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Corporate events and office parties face slow return to normal

While the wedding industry has seen a comeback during the COVID-19 pandemic thanks to vaccinations, some event planners say that’s not the case for corporate events.

SEATTLE — Summer picnics, holiday parties and corporate retreats are just some of the ways employers say "thank you" to their staff, but experts believe it could be a year before corporate events of any kind make a comeback.

Michelle Shleifer, the owner of Seattle Premier Events, said her last big corporate event before the COVID-19 pandemic was for 4,000 people.

"For me, corporate events are the bigger deal. It's putting more people into one space," explained Shleifer, whose clients range from tech to beauty spaces.

As COVID-19 vaccinations ramp up, some event jobs like the wedding industry have been able to make a comeback, but Shleifer said her corporate event bookings are slow.

That's despite corporations having access to deposits from events canceled last year, said BreeAnn Gale, president of the Wedding International Professional Association Seattle Chapter and owner of Pink Blossom Events.

But Gale also said there are some exceptions.

"The construction industry and others that have been working together this whole time, they are more ready to book," said Gale.

As employees slowly start filling offices again, Shleifer said she does have a few corporate bookings for this summer and fall. 

"There is a whole new layer to event planning now with any events," Shleifer explained.

Shleifer also noted that while companies can't legally require COVID-19 vaccinations in the workplace, she is working with human resources departments on safety measures for offsite parties and events.

For event planners, it also means going offline and getting creative.

"We have to really pivot to create events that are engaging that also protect staff and employees because people are ready to have fun again," said Shleifer.

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