While a high-profile glass conference announced earlier this year for Tacoma has been postponed, other bookings continue to move forward, according to a local tourism representative.
The reshuffling reflects an industry trying to balance coronavirus concerns to avoid superspreader events with continued bookings to keep the industry and, in turn, the regional economy afloat.
The Glass Art Society’s international conference scheduled for May 2021 is now scheduled for May 18-21, 2022.
The society is partnering in organizing the conference with Travel Tacoma – Mt. Rainier Tourism and Sports and the Museum of Glass.
“The international contingent is a strong one at the festival, so the organizers had to make a tough decision with all the uncertainty around international travel,” Matt Wakefield, senior communications manager for Travel Tacoma, told The News Tribune in an email Wednesday.
The decision was first announced to participants in September.
The society’s 2020 conference planned to take place in Sweden was canceled earlier this year, replaced with a virtual conference as the first waves of the pandemic hit worldwide.
Another virtual conference is planned for May 20-22, 2021.
Other plans continue to move forward.
“There have been a few meetings and events that have postponed or rescheduled from the first half of 2021, but overall, we’re seeing our usual mix of sporting events, corporate business, association and government meetings,” Wakefield said.
“Right now, that means we have 14 large events booked for the first half of 2021, with a total of 11,000 expected attendees and more than 7,000 room-nights. We’re continuing to book meetings for 2021 and beyond, starting with regional business in the short term,” he added.
The bookings are following plans set out in the Greater Way Forward, posted online by the Greater Tacoma Convention Center, which outlines “flexible” booking guidelines through the end of the year, anticipating bookings for larger events next year.
“As we book, we’re using the flexible booking guidelines, safety procedures, venue upgrades, and staff training that are part of the Greater Way Forward,” Wakefield wrote.
Organizers of the glass event contend it’s worth the wait.
“We are so eager to gather together and celebrate our 50th anniversary, but it’s not worth the risk and uncertainty that still hovers around COVID-19,” said Brandi Clark, executive director of the Glass Art Society in its announcement in September. “We are choosing to view this as gaining an additional year to make sure the Tacoma conference is truly something special.”
“With these larger international conventions, we’re often talking about years of work between the lightbulb going off in someone’s head that this would be a good fit,” said Dean Burke, President and CEO of Travel Tacoma – Mt. Rainier Tourism and Sports in the Glass Art Society news release.
“In this case, with both a conference and a destination that are true to the cultural roots of glass art, we knew we had to make it happen no matter how long it took.”
Flexibility in event bookings amid COVID-19
As Pierce County specifically and the nation in general has seen rising cases of COVID-19 post-Labor Day, rebookings and reschedulings are now baked into venue planning.
The Greater Tacoma Convention Center is working under the state’s Safe Start reopening plan, which now allows business meetings of up to 200 people or 30 percent capacity per room.
That format includes smaller gatherings such as business meetings, testing and educational events.
This week, more details were unveiled on the convention center and Tacoma Dome’s touchless technology improvements to enhance COVID-19 safety
Under the “Greater Way Forward Plan,” the convention center outlines its “flexibile” scheduling.
“Events with more than 200 people will be considered for January 2021 and beyond, with backup dates selected,” according to the plan posted online.
According to the plan:
“New events can be booked for up to 500 people for January, February, and March with a maximum capacity of 50 percent of each event space. New events of all sizes can be booked for April through December 2021. For all 2021 events, additional backup dates may be selected within the following six months and all deposits will be transferred to the new date.”
It adds, “Should event dates change within the six month window (or rooms need to change) due to phased guidelines from state government, additional rental fees will not be charged.”
Gov. Jay Inslee’s reopening guidance allows concert venues reopening in Phase 4. Large retail events, including consumer trade shows and exhibits, are allowed in Phase 3 if they are outdoors, up to 200 people, as of state updates issued Oct. 6.
Pierce County remains in Phase 2.
“This is really just the first step to turning the tap back on for business in 2021,” Wakefield wrote.
Also anticipated: the November opening of the new Marriott Tacoma Downtown hotel, connected directly to the convention center.
“Their additional 304 rooms … adds hotel capacity that puts Tacoma into contention for more and larger meetings and events, which will factor heavily as we continue booking business in 2021 and beyond,” Wakefield wrote.
And the glass conference remains on the horizon.
“COVID-19 has impacted artists and organizations alike and, while we’ll certainly miss hosting the GAS community in 2021, we’re excited about the impact we can collectively achieve in 2022,” said Debbie Lenk, executive director, Museum of Glass, in September’s announcement.