How To Host A Safe, Socially Distanced Event During COVID-19 In 2021

Maggie Korte

Now that we’ve been dealing with COVID-19 for nearly a year in the US, leaders in the events industry are getting creative so that we can return to doing the things we love with the people we love. In 2021, many Event Organizers who had to cancel in 2020 will be eager to start planning and executing their large-scale events once again. That being said, the health and safety of both staff and attendees will be of huge importance for most Event Organizers as COVID-19 is still prevalent. As this is uncharted territory, many are wondering how to host an event that will allow everyone involved to feel comfortable.

We chatted with the folks at Arizona Events Group who hosted a successfully safe & socially distanced fall-themed event in late 2020. With their help, we put together a list of advice to take into consideration as you begin planning your event during COVID-19.

1. Give Yourself Ample Time To Prepare

In other words, don’t rush planning an event in this time when people’s health and safety are at risk. Add a month or two to the timeline it usually takes to plan for your event in case any new, unforeseen challenges arise. With safety guidelines changing more often than not, it’s probable that you’ll need to revisit the drawing board more than once.

Another important but time-consuming piece of advice, says Nanette Duncan of Arizona Events Group, is to “overthink things.” You’ll need an extensive COVID-19 Compliance Plan to run by local and state officials, and it’s possible that they’ll ask you to make improvements if you’re not thorough enough. In order to avoid any unnecessary back-and-forth, take your time carefully considering every little detail that may need to be included in your plan.

2. Over-communicate

According to Nanette, this applies to before, during, and after your event. Your event in 2021 will probably look different than it has in years past and in years moving forward - and that’s okay. And while most of your customers probably already know this, it’s pivotal to communicate it to them clearly and frequently anyway.

Manage the expectations of your customers before they buy their tickets so that they fully understand what they’re signing up for. For example, maybe you’re cutting your vendor list in half for your beer festival this year since you can only host half the number of attendees. Avoid complaints by explaining to your guests ahead of time that they may not see their favorite vendors this year at the festival. Or, maybe, you’ve decided to go cashless to minimize germ transmission; make sure this is clearly stated on your website and on signs throughout your event.

Additionally, make sure attendees know what COVID-19 guidelines will be in place and that they are expected to abide by them. Many events have started to require that customers sign advanced waivers to ensure that everyone’s on the same page when they enter the event. The CDC recommends educating both attendees and staff members as to when they should stay home.

Once your customers have arrived, remind them once again what the health and safety expectations are. Consider having greeters and monitors throughout the grounds to remind attendees to abide by the guidelines. Nanette and her team placed signs throughout their outdoor Fall Fest with friendly reminders to customers to stay socially distanced and keep their masks on. This helped to keep their customers safe and prove to county inspectors how committed they were to hosting a safe event.

3. Carefully Plan Your Event’s Infrastructure

Nanette and the team at Arizona Events Group knew early on that infrastructure would be key to hosting a safe, socially distanced event. Start with finding an outdoor venue with plenty of space for your attendees to walk around, safely away from others not in their party. Then, spread out your vendors and entertainment with ample spacing to avoid lines and crowding.

The Arizona Events Group team also placed free hand sanitizing stations all over the grounds, encouraging their guests to use them as often as possible. While it was common to see hand sanitizing stations at outdoor events pre-COVID-19, it will certainly be expected by your customers now. Along these same lines, consider having disposable masks readily available in case a customer needs one. It’s the little details like this that will help to make your customers feel safe and comfortable.

The best way to know if the infrastructure of your event is safe and socially distanced is to give it a test run. Invite your staff, friends, and family to go through the motions of what you anticipate the actual event will be like. This will help you test out the precautions you have worked hard to put in place and will help minimize any mistakes that might happen when your real, paying customers start showing up.

Lastly, consider a live-streamed ticket for customers who aren’t ready to attend a large-scale event yet. With step-by-steps instructions, EventSprout makes live-streaming simple and convenient.

4. Consider Group Seating or Staggered Entry

Many Event Organizers have been wanting to take extra precautions for large events with thousands of attendees. The solution for many of those Event Organizers as they look forward to 2021 is group seating or staggered entry.

Group seating is the act of assigning parties their own specific, mapped out section within the venue. This section could be anything: a picnic table, a sandbox, a parking spot, or even just a patch of grass. Most importantly, the sections should be separate from each other. With clear labeling, plenty of spacing, and outstanding communication, this method can be highly effective at keeping different parties socially distanced and comfortable.

Staggered entry is also an option for events that have no main event, like food or beer festivals. With staggered entry, groups are admitted to the event on intervals. For example, you may let one group into your beer festival every 15 minutes, setting them free to go down the row of beer vendors in order. By implementing staggered entry, you’re allowing friends to go through the experience together while keeping them safely away from the groups who enter before or after them.

5. Sell Advance Tickets Only

Minimize contact by getting rid of your box office altogether. Make your tickets solely available online -- not only will this motivate your customers to purchase their tickets early (which is always a great thing for Event Organizers), but it replaces the need for any sort of transaction between two strangers at your entrance. Not to mention, focusing strictly on online sales helps you keep a close eye on exactly how many tickets you’re selling, which is especially important when you have strict capacity limits due to COVID-19 safety guidelines. To make your online ticket purchasing process simple and easy, check out our blog post on how to sell tickets directly from your event website.

Additionally, consider going cashless within the event. When your customers are only using their credit cards or mobile devices to make purchases, they won’t have to hand cash directly to someone else, helping to minimize germ transmission throughout your event.

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