We did it! And thank goodness it went well and was a success. Each year we learn new things for the following year.
This year was a whole new book of learnings! Our plans changed frequently along the way, and even our ‘worst case scenario’ penned in March 2020 turned out to be not quite bad enough! Our plan to ‘go hybrid’ was met with a lot of questions and scepticism back in the Spring. Some suggested we were over-reacting, that November was so far away. Others were more blunt and just said we were crazy to even contemplate running an event during 2020. There were times when the team and I had to reach deep for our inner craziness to find the energy to plough on. At times, everything around us seemed so bleak as many other industry events were postponed or even cancelled completely.
Despite a sea of gloom, we were also surrounded by hospitality business owners who were pulling innovative ideas out of the bag to help keep their ventures afloat and their staff employed. Inspired by this, I remained determined to stay positive, to support the industry and prove that it could be done. Thankfully I had the commitment of the HOSPA team who were unwavering in their grit, their sense of purpose and we all remained upbeat throughout.
This sense of purpose was maintained, in part, by constant encouragement and support from our sponsors. We are so grateful to them for believing in us and for staying loyal to HOSPA. They were patient with us as our plans chopped and changed. It’s one thing signing up to a hybrid event, where we envisaged having 100+ delegates live in the studio and broadcasting to the wider audience, to going almost entirely virtual. We wasted hours with the hotel team working out how many people we could accommodate in a ‘live’ environment. But these calculations were all based purely on social distancing, rather than the Government cap of 30 delegates that we had to work with in the end.
Despite its enormous challenge, at least we knew where we stood when that rule was put in place – although we were always on the alert for amendments to that number of 30. Some days we feared that it may decrease – and our plan of having a small group of sponsors and most of the speakers present on the day would have had to be addressed.
Other days we dared hoped that it would increase – but to no avail. With worry an overriding thought, a constant source of comfort throughout was confidence in the venue. We felt so safe working with The Royal Lancaster London. We were lucky to already be booked in at the hotel, which had also taken the plunge by installing its Extended Reality Studio. Their management team wanted HOSPACE to go ahead as much as we did. It would be interesting to add up the number of work-hours spent on our regular weekly meetings.
We would make a decision one week only to have it kyboshed by factors outside our control the next. But with the hotel team’s support and enthusiasm we made it! And I believe both parties, HOSPA and the Royal Lancaster, will be eternally grateful to each other for making it happen. In terms of a run-through, we had just one rehearsal in the studio at the hotel, just over a week before. If anyone was thinking of following our lead - I would suggest this was the game-changing day, without which we would have had a significantly bumpier ride on the day itself. From my view, it was certainly worth the investment in time and money.
To wake up on the 19th November and know that all the key figures were fit, healthy and raring to go gave me an enormous energy boost. We had over 450 delegates registered from all around the world which was encouraging. In the run-up to our 10am start, everything was on track, the lights were up, the cameras were on – the tech was all lined up.
My colleagues wished me luck as the tech team counted down, two minutes until live, one minute until live, 30 seconds to go. “Stand by Jane, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6 and… stand down, get a glass of water”. What?! No…..! A key server had fallen over in the US and we had to delay the start. For the first five minutes of our 10-minute delay, we had no idea how long we were delayed for. But we were soon back on track, the day had started and we didn’t look back! The rest as they say…is history. At least it certainly was for HOSPA, HOSPACE and, dare I say it, the Royal Lancaster London.