As one opportunity after another was canceled at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, Janelle Flay knew her days as a hotel event organizer were numbered.
When she was laid off, she moved on to property management. As vaccinations escalated and more people started hosting weddings, rehearsal dinners and other parties, Flay returned this fall to events held at Gatherings at Station 10 in St. Paul.
“The fact that I can start doing something I love again in a space that I find amazing is like a gift,” said Flay, of the events center at a former fire station on Randolph Avenue.
At a time when the holiday season is generally in full swing, the Minnesotans are celebrating once again. But as with the broader recovery of business and the economy, parties and events are only part of the way back.
Major corporate events are always closed. But small to medium-sized gatherings take place, often with hybrid options.
Many people feel comfortable with home parties this holiday season. Becky Scheig of St. Louis Park, resumes her annual holiday party this month after a hiatus last year and is expecting 20 friends.
“I think the home cocktail where you can limit the number of people and find out their immunization status is a safe bet,” Scheig said. “I think people are like, ‘Yeah, let’s do it!'”
The American Swedish Institute notifies potential event hosts that the venue is at 75% of its capacity to maintain social distancing and that a mask mandate exists.
“We’re not getting a lot of hindsight because everyone takes this seriously, especially with our recent bump here in Minnesota,” said Ingrid Nyholm-Lange, institute experience director.
At Gatherings at Station 10, Flay recalls a host requiring COVID-19 testing done on-site before entering a rehearsal dinner in the fall. “Another upcoming event is the demand for compulsory vaccination,” she said.
On a larger scale, Meet Minneapolis, which operates the Minneapolis Convention Center, is forecasting an above-average number of events in 2022 as some conferences that were postponed during the pandemic return.
Typically, Minneapolis sees an average of 33 major events per year. A large event is defined as exceeding 751 peak nights, the hospitality industry’s measure of hotel rooms booked for a specific event.
As of 2020, the city only had five major events, according to Meet Minneapolis, and 2021 will end with seven. For 2022, 30 major events are currently booked and six more interim events have yet to be finalized.
“The unknowns are things like the Delta variant,” said Brent Foerster, senior vice president of destination sales for Meet Minneapolis.
Ann Dunne, deputy managing director of US Bank Stadium, has seen the interest of local small businesses in business meetings and holiday celebrations so far, she said.
“There is obviously a lot of room here for them to spread out and be safe,” Dunne said. Next year, the stadium plans to host up to 30,000 business events.
But event planners will have to develop alternative plans and prepare for rapid changes, said Cookie Coleman, a Minneapolis-based event planner.
She organized a fundraiser for 200 people in a tent at a benefactor in September, which had been organized as a safer alternative to a much larger gala dinner. But as the number of infections increased during the Delta variant outbreak, she suspected it would be canceled – and in the end, organizers decided to go virtual.
John Cosgrove, of the web-based events platform VoiceHive, was hired to host an agricultural conference this year that is typically attended by 200 Minnesota farmers. The event moved to a hybrid format and was able to attract over 400 people.
“Suddenly a farmer in Minnesota is talking to a farmer in Brazil about best practices,” he said. “It wouldn’t have happened if it was just in person.”
The 6Smith Restaurant in Wayzata has been designed to accommodate groups of up to 74 people and owner Randy Stanley sees rehearsal dinners and holiday celebrations which make up 20% of his winter activity return.
“In my demographic studies and observing the market it appeared that there was a dearth of this opportunity and to survive the winter it would be essential to have this event activity and it turned out that I was right, ”Stanley said.
According to industry watchers, it’s more common in the future for venues or event hosts to require a combination of vaccines, tests, masks, or social distancing.
Under a mandate from the city of Minneapolis, the Minneapolis Convention Center requires people to wear face masks. The facility also underwent ventilation upgrades, Foerster said. He expects many large hotels and event venues to do the same to facilitate safer gatherings.
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