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The 100 Guests: 5 Wedding/meeting planning tips to consider during coronavirus pandemic

This article is written following the recent “Address to the Nation”, (an informative periodic address) by the president of Ghana, His Excellency, Nana Akufo Addo. The turn - out -to -be Sunday night briefing brings the public up to speed on Ghana’s response to the global pandemic.

The president's 10th national address to the people of Ghana was largely expected to touch on new measures on the restrictions on public and social gatherings. As an event professional in the hospitality industry, I see the hospitality industry, especially the events industry at large, being the hardest hit during this season. Though many sectors of the hospitality business are beginning to pick-up, the events industry is suspected to be the last to recover.

Although many events stakeholders like myself were hoping the restrictions on social gatherings of not more than 25 people at a sitting be entirely revoked, the president outlined a proactive measure to gradually ease the restrictions on social gatherings by announcing starting from 5th June 2020 a social gathering sitting can host up to 100 guests with strict adherence to safety protocols as outlined by the Ministry of Health (MoH) in collaboration with all health and safety stakeholders.

As an events professional, I will be sharing 5 wedding/meeting tips to consider when planning an event, factoring all the necessary safety measures while producing a flawless and luxurious event.

The essence of this article is to encourage hospitality and events businesses as well as our clients, both existing and prospective to resume business. The hospitality industry thrives on social/business gathering activities, hence the need to encourage its customers to resume doing business with us. Like the health minister said earlier in one of his submissions, coronavirus has come to stay, hence the need to strategize and plan towards living and doing business within these times. Though these restrictions have a severe impact on businesses, it’s also the best time to plan small but glamourous events with exciting rates. Having said this, let’s dive straight into the topic.

Venue & Security

In my recent article on security in the events industry, I treated several tools, processes and procedures to incorporate security protocols before, during and after producing an event. In this chapter, we would look at security with another lens; COVID-19 safety and health measures when planning your dream event. With the observation of 6 foot apart sitting arrangements, an event space that would comfortably seat 100 guests at a banquet can sit only about 50 or less and about 40 or less for theatre setups, hence the need to choose venues carefully. It’s advisable to do a detailed floor plan assessment to ensure your venue of choice can seat your number of guests comfortably whiles observing strict safety and hygiene protocols.

It’s also advisable to consider venues or locations that naturally help with crowd control or management as well as multiple amenities and structures that guests would usually come in contact with, for example, washrooms, stair railings, elevators, doorknobs among others. Choose venues that have double hallways to single for hotels and better ventilation. Avoid venues with poor ventilation as it can be a recipe for COVID-19 disaster.

For outdoor venues, create a parameter for the event to make sure you can control the crowd as well as practice strict safe distancing and hygienic measures such as the washing of hands with soap under running water before a guest checks in or using at least 70 per cent alcohol base sanitizers as recommended by the Ghana Standards Authority (GSA).

Number of Actual Guest

As exciting as ‘maximum of 100 guests’ may sound for a client, for the event planner you are actually looking at 70 guests tops for a wedding or social gathering. The reason being, for an event planner your actual invited guests are 60, your overflow guests are 10, your waiters are 6, caterers are 5, drinks and beverage attendants or bartenders aka mixologist s are 2, ushers 2, a master of ceremony, DJ, security and crowd control officials, 2, event coordinators 2, cake and treats services, among other important activities a social event cannot do without depending on the details of production, all add up to the numbers.

For corporate events, the maximum guests I encourage are 70 when using a well spacious conference facility. You would need at most 10 working staff comprising of the master of ceremony, ushers, waiters and food servers. Note that you should always have at least 70 - 80 guests for overall persons of either of these events; because the greater your number of guest the greater your risk and exposure to getting the virus.

Budget

Yes! Though this is a sweet time for customers as most events planners are already worried about the cut in numbers, don’t be deceived with the notion ‘the larger the numbers, the fatter the profits whiles the smaller the numbers the least the profit’. I have done smaller events that fetched more profits than larger events, and the reason is this. Smaller events have a good budget to afford and embrace most creative and stylish ideas making the event smaller but glamorous when it comes to weddings and most social events. Clients tend to seek quality and astonishing outcomes and so spend more on quality food, drinks, décor, and many more.

Of course, some clients will take advantage of the season and do a ‘simple’ event with reasons to avoid the cost that comes with hosting a huge number in terms of food, logistics, décor, and other events services among others. It’s then necessary for the events player to modify and revise the business strategy to make the business lucrative. It’s the planner’s responsibility to market packages instead of itemized cost. A well-developed package of product and services will ensure you don’t lose out whiles producing a befitting event that suits clients heart desires as well as their budget. While developing these strategies, know we are in desperate times as competitors will be tempted to accept offers they wouldn’t have accepted before.

Timing & Activities

It’s very important to observe the timing of production as well as activities to be carried out during production. It would be sad to hear a guest contracted coronavirus after attending an event or meeting. This will have a negative impact on the industry as it will scare off prospective clients who are taking the risk to do their events during these times, and also inform the government and its stakeholders to enforce a more severe sanction on the hospitality industry. It is, therefore, necessary to devise more creative ways of carrying out activities during an event production.

Many of the traditional/ generic ways of planning an event program would have to change affecting the time duration. Activities such as group dancing, buffet activities and others would have to be revised to observe safe distancing and hygienic measures. The longer guests stay during an event, the higher their risk of being infected by persons who might have contracted the virus but have no signs or symptoms showing. Again, the longer the guests stay, the more often they would have to use amenities like the washrooms, exposing themselves to the greater risk of getting the virus.

Ensure you outline a clear safety and hygienic processes and procedure in the handling of logistics and other services during the setup of activities. During the setup phase of event production, staff would usually come into contact with items like crockery, chairs, table cloth, and other items that come into personal contact with the guest. It’s the responsibility of the quality control team to observe a more effective and achievable means to ensure our guests are not exposed to risk during the event. Disinfect and sanitize all tools, equipment and items that would usually be used by more than one person, if possible assign tools and equipment to all/specific team members to ensure a well hygienic and safe working environment.

Turn Every Stone

Be curious and ask yourself a couple of questions and scenarios that have the potency to exposing a guest or staff to COVID-19 and prepare accordingly. Screen all working personnel both internally and externally to ensure you are clear on all the health conditions of staff, provide handwashing and sanitising centres at visible points and provide sanitizers for guests, entertain no last-minute changes and setups as it has the capability to escape strict safety and hygienic protocols, create a safety awareness by putting up signs of safety and hygienic protocols at main entrances, washrooms and advise the master of ceremony to remind guest as much as possible in creative ways to keep strict social distancing.

In conclusion, be vigilant and ensure all production team members report any unusual activities of guests and staff which can endanger the production. Have the emergency line; +233 55843 9868/ +233 50949 7700/ 112 in mind should the worse happen. Take proactive and reactive decisions to ensure the safety of all productions as it has the capacity to blemish the image of your organization and brand.

On this note, I wish all the players in the hospitality and events industry the very best in business and hope the entire restriction on social gathering will be removed for the betterment of the industry. God bless our homeland Ghana and make us great and strong.

In my next article, I will talk about “The 5 common mistakes that need to be avoided when planning an event” I will outline the nitty-gritty on all the factors to consider to avoid the common mistakes most events planners do when producing an event. It promises to be fun and insightful both to the event planner as well as the client.

Thank you for being a great advocate of this publication. Stay with us and enjoy the numerous benefits in the events industry as I treat important subjects in the events planning and management business.

Columnist: Ishmael Kwasi Hanson, hospitality and events professional