Seniors locked out of new norm meetings

CHIANG RAI, 29 May 2020: Seniors 70 years and older can forget shuffling off the Bangkok Skytrain platform to attend a new normal business event in a post-five-star hotel nearby. They are banned according to Thailand’s latest Public Health Guidelines on hosting meetings.

Two digital guidebooks, outline measures for hosting exhibitions when they are allowed and the other meetings that are currently limited to no more than 50 people. They spell out the requirements that will govern how meetings will pan out in Thailand over the remainder of the year once the emergency decree is lifted.

Stopping seniors in their tracks at the door of a meeting venue is just one of the assignment facing a new breed of security officers responsible for health safety. Most measures will increase costs considerably for event organisers.

Events marketing expert, David Barrett, forecasts that the advent of new pricing structures will be “a bloodbath” as event venues and hotels battle for market share, but the new operational guidelines will also create major cost increases for event organisers.

“We are talking about a ballroom that accommodates 300 people having a maximum of 90 to 100 people according to the new safe distancing rules,” he said noting hotels were already considering “social distancing surcharges to add to the per person quotes for meeting space.

In the past hotels would have packed 300 delegates in a ballroom for a day-long conference charging around THB1,800 per person. Now they will face the dilemma of how to charge for 90 delegates and still earn the same revenue.

In addition, the cost of running the event, providing health amenities and cleaning a venue to meet much stricter guidelines will raise costs.

So we will leave the elderly 70 years old standing at the door denied entry and seriously miffed to concentrate on the journey delegate will embark on to embrace the MICE industry’s new normal just around the corner. Here’s rundown on some of the requirements.

Screening measures

Thermoscan checks at all entrances to the venue.
Verify identity by checking visitor badge with ID card or passport.

Differentiate the registration forms and visitor badges for delegates from no-risk areas and people travelling from high-risk areas within the last 14 days.

Reduce touch point exposure by online pre-registration using a QR code, scanning, facial recognition or mobile phone pre-registration to eliminate queues and close contact with event staff at the check-in counters.

In the venue

Ensure a minimum physical distancing of at least one metre in the aisles, and at counters where delegates queue.

Divide exhibition space into 50% booths and 50% aisle space or one visitor per two sqm.  No more than 1,250 visitors at a time allowed in the hall. Crowd control must be in place to queue visitors when the number exceeds the specified limit.

Open windows and doors whenever possible to make sure the venue is well ventilated.
No aisle carpets allowed in the exhibition hall.
Have HVAC system (conference room 6cbm/hr/sqm).
Create a floor plan of booths to illustrate that the minimum 1.5-metre distancing rule has been applied.
All exhibitors, visitors and staff must wear face shields or masks.

The event organiser must provide hand sanitiser gel kits throughout the venue. Delegates should be reminded to wash hands frequently, avoid physical contact such as shaking hands.

Hire full-time staff to frequently clean bathrooms and ensure a high standard of hygiene in all public areas.
Provide drinking stations with disposable cups.
The same strict physical distancing must be maintained in restaurants at the venue.
No Buffet meals.

Networking

Minimise face to face discussions.
Provide high-speed internet service to support the use of communication technology and reduce the risk of face to face conversation.

Meetings and seminars

Arrange room layout to have a distance of 1.5 metres between seating. Participants to bring their own notepaper, stationery and drinking water containers.

Reduce the distribution and touchpoints for paper items such as business cards, newsletters, brochures by using mobile or tablet digital presentations.

When seats are full, do not add more seating. Standing in the conference room will be prohibited.

Create a distance of five metres and above between stage and audience seats.

Stage set up to have not more than four people and seats arranged for a distance of at least 1.5 metres.

Microphones for participants to use during Q&A must be cleaned between use.

Travel

Provide information about travel routes and methods of transportation that reduce the risk for participants.

When using a shuttle bus, the seating should comply with the 1.5-metre physical distancing rule.
Vehicles must be cleaned before and after each transfer.

Screen body temperature before passengers board the vehicle and provide enough hand gel dispensers in the vehicle.

Health

A well trained medical unit must be stationed at exhibitions and large scale events.
Provide a separate area for those having infection symptoms and have in place measures to call a doctor if needed.

Communications

Organise advance briefings for staff to clarify and train personnel for new normal measures.
Prepare a new normal manual and distribute to all concerned parties.

Notify new measures to visitors before they register online, and have a message to confirm acknowledgement back to the organisers that they understand the measures.
Give information about travel routes and public transport.
Inform delegates of international travel measures in the case of participants travelling from other countries before or after the conference.

Health records

Conduct risk assessment and check heath records of all personnel working at the event 14 days before the start of their first working day at the venue site.
Health records to be kept for one month from the last show day.
Have one main coordinator for public health in case a tracing investigation is required. The records should be copied to the organiser of each event and also to the venue’s management.

All these measures will ultimately add to the cost of hosting events, admits Barrett although at present the emergency decree limits the size of meeting groups to just 50 people.

“We may see hybrid events that feature a smaller group of delegates meeting with a much larger audience attending the event online,” Barrett commented.

Whatever the outcome for Thailand’s MICE industry in the long term, once bigger meetings are allowed to convene, he warns of a blood bath on rates to capture domestic meetings starting in June and possibly through to October.

As for the international meetings market, it is too early to forecast when it could recover. It will depend on commercial airline travel resuming based on bilateral agreements to allow travellers from low-risk countries to visit Thailand once more. Nothing should be taken for granted as long as there is neither a cure nor a vaccine for Covid-19.