Earlier this year, Travel Planners International (TPI) was preparing for an April event at the Sheraton Orlando North hotel in Maitland, Fla. It would be a two-and-a-half-day training for new-to-TPI advisors.
Then the coronavirus pandemic hit. TPI made the decision to move the event to July, said vice president of sales and marketing Jenn Lee. But as the spread of Covid-19 worsened, it became clear that a July event wouldn't happen. It was moved again, this time to September.
In June, Lee recalls saying to her team, "I don't want to move this again."
So she didn't.
But the type of event changed. What was originally a new-to-TPI training was opened up to all TPI advisors and turned into the Rockstar Rendezvous, a two-day networking and training event with 60 advisors, 14 suppliers (in person) and five staff members.
TPI sent out an email blast to its advisors, and Lee jumped on Facebook Live to talk about the event. It sold out in less than 30 minutes.
"Literally, while we were still on the Facebook Live, it was going 'ding, ding, ding,'" Lee said.
Desks at the Rockstar Rendezvous were socially distanced and attendees wore colored wristbands indicating their comfort level with personal contact.
It wasn't just Floridians, either. Attendees hailed from the likes of Washington state, Wisconsin, New York, New Hampshire and more.
Suppliers also quickly got on board. In total, 35 participated in some form, whether it was attending the event in person, attending via virtual one-on-one meetings or even just sending in videos as a show of support.
The response of the advisors who went?
"It was, 'Oh my God, thank God,'" Lee said. "It was kind of like going to a 20-year class reunion. You were just so excited to see people."
But holding an event in 2020 requires more planning than usual. TPI put in place a set of Covid-19 protocols. They were:
• Covid waiver on file for each advisor and supplier
• 6-foot social distancing
• Temperature checks each morning
• Directional markers
• Distance markers at each supplier table
• Marking a set of doors as "in" and another set as "out"
• Hand sanitizer at the entrance and exit and sanitizer provided to every attendee and supplier
• Spray sanitizer for supplier tables and suppliers tasked with spraying their table after each one-on-one encounter
• Wearing face masks all day (except by those presenting and when seated at a table)
• Socially distanced panel discussions
• Eating at assigned tables (plated and boxed lunches)
• Presenters were asked not to wander through the audience
• Sanitizing and switching microphones and PowerPoint clickers between each use
• Rubber gloves for staff when they interacted with multiple people, such as during check-in/registration
TPI also added another layer to ease any attendee concerns about being close to others: Each person was given a red, yellow or green wristband. Green signified the wearer was fine with close contact like hugs. Yellow indicated more conservative greetings like elbow-bumps were OK. Red signified the wearer preferred to keep 6 feet away from others at all times.
"We wanted to let people be comfortable with whatever they were comfortable with," Lee said.
Attendees took to holding up their wristbands as they approached others.
That way, Lee said, "It didn't make it awkward for those who didn't want to have any kind of physical touch whatsoever."
Lee said TPI could have held its annual conference virtually this year, as many others had done, but that didn't feel like the right fit -- instead it was canceled. The host agency is already planning 10 in-person events in 2021, the first in April. If Covid-19 is still a factor, Lee said, TPI is ready with the formula it used successfully earlier this month.
"We have the formula now, and we'll share the formula with anybody," she said. "And the formula is Covid protocols, obviously, but doing it -- giving people an opportunity to say yes."