How Holiday Events are Adapting for COVID-19

November 19, 2020

In June – which would normally have been the height of events season – we published a post about how events were pivoting to survive the pandemic. At that time, there was a lot of uncertainty. Event organizers were testing several different approaches, from drive-in events to a complete shift to virtual formats. The learning curve was steep, and nobody knew if these modified formats would be successful. Some events found that adapting for the reality of COVID-19 was too challenging, and opted to cancel altogether.

But there was still some hope that this situation was temporary.

Now, several months later, it’s clear that the adjustments we’re making will be long-term. Even with the promise of a COVID-19 vaccine coming in January, the tribulations of this past year have taught us to be cautious and restrained in our optimism. The reality is that nobody knows when large-scale in-person events will return – or what they will look like when they do.

In the meantime, event organizers seem to have settled into the current reality. They are creatively adapting their event programming so they can continue to delight their audiences while adhering to COVID-19 restrictions. The resilience and dedication we have seen from this industry is just incredible.

So just how are events adjusting to deliver a safe experience in COVID times? Read on for some examples from across Canada.

Organizers are Holding Modified In-Person Events

Some regions have been able to avoid the spike in cases plaguing big cities like Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver. In these areas, organizers have more freedom to push forward with their events more or less as planned. That being said, even where in-person events are able to take place, organizers are adapting the experience for COVID-19.

For instance, at the Burnaby Village Museum, the museum’s annual Heritage Christmas event will take place in person – albeit with some adjustments. The museum is limiting the number of visitors, and restricting groups to 6 people. Organizers advise that groups should be comprised of members of the same household. Masks are required and groups must stay a minimum of 6 feet apart.

In Burlington, Ontario, the Royal Botanical Gardens is hosting Winter Wonders – a brand new outdoor holiday experience with “7 magical displays that tell the stories of unique winter wonders”. Visitors are guided on a walking tour through the gardens’ beautiful Hendrie Park, which is adorned with “charming festive lights”.

To adhere to COVID-19 restrictions, organizers have made the 1.5 km route a strict one-way path. The RBG Express, a quaint little train that offers rides throughout the park, will only allow a maximum of 4 individuals per car. Additionally, the Gardens will require masks in all indoor areas.

One of the most unique experiences on this list is FlyOver Canada – a flying ride in Vancouver that uses state-of-the-art technology to make guests feel like they’re flying over some of Canada’s most incredible sights.

During the holiday season, FlyOver adjusts their programming to allow visitors to soar with Santa and his reindeer. For 2020, FlyOver has made several modifications to protect the safety of their guests. They include increased sanitization, the introduction of social distancing measures, rigorous COVID-19 training for staff, and mandatory masks.

Events are Going Virtual

Montreal’s Festival Noël dans le Parc would normally take place at Place Émilie-Gamelin and offer musical performances, holiday entertainment, and other in-person activities in a festive atmosphere.

This year, the city’s biggest holiday festival is going virtual with their “Concerts Sous le Sapin” series taking place throughout December. The series will consist of over 20 online musical performances that can be enjoyed from the safety and comfort of home.

In Calgary, Black-Owned Market held their first immensely successful in-person event over the summer. The market, which is a platform to promote the products of Black-owned businesses, decided to take their holiday edition online in light of COVID-19 numbers trending upward in the Calgary area.

Vendors will be carefully selected and then promoted on the Black-Owned Market website, where holiday shoppers can find the perfect gift while supporting local Black-owned businesses. The virtual market will run from November 20th through the 22nd.

Toronto’s hugely popular One of a Kind Show has become a holiday shopping tradition for many. The show normally runs two events each year: a spring edition and a winter show. Sadly, organizers had to cancel the spring show when they couldn’t quite adjust their plans fast enough. However, they took that time to gather feedback from their loyal attendees and are returning this winter with a virtual version.

This first-ever online edition of the One of a Kind Show will feature virtual vendor booths, allowing makers to showcase their creations, chat with attendees, and sell directly to shoppers. The DIY workshops that attendees have come to enjoy at past in-person shows will be made available online. Embracing the freedom afforded by remote participation, show organizers have also planned virtual tours of artisans’ studios across the country.

Hybrid Events Provide a Variety of Experiences

Some events are offering a combination of virtual and in-home experiences to bring the holiday spirit to their audiences.

Festival of Trees, which has been an annual tradition in Edmonton for over 30 years, has made several such changes this year. After cancelling this year’s in-person event, organizers have decided to offer holiday fun in new ways through virtual events and at-home delivery.

Digital experiences include a virtual visit with Santa or story time with Mrs. Claus, as well as an online auction. While the online auction has been a staple of the Festival of Trees event each year, new for 2020 is the “Festival in a Box”. The box, available for order online, is a “curated, exclusive collection of items” to help recipients celebrate the holiday season.

The event even ran a unique tree rental program this year. It allowed participants to select the Christmas tree design of their dreams and have it delivered, assembled and decorated in time for the holidays. When it comes to events adapting to COVID-19 times, this is a truly exceptional and creative example!

Drive-Through Events: A Growing Trend

Though adjusting your in-person event for a digital platform is certainly an option, it isn’t the only one. The drive-through format is one that has become increasingly popular this year!

For example, Halloween favourite Pumpkins After Dark – formerly a walk-through tour of some incredible jack-o-lantern installations – shifted to a 2.5 km drive-through format with guided audio for the 2020 edition. This year’s event in Milton, Ontario was sold out.

New to Vaughan this year, Halloween Nights of Lights also enjoyed a sold-out event. Organizers are now looking to replicate this success with their Holiday edition of Nights of Lights, which promises to wow attendees (from the safety of their vehicles) with over 1,000,000 LED lights, drive-through tunnels, and animated displays.

In fact, several drive-through experiences are setting up in time to help families safely celebrate the holiday season. In Toronto, Modu-Loc client Concierge Club will unveil Canada’s first multi-level drive-through experience next week. Taking place at Pearson International Airport, the Polar Drive-Through is being promoted as “a one-of-a-kind multi-level immersive holiday experience that feels like you’re taking a trip through a holiday snow globe magical winter wonderland”. Sign us up!

Kitchener’s popular event venue, Bingeman’s, is hosting Gift of Lights – another drive-through holiday spectacle featuring over 300 animated and static light displays.

Similar events are popping up out west, too. Glow Gardens, which was originally set to be a walk-through event at the Greater Vancouver Zoo, adjusted to a drive-through format to deliver a contactless experience. And if you’re looking for a magical drive-through experience in Montreal, you’re in luck: Illumi‘s holiday edition opened this month, and has been extended to remain open through January.

Experiences Remain Key for Events Adapting for COVID-19 Safety

At the end of the day, any event organizer’s primary goal is to create an amazing experience for their guests. They aim to immerse their attendees in a new world, transporting them away from all their mundane worries. Despite the absence of live in-person events, we’re relying on events more than ever to provide some form of escapism.

Luckily, event organizers remain as dedicated as ever to delivering these incredible experiences, in spite of present challenges. By creatively adapting their events for a COVID-19 world, they’re allowing us to forget about the pandemic and enjoy the magic of the holiday season like it’s 2019.

Author: Joanna Bieda

Joanna Bieda is the Director of Marketing and Communications at Modu-Loc Fence Rentals, and has been with the company since 2014. She loves writing and is a self-professed data nerd. She thoroughly enjoys teaching customers about all things fence via Modu-Loc's blog.

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