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Keep it Moving

Safe attendee flow involves flexibility, creativity and clear communication

By Wendy Helfenbaum

In-person meetings now require more planning than in the pre-pandemic era, including how to move people into, out of and through your event. We asked three convention centre pros how they’re helping planners keep their guests safe and comfortable.

Give Delegates a Heads-up—Early and Often

Event flow works best when attendees know exactly what to expect when they arrive on site. Clear communication about check-in procedures and evolving safety protocols helps avoid chaos, says Brian Oliver, US and international corporate sales manager for the Vancouver Convention Centre (VCC).

“It’s all about integrating safety into the fabric of the event from day one,” he says. “Then, your event app can send out push notifications and updates to attendees, such as letting them know registration is busy right now, so take a five-minute walk and come back.”

Stagger Arrival Times and Designate One-way Entrances and Exits

Set up self-serve check-in kiosks where guests can print badges or scan paperwork completed in advance, so lineups and contact can be minimized—or offer online registration so attendees can choose an arrival time. Having staff on hand to break up bottlenecks and gently move people along is also crucial, adds Jeff Totten, senior event manager at the Halifax Convention Centre.

“We’ve done scheduled arrival times and multiple zones for groups so we didn’t cross over with each other, so if the gathering limit was 50, I could potentially do an event of 150 in my ballroom if all those zones had separate entrances, exits, washrooms, food and beverage,” he explains.

At Ottawa’s Shaw Centre, teams sometimes move check-in areas outside the meeting space. “This allows us to expedite access into the building and manage large queues,” says director of sales Carly Grace.

Make Signage Engaging

Clear directional signage throughout the venue—including decals on the floor, eye-level posters and digital screens overhead—helps people move through hallways and breakout rooms safely, notes Totten.

“It needs to be bold, bright and fun,” says Totten. “Our sister facility, the Scotiabank Centre arena, has signs saying masks are required on and off the ice, with a tongue-incheek goalie mask and medical mask side by side.” Consider making different-coloured signs for entrances and exits.

Inform guests about touchless technology, adds Grace. “For example, the railings of our escalators have a UV ionization system that ensures they’re clean,” she says. “The washroom sign explains the no-touch flushing and hand faucets.”

Choose Flexible Room Set-ups and Assigned Seating

It’s challenging to design rooms where people feel safe yet share one experience, notes Totten. “We do open-ended oval or round tables and cabaret seating or assigned seating. Right now, we’re seeing a lot of classroom and hollow square, which lend themselves to distant set-up,” he says.

Some venues, like the VCC, have widened tradeshow floors to give people more space, and laid out guided walking paths, says Oliver. “All safety information is available onsite via QR code and communicated to guests as they arrive,” he adds. “We’ve encouraged reduced capacity at tables and our catering partner implemented tableside ordering: You scan a QR code to order food and beverage.”

Grace suggests pre-established delegate seating or daily announcements encouraging people to keep the same seat for the day.

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