Piers Warne, legal director at law firm TLT, looks at three stand out operational challenges that will differentiate organising large-scale events in 2021 from any other year, past or future…

Expect the unexpected

The COVID roadmap sets out a path back to normality. However, because there are so many unknowns (such as spread of the virus, vaccination uptake and potential mutations), planning must be flexible enough to adapt if and when the roadmap and guidance change. As we’ve seen in recent months, quite substantial shifts in planning might be needed with little notice.

While this may sound daunting, remember that everyone is in the same boat. Expecting the unexpected is a sound principle in “normal years”, but in 2021 it is crucial. Compartmentalisation of the event management plan with a separate COVID management plan running in parallel will allow for adaptation of separate elements as needed, without having to change everything.

The key is to lead the way if adaptations are needed. Safety Advisory Groups (SAGs) will be keen for you to propose solutions, rather than feeling you are struggling to keep on moving.

Engage with attendees in advance

Have a well-honed traffic management plan? Happy with 2019’s queue management systems? One of the “givens” for this year is that getting people to your site, getting them in and getting them fed and watered will be a longer and slower process than before.

Expect people’s patience to wear thin if they are not pre-warned of potential issues. Ensure that marketing materials and pre-event updates to attendees give them as much information as possible on what to expect. Use technology where possible to streamline processes.

Wherever possible, gather data on expected travel plans, as they may well be different from previous years. Asking people to give you information about when and how they are arriving, for instance, will allow for advanced planning and potential staggering of arrival and leaving times to avoid significant delays and potential COVID mitigation issues.

Something for everyone

Perhaps the most difficult element of organising events this year stems from one simple premise: how do you keep attendees feeling safe?

Some eventgoers will want everything to look and feel like it was in 2019, before we all became aware of the concept of social distancing. For them, the whole point will be getting up close and personal with like-minded people. In their minds, the pandemic will be a distant memory and they will be looking to you to help them banish the misery of a year in isolation.

Others will have very different expectations. Some will have underlying health issues, or will not be able to get a jab and unless the government introduces vaccine passports, which is unlikely for non-international attendees, they will not expect to be discriminated against. They will expect you to adapt the event for them.

Recognising this, providing space for both types of attendee whilst giving a clear message as to what attendees can expect will be key to ensuring everyone feels safe, secure and happy.