As vice president of venue services for tvsdesign, Erik Waldman, CVE, brings more than 20 years of proven experience overseeing guest services, operations and events at some of the country’s top public assembly facilities. Prior to joining tvsdesign, Waldman served as the senior director of special events for the Georgia World Congress Center Authority, overseeing special event operations for the top convention, sports and entertainment destinations in the world. Visit tvsdesign.com
The meetings industry around the world has undergone tremendous change since the introduction of COVID-19. Public assembly facilities have evolved from places that host large events to alternative uses such as makeshift hospitals, homeless shelters and meal prep assembly lines for tireless health care workers. With the events industry on hold as a result of COVID-19 restrictions, conferences have been either postponed, cancelled or pivoted to virtual events. As news spreads on trying to reopen the economy, public assembly facilities are working behind the scenes to recover from their alternative use and reopen with new procedures to make their venues safe. This piece is not meant to give answers on how facilities will reopen, but to provide thoughts on areas to hone your focus when tackling the audacious task of keeping patrons safe.
Dating back to the awful tragedies of September 11, 2001, the world as we knew it changed. As a result, venue security posture was heightened and never pulled back. Elevated security like metal detection when entering a sporting facility or K-9 bomb sweeps before opening the doors to a convention became the new normal. The resources that our industry associations are currently spearheading on COVID-19 will be presented to the federal government and likely become the standard for cleaning and sanitation. The approach will not be “one size fits all” but will at least lay an important framework.
The first thing that comes to my mind when broaching the subject of reopening from COVID-19 is cleaning. With all the surfaces that are touched in facilities, attendees need to know that venues are taking things seriously. Will new cleaning products introduced as best practices affect a venue’s LEED Certification? Will the companies that manufacture these products be able to keep up with the demand? If not, will venues have to shut down until the supply chain is stable enough to guarantee these products are always available? The uncertainty keeps venue managers up at night.
Recently, Hilton Hotels announced partnership with RB/Lysol and Mayo Clinic to elevate hygiene practices from check-in to check-out now called, Hilton CleanStay. Their team members will be trained to ensure their guests have an enjoyable and healthy stay. Venues will need to follow suit to have this experience transfer through to meeting locations. When attendees enter a venue, custodial staff will need to be clearly identified in front of house areas, wiping down surfaces and refilling guest sanitation products. Restrooms will need to always be fully stocked to give attendees the confidence that they are staying safe. Public relations teams need to tell of these organizational changes. If attendees are hearing and seeing elevated cleaning standards, they will feel at ease.
Enhanced cleaning protocols will also lead to increased expenses that convention centers will have to shoulder. These increased costs will likely be transferred to show managers and to exhibitors and attendees. As the security posture permanently increased from the attacks on September 11th, elevated cleaning processes cannot take a step back either.
When looking at the operation of a stadium or arena, searches at checkpoints are consistent. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, attendees would approach a gate ready to go through a bag check, then a metal detector before having their ticket scanned. These steps help these sporting venues achieve Safety Act Certification through the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Currently, the International Association of Venue Managers (IAVM) is working with DHS on a program called Secure Venue. This is the convention center’s version of the Safety Act Certification. With potential new temperature screenings for attendees entering facilities, I can see this step being introduced as part of the process for acceptance. Convention centers may need to limit the amount of entrances to ensure everyone is properly screened.
Many Questions Arise
As organizations are looking into the possibility of using temperature screening for attendees to enter their facilities, multiple questions come to mind:
• Does an elevated temperature translate to testing positive for COVID-19? If a person has an elevated temperature, are facilities going to be required to quarantine that individual? Will they need to deny them access and refund their entry fee?
• What will venue operators do with attendees who happen to be near a person with the elevated temperature? Do they need to deny them access too as they may have been infected?
• Will venues be required to employ a medical staff to handle attendees who may have an infectious disease?
• What are the privacy issues that need to be considered? Like filming an event for broadcast, will signage need to be posted outside the venue alerting attendees that they are agreeing to have their temperature taken if they want to gain access (i.e. forgoing their medical privacy rights)?
Venue managers are facing these questions as they contemplate reopening their facilities. They are all dancing the line of mitigating risk vs. opening for business.
As architects of these venues, tvsdesign is researching how design can be used to help protect venues. We are looking at materials that are easy to clean and look great. We are giving thought as to how attendees will circulate around venues and providing recommendations on how to socially distance. Tvsdesign is fortunate to have the health care sector as part of the firm. The principals from health care and public assembly are teaming up to talk through the future of design and infectious disease — another value-add that tvsdesign provides for their client base.
The Road to Recovery
I could go on with questions that our industry is facing. IAVM, along with other associations, is putting together task forces to help their members put best practices together for reopening. Go LIVE Together was recently established as an online resource and rallying point for a coalition of associations, companies and professionals as the events industry grapples with the sweeping effects of the pandemic and how to shape the road to recovery. Another resource for venues was recently published by Cushman & Wakefield titled “The Safe Six Checklist”. The checklist provides a great reference to establish easily digestible buckets to gather your reopening approach. Finally, The Event Safety Alliance just published a reopening guide that gives leaders information to support their venue type with reopening.
As venues look to reopen, there are many questions that need to be answered and resources to help. Venues should know that they’re not alone, and I encourage you to reach out to your partners and industry associations for help. And, certainly, do not hesitate to reach out to us for a guiding hand. If this quarantine has taught me anything, it is that face-to-face interactions are more important than ever. This pandemic will not stop the meeting industry. It will only make it stronger. | AC&F |