Planners You Should Know In 2022 Series- Alison McMaster, MPE (Masterfully Planned Events)

Alison McMaster, of MPE (Masterfully Planned Events), discusses how she honed her skills over the pandemic to now be in position to overcome the challenges that the new meetings/events landscape brings.



This post is part of the HopSkip Planner Spotlight Series where HopSkip spotlight's planners across the industry to bring awareness of how they adapted to COVID-19, communicating and lessons learned and sharing how they are viewing the meetings and events industry in a post-pandemic world. 


Name: Alison McMaster

Company Name: Masterfully Planned Events

Job Title: CEO, Lead Planner + Travel Designer

Years of Experience: 20+

How did you get your start in the events industry? What made you pursue this role?
I started my career in the events industry, somewhat inadvertently. After interning for 20th Century Fox International, in both England and Australia during my senior year of college, I was hired in Los Angeles to join the International Film Publicity team. My position continued to evolve over the years as I planned and executed global talent tours, international press junkets and worldwide film premieres, which solidified my love of global events. Once I stepped away, transitioning to private events and corporate events with my own company, I quickly discovered that my passion for events and international travel was my true calling. Thus I continue to grow and share my combined love of travel and events with current, new and future clients.
How do you compare planning your first in-person event post-pandemic, to planning meetings/events pre- Covid? What was different and unique? What was similar?

Coming out of the pandemic was arduous. Clients and attendees were entering uncharted territory, we all were. The first in-person event felt like following the impending track of a Category Five Hurricane. It could be a direct hit or miss us completely. Constantly changing regulations that varied from state-to-state, questions surrounding mandatory testing vs optional testing, masks vs no masks, and the biggest; would the event be a ‘super spreader’ or would we have to cancel or re-schedule at the last minute. Pre-COIVD we all knew the drill. Of course, with any in-person events there are challenges, but COVID took those challenges to an entirely new level. What didn’t change was the desire, and clear need from attendees and event hosts that in-person connections is still the BEST way to build and foster relationships.
What was your number one challenge in hosting your first in-person event(s) and how did you overcome it?

It now feels like a lifetime ago. I hosted my first in-person event in January of 2021 in Mexico. The biggest challenge at that point was simply to try to keep everyone safe and get them back home. There were no testing requirements at that time to return to the US, nor were there any vaccines. At some point, I think the whole group just threw caution to the wind and decided to have FUN. Tequila kills everything, right?
What is the top learning that you uncovered from the last two years that you’re implementing in your planning process today? (any other tips or tricks you want to share?)
Expect the unexpected. Be as agile as possible and have multiple backup plans. Our world has changed. The lead times for events has often become significantly less, but the expectations greater. Clients need education. Hotel concessions are not what they used to be. Hotel staffing, F+B and room rates have all increased. Planners, DMC’s and Hotels should embrace the option of working with an escrow company, like our partner, 'Meetings Escrow' and have them properly manage the deposit schedule. Protecting all parties involved and facilitating with what can be a fluid and often uncertain planning and contracting process.
With hotels short-staffed, and RFP lead time shortening, what is your advice to other planners to overcome these obstacles when requesting hotels for proposals?
Be open and as flexible as you can. Everyone is adjusting to a new normal. Our industry is built on relationships, this will never change. Use your relationships to your benefit, a benefit that you can pass along to your clients by way of knowledge and experience. Be the expert you are, and share your knowledge of our changing environment. Explain that hotel response times may be longer than in the past, dates may be harder to secure on short notice and compression of inventory is a real thing.
Are you approaching contracting with hotels differently, post-pandemic?
Not too differently. There was a period where ‘cancellation’ for just about any reason was at the top of many clients' minds, that has subsided. I feel the biggest change is negotiating increased flexibility with date changes as well as attrition policies. Late or last-minute cancellations, that are entirely out of the control of the client, do happen. COVID is still here. If an attendee cannot travel because of COVID, it is helpful when both parties come to a mutual resolution. I have told all attendees that if they do test positive and cannot travel, they need to get a lab PCR test, as well as a letter from their doctor.
What is the biggest area of improvement that you think hotels can make when either responding to your RFPs or during the contract phase of your event?
My hotel partner relationships are paramount to me. I feel confident that if both sides are transparent from the start, common ground can always be met. If there is one improvement, perhaps it is extending more time in the decision-making process for the end user. Companies are driven to move forward, but many are experiencing unforeseen obstacles and are more reluctant to sign expeditiously.
Due to the pandemic, our events community had to evolve, adapt, and grow. Many planners started to embrace new technologies as a result of the pandemic. What new tech are you using today in your planning process as a result?
It was great, until it wasn’t, Zoom. We all have Zoom rooms and a myriad of other virtual ways of meeting. We jumped in with our WHOLE selves, and then I think we all crashed. However, the technology of virtual meetings has also been a game-changer. Personally, it has allowed me to deepen global supplier relationships, take part in virtual site inspections and meet more regularly with clients that are not local, thus keeping me off planes more than pre pandemic. The growth of VR has also grown tremendously since the pandemic and will only continue to do so. Hotel suppliers are using VR to tour properties, clients are setting up VR offices. With time VR will become the new zoom room.
Since education and relationships are two major pillars in the meetings and events industry, any suggestions on how other planners can learn and network with their peers across the industry?
Traveling to a wide variety of industry events is more important now than ever before. Globally, there has been so much movement in our supplier base, it sometimes feels like starting over. Connecting, growing and strengthening the base of your relationships in the industry, both on the supplier side and among your peers is more crucial than ever before. We are a passionate group of industry professionals. Extending the olive branch, talking, sharing and learning amongst your peers, brings more depth and value not only to your own life, but value to your clients as well. 

This post is part of the HopSkip Planner Spotlight Series where HopSkip spotlight's planners across the industry to bring awareness of how they adapted to COVID-19, communicating and lessons learned and sharing how they are viewing the meetings and events industry in a post-pandemic world. 

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