of trust and confidence in our customers,” says Sutton.
On the other side of the country, the Vancouver Convention Centre has also introduced several precautionary measures. What’s more, because it was set up as an alternate care site in early April, as part of British Columbia’s pandemic response to free up critical care space in hospitals if virus spread worsens, the conference centre has even more robust protocols in place. They include regular recorded public address reminders of COVID-19 best practices and visitor management software that tracks the arrival and departure of all staff and visitors for contact tracing.
“Thankfully, it hasn’t been required to be operationalized to date but our role as an alternate care site (has) provided a strong foundation for us as we look to resume events in the future,” says Vancouver Convention Centre general manager, Craig Lehto, who adds the centre has begun to prepare to host smaller meetings that adhere to the province’s COVID-19 guidelines.
This has required the convention centre’s management team to adapt how they think about meetings and space, which Lehto considers a good thing.
“We very much look forward to when we can host large conferences and events again, but understand they might look a little different,” he says. “If we can come out of this with meetings and events that are even more considerate of elements such as guest safety and thoughtful space usage, it will only benefit event planners and venues.”