Keeping events going despite earthquakes and COVID-19 – stories from the travel front line

April 28, 2020 Amanda Greenwood

For one pharmaceutical firm, there were challenges with its meetings and events before the growing number of coronavirus cases led to further complications.

A managers' meeting was planned in San Juan, but when two earthquakes hit Puerto Rico, the customer decided to move the event to Miami. The meeting was taking place on the same dates, so these new bookings were several weeks later than usual.

In the meantime, the Travel and Transport Meetings and Events team started booking flights for a launch meeting in Las Vegas held by the same customer. “When we started these bookings, the flights started coming in hot and heavy, and were very highly-priced,” said Wendy Lillard, Group Travel Manager, M&E at Travel and Transport. “I worked closely with the event production company and the customer on assessing the costs of these tickets and figuring out how we would be able to get everyone to and from Las Vegas at a reasonable cost and time of travel.  We worked together for many long hours.”

The Miami meeting went ahead, and Wendy attended. She said, “When I got to Miami, I finally got to meet the customer and find out how wonderful of a person she is. After many days with lots of ticket changes and the addition of travelers and special guests to attend the Las Vegas meeting, we got to know each other a lot better. What a treat this was, you don’t always get to meet the planners and spend time with them.”

Then the coronavirus pandemic started to spread across the globe.  

The pharmaceutical company decided to proceed as planned for the Las Vegas meeting. The company’s CEO advised employees that they could cancel their attendance if they did not feel comfortable traveling. Approximately 110 people decided that they no longer wanted to attend under the new circumstances.

“But the show must go on,” said Wendy. “Again, I got to spend some great time with the customer as we worked our way through the week in Las Vegas.”

The day before the group was to travel home from Las Vegas, the customer called a meeting that Wendy and other event staff attended. Wendy wondered if the customer was going to fly everyone home a day early, but it was just a chance for the customer to say thank you. “The customer told us she was so happy to have had such a great team to work with as this was her first time doing this kind of meeting. Even with all the things that happened, earthquakes, changing of meeting locations, and COVID-19, she was so happy with both meetings and the business was excited with the success of the meetings,” said Wendy. “It was a great thank you meeting, and she even went to the trouble of handwriting each of us a note and giving us a bracelet." 

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