Local Commentary

Guest Commentary: Essential to Remain Present, Collaborative in the Community

By Amberlee Huggins

Working with corporate groups to plan large international conferences, incentive trips, small VIP experiences, and everything in between, CSI DMC produced 540 events in the D.C. metro area in 2019. Amid growing concerns over the Covid-19 pandemic and the risk of transmission at events, our spring season, typically our busiest time of the year, has been turned on its head. At the time of writing, the local ban on public gatherings extended through the end of April, which in most cases means we are working with our clients to reschedule their meetings and events for the fall. This is a tough and uncertain time in the events industry, but we are not alone in feeling the pressure. As a destination and event management company, we work closely not only with our catering, décor, entertainment, transportation, and A/V partners but with local restaurants, museums, and small businesses — all of whom depend on a stream of tourists and corporate groups for a substantial portion of their revenue. This has been undeniably hard on us all.

We are in an unprecedented time. I’ve been in the hospitality and events industry for over 15 years and, throughout that time, have never faced the conditions we are seeing today. Here in the area and across many of our other destinations, restrictions on travel, bans on large gatherings, and guidelines put in place by top health organizations have made it impossible to go about business as usual. With the interests of our community front of mind, we are monitoring the situation and will continue following CDC guidelines. We believe that the best protection we can offer to our industry and our local communities is our active participation in efforts to slow the spread of Covid-19. Our internal practices have shifted to allow our team members to work from home and postpone all travel. Though necessary, it feels incredibly strange to encourage everyone to stay home when our day to day focus is on gathering.

As event planners, we are adapting to the changing landscape of the industry, supporting our clients as they transition to virtual meetings and handling each postponement or cancellation with an individualized focus. At CSI, there’s no such thing as a one size fits all event and no standardized offerings. We’re treating shifting programs with the same level of personalized attention we give to every stage of the normal planning process, seeking the best possible arrangement for our clients, our team, and our vendor partners. We appreciate the difficult decisions that our clients are facing and are committed to serving as their trusted resource. Managing expectations is a challenge. In every scenario, we are seeking the best solution for all parties involved, striving for balance between each set of needs. The uncertainty of this time has shown clearly that the spirit of partnership runs deep in our industry. Together with our partners, we are preparing now for a busy Fall season of regularly scheduled and rescheduled meetings and events.

Though there is no replacement for face to face connection, this time is also unprecedented in our ability to stay in contact and adapt to the changing face of events and business as a whole. Looking forward, we’re seeing new innovations for virtual meetings. Our vendor partners and team members are exploring fresh ideas every day, creating and sourcing enhancements for digital gatherings. We’re excited to showcase these offerings, from virtual scavenger hunts, to private streaming workout classes, to customizable online gifting experiences, both now and when meetings return to normalcy.

While we wait for the storm to pass, our team is looking for silver linings. While we are not able to gather in a traditional sense, we’re seeing our industry and local communities come together in inspiring ways. Our team has been fostering animals in need, looking after friends and neighbors, and doubling down on our commitment to be a resource for our communities. We’ve been in constant contact with clients, hoteliers, and vendors, rallying together to support each other however we can. The mindset is very much one of stepping up to help. Internally, we are finding new ways to stay in touch. Several of our destination teams have hosted virtual game nights and happy hours, sharing the recipes for their favorite cocktails and setting aside time to keep the working culture of CSI tight. As a normal practice, those in leadership roles travel frequently. The recommendation to remain home has allowed them to reconnect with their teams and tune in to corporate missions like “CSI in the Community” and, of course, to spend more time with their loved ones.

We are wishing everyone in the D.C. metro area and beyond safety and health as we move forward. Now more than ever, it’s essential to be a present and collaborative participant in the community. Though the way we come together has changed, the commitment we feel to facilitating connections has only grown.

Amberlee Huggins is president and chief marketing officer of CSI DMC..