Back in Person: Southeast Acquirers Association Going Full Speed Ahead With May 24th Event
While positive vaccine predictions began slowly peeking their head out of the media mess that was the fall of ’20, John McCormick and members of the Southeast Acquirers Association (SEAA) had a difficult choice to make: When could they begin planning for an in-person conference?
“It was probably October, November: we thought, okay, are we nuts, or should we do it,” McCormick said. “We just kept saying, well, it seems like we keep hearing good news about vaccines.”
With optimism, McCormick and the team slated a late May reopening. Their bet paid off. With vaccine success and viral loads down so far, things look clear for a return to normal this spring, especially for a payments conference in Bonita Springs, Florida. McCormick said the Hyatt Regency, also eager to reopen business, helped with the planning.
“They said ‘we really want you guys to have the show, we need the business,'” He said. “The location itself is beautiful. Tons of outdoor space, and it’s incorporated into the conference facility so people will really be able to break away and give a little more distance, have a one-on-one and not feel like they’re in a crowd.”
Watching a hackneyed, fazed reopening across the US, SEAA had to plan how to make people feel comfortable meeting, doing business no matter where they were from. Along with picking a venue with 26 acres of property to spread out, they decided to use a color-coated sticker system. Red for “keep your distance,” Yellow for “proceed with caution”, Green for “let’s chat,” and purple for “vaccinated.” Hotel staff will also, of course, be tested and carefully managing the food and distancing.
Their sister events company, the NEAA, had to postpone the planned April show in Philadelphia, but as we know, Florida is open for business.
McCormick is a Founder and board member of (SEAA) and has been active in the payments industry since 1995. Like many events companies, he said, SEAA held a virtual conference last year. While the presentations and education sessions were great, the in-person networking and POS demonstrations a vendor could expect from the conference hall experience were just not up to par.
This year, he said his team is focusing everything toward putting on a safe, “back-to-business with caution” show that is seeing unprecedented interest from firms and industry members excited to, well, shake hands again. If guests are still not ready to meet in person, the big presentations will be streamed to the SEAA site and built into a catalog.
So how many people are attending? McCormick said he’s not sure how many will show up to the Hyatt on May 24th but that the registration numbers ten weeks out are already better than in previous years.
“When we first started, we thought we normally get between 800 and 1,000 people, and we thought you if we can get 600, that would be a success,” McCormick said. “I’d feel great about that, and I think we’re going to hit that number. The interest is there.”
He said the interesting part is that larger firms generally involved in conferences were more cautious this year. A smaller firm with one to 20 people is more likely to say, “Okay, whoever feels comfortable, if you’ve been vaccinated, go ahead and go.” But it’s the larger companies that have called and said, look, we’d love to be there, but we have to wade through legal and manage to approve it.
Still, larger partners this year are excited to sponsor the event, happy to send support for a conference-leading the way back open. McCormick said he’d seen some innovative ways firms are trying to bring their products to the conference platform, like scannable QR codes for video demonstrations. The pandemic has brought virtual innovation, but many people, McCormick said, are excited to return to normal.
“You know, we’re getting awfully close. I really feel like we’re getting there,” McCormick said. “This is the hardest time because you feel it, you can see the light at the end of the tunnel, but if we can just hang on and be responsible for a couple more months, we’ll get there. That’s gonna be sort of the challenge: to remind people, ‘man, we’re all excited, let’s still grab a drink and keep six feet apart.'”Last modified: March 18, 2021