Managing Extra Pandemic-Related Health and Safety Costs for In-Person Events

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The extra layers of safety that come with hosting events during COVID-19 also come with additional costs. Experts say some of the costs are being passed on to attendees, while in some cases, sponsors can offset fees through branding.

Events taking place during the pandemic have required an added layer of safety, which often comes with an added layer of expense. Those include costs for things like masks, extra signage, floor tiles indicating distancing, hand sanitizer, and even the costs of software or apps to help verify vaccination status.

Tim Turner, a COVID-19 compliance officer and executive producer for Freeman, said that organizations are adding the price of these extra safety and sanitation supplies into their meetings budgets.

“In the same process that you go through your meeting planning process and your budgeting process, that [COVID cost] just needs to be added to that,” Turner said. He said he’s generally seen fees for COVID-19 safety items raise the price between $25 to $50 per attendee, and some organizations will simply add the cost as a supplemental COVID registration fee, or up the price of their registration by that amount.

For those with vaccination requirements, there may be additional fees if the association outsources that vaccination verification process. That fee is typically paid by the association. However, when it comes to testing, fees are typically paid by the attendee, except in a few circumstances. One example is if the organization mandates onsite testing.

However, if organizations use a third-party vendor to administer optional onsite tests to attendees who would like to be tested, then any costs would be covered by attendees. For organizations that want a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of arrival, attendees would cover any costs involved themselves.

Ways to Offset Costs

Some associations have considered ways to creatively offset some of the costs related to onsite health and safety protocols.

“They’re branding masks, so they’re looking at those different opportunities,” Turner said. “There’s a lot of different options that people are doing to sort of pass along that cost, spread it out a little bit, and find other ways to make revenue to offset the cost of what [COVID-19 supplies are] doing to their budgets.”

Lewis Flax, founder of Flax Associates, a firm that specializes in strategic partnerships, said he has seen some associations do this. However, it’s not a slam dunk, as there are two schools of thought on this type of sponsorship.

“One is, ‘Yes, get your name out there’—whether it’s hand sanitizer, whether it’s masks, whatever it is related to that, go ahead and sponsor that because people are going to be using them; they’re going to be front and center,” Flax said. “The other school of thought is, ‘No way. I don’t want my brand associated with masks. I don’t want my brand associated with things that bring up a negative connotation, a negative image for people.’”

Flax noted that it’s important for sponsorships to align business goals. So, a partner who is a healthcare company might be keen to sponsor masks, whereas those with broader recognition goals who aren’t in healthcare might not.

“I don’t think there’s a right answer there,” Flax said. “If you were to ask some of the more advanced companies in terms of how they engage and how they activate their sponsorships and are focused in on their brand, they’re probably going to be very hesitant about those types of offers. Others, they’re probably going to be quite willing to do that.”

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